Saturday, March 24, 2007

I came, I climbed, I won at mahjong

As is typically true here in China, a lot happened this week. Yet I don't always know what to write on here because most of it consists of "I walked to the store and everyone stared at me and talked about me and some of them sneaked up behind me to measure themselves against me to see how tall they aren't. I actually heard and understood a lot of what they were saying yet they didn't know that I understood because they assume foreigners can't possibly know Chinese and I'm pretty sure some of them would be embarrassed if they knew I had heard them." It makes everyday an adventure, but sometimes it piles up and just makes you fall into culture shock. However, I'm happy to say that this week I am NOT culture shocking. Yay!

My big adventure from this week was when I took my Friday morning class on a field trip to Sifang Shan, which generally translates as Square Mountain. Not sure why it's called that, it just is. Yvonne went with me and we had a pretty good time. The trip began when we met my class at the front gate of the school at 8:00. We all piled onto the bus and rode into the middle of town. Then we walked for almost two hours, at first through town, then through the outskirts of town at a slight incline, then up a winding mountain road at a slightly steeper incline, then up a few dirt trails that cut a kilometer or two off the trip, finally ending up on a nice trail through the woods that came out directly by the gate to the park. We arrived around 10:20 and spent the next hour and a half hanging out and playing games in the grass. It started out cloudy and a little wet, but the clouds thinned and the sun began to shine through after we reached the top. One of my students somehow finagled a mahjong table from some men working at the refreshment stand in the park, so we sat and played for a while. I surprised my students by winning 3 of the first 4 games. I warned them, but they didn't believe me. The rest of the games were more balanced, but I definitely showed them that Americans have their place in the global mahjong circuit.

We took a lot of pictures with Yvonne's camera, but they are still on her camera and not on my computer so I can't post them at the moment. I'll try to get them up in the next day or so. I think that tonight we're going to trek over to Family Pizza, the only pizza joint within 8 hours. I'm not sure why, but we haven't eaten there a single time this year. Let's just hope that they don't disappoint. I'll let you know how it goes. Peace and love.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A puzzling farewell (Part Two)

And so continues the saga of the Tree Puzzle. When last we talked, the puzzle was completed and awaiting execution. Here's the last chapter of the story...

Here is a section of the back of the puzzle. This is important because for most of the puzzle it was impossible to know if you actually had the right piece in the right place. But if you flipped the pieces over, there was a large grid of letters from A to X. If it all lined up then you know you did something right. The only problem was that the puzzle was so flimsy and if you touched one piece then you probably were knocking ten other pieces out of place.

These pictures show me scooping up the puzzle in one smooth motion. Notice how the pieces just come apart like butter. A big butter puzzle.

Of course, we had to stop and see if Angelyn could make a field goal by flicking a puzzle piece. Turns out that it's harder than we first thought.

Now we had the puzzle back in the box and on the balcony. It's not as flammable as we had hoped. Luckily I recently read an article about camping that says you should carry hand sanitizer to help you light a fire because the alcohol in it is flammable. I just happened to have a large bottle of hand sanitizer, so a few squirts later we had a nice fire going.

Here I am basking in the glory of the Tree Puzzle. It was a good moment for me, especially since the fire was warm and it was pretty cold out on the balcony. We ended up with a nice fire and some good entertainment.

These are from my birthday when the Happy Family all came up the hill to bring me a birthday cake. There's a rooster in the middle of it because I was born in the year of the rooster. Just so you know. We had already had a ginormous cake earlier that day (you can see some of the leftovers in the last picture), so the next night we took this second cake down and shared it with the whole family and staff at Happy Guy's restaurant. We then had the most incredible sugar high I've ever experienced, in which Angelyn and I ended up running a few laps at the track and Yvonne did a dance from the Lion King musical for two total strangers who she, for some reason, thought were Angelyn and me. Germans can be strange. I'm happy to say that we recovered from the sugar rush and have since avoided sugar. Until today, at least. We broke open a bag of sweet tarts and I just about ruined my dinner.

New Family galore!

