Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Done Done Done

Well I'm all done with classes for this semester, and it's certainly been an interesting ride. I was so completely terrified at the beginning of how I was ever going to fill all those hours but as time went on I got a better hang of it and now it doesn't seem so bad. I just hope I don't have the small class again since after six hours a week all semester I'm just out of things to do with them. Yesterday I had Ken, Dave, and Clark over and made some pasta. I was able to find some cans of tomato sauce in Wal-Mart as well as some pasta. I started heating up the tomato sauce while I fried some sausage, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and garlic, and mixed them all into the sauce. In the end there was probably as much stuff I mixed in as the sauce. Once again I had to fight the hot plates which love to shut off as soon as there is any smoke. In the end I made a huge pot of pasta but between all of us we actually managed to finish it off. It was fun if messy and I think I'll do it again some time. Speaking of western food I also got a toaster so that I could actually have toast with butter around for breakfast. It's always nice to have some more western foods in China.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Peppermint Pig

At the end of the Latke party I remembered that my Aunt had sent me a Peppermint Pig. A Peppermint Pig is well a big pink pig made out of peppermint. You put it in a little red bag that it comes with and smash it with a little provided hammer then eat the remaining peppermint pieces. It had become something of a family tradition, especially associated with health after my Grand-mother refused to eat it one year and later that year broke a few ribs. I had intended to bring it out at the party and have people smash it but I forgot just until the end when only Dave and Ken were left. To my surprise when I mentioned that I had something called the Peppermint Pig they knew exactly what I was talking about and noting that they had read about it on my blog. No matter who I know reads my blog I'm always sort of surprised when some one knows something that I put on my blog without me having told them. I can see that statistics that say people read my blog and I see the comments, but I just don't really believe it. They were happy to help me smash the pig and we even managed to destroy it without having a bigger hammer around, each person just had to take about two dozen whacks at a time.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

100 Posts in China

I can't believe I've already come to 100 posts on my little blog. I thought I'd do a sort of retrospective listing some of my favorite posts I've done, but first here are a few interesting statistics. In almost exactly four months of doing this blog I've had a total of 1,708 visits from 244 unique visitors generating 3,303 page views, that's an average of about 14 visitors per day.The most popular Google search term people use to find me is, "please don't run over me changzhou." The top two cities for visits are Washington DC with 308 and Changzhou with 496. I've had visitors from Malaysia, Italy, the Check Republic, Denmark, Nigeria, Turkey, and Switzerland among others. I've made $154.36 from adds based on 2,909 views, 227 clicks, a 7.8% click rate, making me about $53 per 1,000 views. Here are some of my favorite posts broken down by category:


On the Road Again: My trip to Wuzhen and having our bus break down along the way

Strange Days in Nanjing: Going to Nanjing and being really really cold

The Most Beautiful Park in the World: Going to an amazing park right in Changzhou

100 Year Flood: Being in Shanghai at the beginning of the trip

I Have Arrived (Part 1) and (Part 2): Arriving in Changzhou and being amazed at the accommodations


Rock Star: Going to some sports meet and being treated like visiting royalty

Happy Halloween Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha: Throwing a huge Halloween party for the kids

To Give Thanks
: A big Thanksgiving with friends

Ringo Starr: A crazy time singing Christmas carols

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: A trip to a business expo for reasons I don't understand


How'd I Get Myself Into This Mess: My first day teaching

Loaded Questions: Other early adventures in teaching

My Favorite Post Title: Shanghaied in Chinese Monopoly

My Favorite Miscellaneous Post: This is Not Gumby

Well that's it for the retrospective I also encourage everyone to go over all the flicker pictures as many are a lot of fun and never made it onto the blog.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Big Latkes in Little China

I had my latke party yesterday and it was a lot of fun. I went to the German supermarket earlier in the day to get all the things I needed. I got a bunch of potatoes, salt, eggs, onions, plus apples and sugar and the whole total came to less then 100 RMB. I tried to find applesauce or sour cream but I saw neither so I decided to make my own applesauce. That was much easier then I thought it was going to be just basically involving peeling apples and cooking them until there mush then mashing them with my potato masher. I wasn't sure exactly how much sugar to use so I went a little overboard and the applesauce came out a little sweater then I wanted it to, but besides that it was a big success. I then started preparing everything else for the party by cleaning my room more then it's probably been cleaned since I moved in. I also peeled the potatoes and chopped up one really big onion. At about 8 people began coming over, Steve and his family were first since in China if you say 8 people show up at 8 on the dot. Steve's son Mike saw my Xbox and wanted to play.

I don't have many games that are good for kids or are easy to pick up and play so after asking Steve I put in Call of Duty 4, a shooter, and Mike was playing it for pretty much the rest of the party. I had to try to remember the plot of the game before I put it in because I have one or two games where the Chinese are the bad guys but the bad guys in this game are pretty generic terrorists. After a few more people showed up I started making a bunch of latkes. After mixing this stuff together it's just basically a task of throwing the grated potatoes into a big pot of oil so that they basically float there browning. I remembered that latkes are greasy but even for China I went through a ton of oil. The biggest problem was that it got smoky in my room even with a fan on and for some reason the hot plates refuse to work if it gets to smoky so I had two and when one started complaining I'd switch to the other. Eventually I opened the door which helped enough that I could cook without switching them.