I don't know how I made it this long without getting this posted, but there have been exciting things happening all last week! First of all, Saturday night we got a late call saying that a student wanted to go into the Water, so we filled up the tub for the second time in a week and a load of people came over to witness this great event. Because it was so sudden and late at night, a lot of people didn't find out about it until Sunday morning, but that's the best kind of news to receive. The second exciting thing that happened last week was that my sister had a baby girl on Tuesday! Everyone is doing fine and little Katy is at home getting used to life as a little sister. Now I just hope Vail can get used to life as a big sister, Matthew and Jennifer can get used to having two kids, and Jed can get used to more noise in the house. He's probably driving Jennifer crazy wanting to go outside all the time. He never did like it when Vail cried.

Enough about the dog. I'm going to see about putting some pictures on here and then go to bed. I ran 3.5 miles earlier and it has made me look forward to my pillow tonight. So why am I still up and blogging at 1:30? Not sure.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A note on Daylight Savings Time

It's apparently that time of year when the US (or most of it, at least) springs forward the clocks. Since China doesn't observe this ancient custom that dates back at least to Benjamin Franklin, that means the difference between our time zones has changed. So now China is exactly 12 hours ahead of Eastern time in the US. That means that at 10pm on Sunday here in China it is 10am Sunday in New Jersey (hey Cooper and Tony and Jennie and whoever else is there!), 9am in Nashville and all parts Central (hey vast majority of the people I know!), 8am in Ruidoso (hey Jace and Jan!), and 7am in Los Angeles (hey Liz and Micah and Natalie!). That's all.

A puzzling farewell (Part One)

Alrighty then. This is the first of what should be two installments of pictures telling the story of the life and death of the infamous Tree Puzzle. The first picture here is the puzzle with 999 of the pieces in place. I'm pointing out the hole reserved for the one piece that Orange stole at random out of the box. Nice selection.

The next picture is the whole puzzle after I tracked down Orange at her school and got the piece back. I got back at her by threatening to show up at her class the next day, loudly declaring my love for her and embarrassing her in front of everyone she knows. She didn't like that idea.

Finally, we have two puzzle pieces side by side, followed by the same two puzzle pieces stacked. If you'll notice, they are the exact same size and shape. You can see the shape of the pieces in the first picture with my arm in it. There are only two shapes! How annoying.

There are more pictures to come, including photos of the puzzle on fire as we exact our revenge upon it, and pictures from today because it was my BIRTHDAY! w00t! It was a good day. But for now I'm going to get a shower before they turn off the hot water and then go to bed because I'm exhausted from all the excitement. Good night!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Worst class ever

I had a class this afternoon that I wasn't quite prepared for. I have a good reason, though. The school gave me a textbook and a teaching plan for this particular class. That's a good arrangement because then I don't have to worry about making up my own teaching plan. I wasn't given the book until late last night, so when I compared the book and the plan I noticed that they didn't match up. I had either been given the wrong book or the wrong teaching plan. No problem, I can just look in my book and prepare the first chapter, or I can show up to class, borrow someone's book, and teach on the fly. When I got up this morning I tried calling the department office to figure out if I had the wrong book or what, but Eric wasn't available to talk to all morning. During lunch I got to talk to him and he told me that he wasn't sure what the problem was and he'd have to ask another teacher and get back to me. Well, I still figured that I could plan on using either my book or borrowing the right book from a student. However, when I got to class I found that the students don't have any book at all for this class. That wasn't one of my backup plans. So here I was with 90 minutes of class to fill, with no text or anything to fall back on. I can usually fill up the first day of class easily with English names and questions about myself and America. Students have a never ending supply of those. But at least three quarters of the class were students I had last semester or students in my class yesterday. I couldn't very well make them sit through my stories a second time about how and why I came to China, what is my hometown like, how big is my family, do I know Yao Ming, etc. I'm still not sure how I made it all the way through class, but I sure felt like the most unprepared teacher in the world. Suffice it to say that I will always have an emergency backup plan for use in case of missing textbooks. Of course, next week the students will probably all show up with books and tell me that there was an error and they were supposed to bring them the first time. Argh.

Monday, March 05, 2007

New Brother

Yesterday was a great day, yet a hectic day in the end. Cindy got back to Shiyan, our classes began in full, Ed (the man from America who places us in China, negotiates our contracts, etc.) came into town to check in on us, we had dinner with some officials from our school, and after all of that we had a friend at my school go Swimming and become a Brother. It was a great day overall, but at times we were juggling our schedules because a few things (like the dinner) were brought to our attention as we were walking out the door to go do other things (like the Swimming party). We had a good time singing and being together after the party, and everyone had to go their respective ways around 10.

You may remember me briefly mentioning a puzzle in a recent post. About a week ago, a jigsaw puzzle was begun in Angelyn's apartment. Being a fan of puzzles and thinking that the scene of mossy trees and grass was pretty, I gladly took part in trying to help with it. We soon discovered that Chinese puzzles are different from American puzzles in a few key ways. First of all, the pieces don't fit together tightly. Once you place a piece, if you even brush against it you can knock it out of place. Very annoying. But not as annoying as the fact that there are only two shapes to all of the puzzle pieces. Literally. Well, four shapes if you count the edge pieces. If you take two pieces and place one on top of the other, you will notice very clearly that they are the exact same size and shape. This means that any one piece can fit just about anywhere in the puzzle. That wouldn't be a problem if most of the puzzle didn't look almost identical. It was a tough puzzle, but after many hours of comparing every puzzle piece to the box lid in hopes of spotting a specific leaf, I was proud to announce yesterday that I would be completing the puzzle before I went to bed last night. And it was true, I was close enough to finishing that I could confidently say that I would finish. But there's always a factor that isn't taken into account. This time around that factor was two close friends of mine. People who I trusted, people who sat and watched me work on this puzzle. People who stole a piece of this puzzle and took it across town. These people (whose names are Angelyn and Orange) managed to somehow pick a piece of the puzzle that ended up being almost the exact center. So now there are 999 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle assembled on Angelyn's table with a hole in the middle. Those 999 pieces will probably sit there for a few days until I can acquire the last piece. At that time, there will be a photo shoot to preserve the puzzle's infamy, quickly followed by a ceremonial burning of the puzzle. I'll put up some pictures so that everyone else can celebrate the passing of the demon puzzle. I also bought some bottle rockets. That doesn't have anything to do with the puzzle, but they'll be handy at the celebration.

I have class in 20 minutes so I should probably go get ready. Y'all have a great day!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Things I've realized

There are certain things that I have learned lately. Some of these things I knew and they were just made more real for me, and others are things I just flat out couldn't even imagine. First of all, I now know the immense benefit that can come from using an iPod in China. I've spent a year and a half in China, and never before have I had the pleasure of walking around with music playing straight into my ears, effectively neutralizing most of the sounds around me. I've seen others with mp3 players and iPods and whatnot, but I've gotten along fine up to this point without one. Well, now that I've acquired my own, I think that the percentage of time spent in town that I find enjoyable will greatly increase. It's amazing the difference some music can make in your life. Amazing.

The other thing that I've learned is something that I still don't understand. I don't understand, Derek and Angelyn don't understand it, and Chinese people don't even understand it. I'm talking about the corrective lenses industry here in China. Not so much the production of the lens itself, as the testing for and purchase of the lens at the store. You see, Angelyn went to buy new glasses the other day. While being tested for her prescription, she was asked a very key question. It basically came down to this: "When you look at things, do you want them to be clear, a little fuzzy, or do you just want to know that something is there?" Apparently there are different levels of clarity here in China. If you want to drive, you need the first or second clarity. But the third level of fuzziness... I mean clarity... is sufficient for daily life. That's why most Chinese people go with the third. When asked which level she has, our Chinese friend Janis told us that she has the third. Why didn't Janis get lenses that make things clearer? Does it cost more? No. Does it take longer to make the glasses? No. Is it made from lower quality material? No. Is it bad for your eyes? Who knows? Will your glasses self destruct after one month of wear? No. Then why not the clearest choice? Because "I don't drive, I don't need it." Yes, that's a real answer. Why, Janis?!? Why?!? I don't understand! She assured me that she doesn't understand it, either. According to our sources, most Chinese people can't see as clearly as they could, because they "don't need to." For the same price, same quality material, no danger to health or well being. I don't understand. But that's something I've learned about China this week. That I don't understand it. Luckily, neither do most Chinese people, so I'm not too worried.