The latkes came out pretty well, better once I started making them a little thicker, but everyone seemed to like them. Latke are a good recipe for China since it's just potatoes and onions deep fired. I think that if I put some hot sauce on it I could open up my own thing selling them outside. Dave joked that I could probably make double what the street vendors made something like 500 RMB a month, all that while only work 8 or 9 hours a night. I must have made close to 30 latkes before all was said and done and my really clean kitchen area became a hige mess. It was a lot of fun though showing everyone some Jewish cooking.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas with the Kids

Christmas is a great holiday for little kids with a strange big guy in a red suit bringing you you presents. Clark dressed up as Santa for Emma the little child of one of the German teachers. Emma has gotten really good at Chinese since she goes to a Chinese kindergarten. In fact when Clark gave her a present and her mom prompted her, in German, to say thank you, she came back with Xie Xie, thank you in Chinese. I guess Santa is Chinese to little Emma, I'm sure all the toys were made in China and if you substitute elfs for dollar a day factory workers you've pretty much got it. Like a lot of little kids Emma was sort of nervious around Santa. I've noticed that no matter how big a fan children are of Disney characters they tend to freak out a little at places like Disny World. It's one thing to see Mickey on TV but a real life seven foot talking mouse is another story entirely. Emma was sweet about it though, I think she'll have to be an actress or something some day to recapture her childhood where every where she goes every person pay total attention to her. As unusual as westerners are generally a little blond haired kid is even more unusual. There was also a group of children singing Christmas Carols in Chinese in the lobby for about 15 minutes but they were done before I could get any footage. Today when I went to the noodle shop for dinner the little kid there who always likes to wave at me was back. She basically waves and I wave back and she laughs for a solid minute then does it again. Her mom tried to talk to me a little in Chinese but I couldn't really get any of it. The little kid never really responds to any of the words of Chinese I know but I do get a sort of "hello" out of her sometimes, though much less pronounceable.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve in China

Well even though we got an e-mail telling us that since it was Christmas eve we didn't have to teach, I have no idea if anyone thought to tell the students, I had three classes today since I think it is my last opportunity to give finals. As Dave said on his blog it's hard to take teaching seriously when the school doesn't seem to treat it that way. Despite one meeting where they criticized some of us for missing classes it seems the school has absolutely no interest if we do anything remotely like educating the students. It seems pretty clear that were here more for the students amusement then to actually teach anything. Teddy even said he didn't really want to hire a guy named Bart since he was too old and the students might not like him. I mean that's not all bad. We are providing them a window into a culture they have very little experience with. I think the Halloween party and the Christmas Caroling alone were worth it for the students, but still it's a little disheartening when the school basically says we don't really care what you teach them or what grades you give them. I asked at one meeting what the normal range of grades is and they just said to give whatever I wanted. Honestly I probably could have skipped all my classes today and give every student 100 and the school would have been OK with it. I haven't been too homesick for Christmas since it doesn't really seem like Christmas time here even with all the trees and hats. It just seems missing anyone actually caring. I have though been more annoyed then usual with the Chinese way of doing things and that might be homesickness coming though in another guise. I guess time will tell. Till then though Merry Christmas to everyone back in the States.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chinese Gymnastics Team

Today they finally got around to fixing my lights and bathtub in maybe the most Chinese way possible. I don't know what exactly changed but Teddy showed up this morning with two guys to fix my lights and put in a new bathtub. Now in most places when going on a job that involves replacing lights on the ceiling you might think to bring a latter, especially if your maybe two inches short of five feet tall. But no, not in China, in China the better solution is clearly to stack three chairs into a pyramid on top of a hard hood floor. He didn't even think much about it either he just looked at the lights looked around and started stacking chairs. I bet if you give him six chairs he could replace any light in the whole building. They also finally came in and yanked out the old bathtub and put in a new one. Now before you go thinking their to professional or anything there were a couple of little oddities. For one thing there is a Chinese newspaper stuck halfway under the new tub which I think will be there till it disintegrate. For another thing there were four lights out in my room and for some reason they only managed to replace two of them. But the best part is what happened when they went to have a quick look at Brian's light. They again arranged three chairs to get up there and for some reason partially detached the whole big light fixture from the ceiling. They left it there for a while to go do something else and a minute or two later I here a huge crash down the hall as the whole, mostly glass, light fixture drops to the ground shattering. Now the real question is how long it will take before they get that fixed.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cold Cold Cold

I got two more packages today. One was more Christmas stuff from my Aunt and her family. The other was a huge box containing my really heavy winter coat for Harbin. I felt like putting on the coat now since it was below freezing all day today. It's hard enough trying to do classes, but when your just frozen the whole time it's a lot worse. Actually, I thought it was really cold in the room until I went outside and remembered just how cold it was. The rooms are a pretty good size and have lots of windows so they never really get warm but when everything is closed it's still a lot warmer then outdoors. The building near where David and Ken live, where they do most of their teaching, has a couple of really small classrooms with everyone squeezed in there which is actually great for the winter as all the body heat really warms things up. I'd like to just start bringing my own space heater but I don't think it would do much and I'm not sure there is really any place to plug it in anyways. It is going to be really nice after the weather here and up north to go down to Vietnam where it's still beach weather. I'm told we have plane tickets now but I'm always a pretty suspicious person when it comes to traveling so I'll believe it when I see it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ringo Starr

Since my last post there have been even more crazy things going on in China then usual. First, since my last post was about thing in my room being broken I thought I'd update you on that. Well not long after I had posted it I talked to Teddy to see what was taking so long with just replacing a few lights. Apparently the hotel no longer wants to be responsible for the 14th and 15th floors, which the school owns, so they are refusing to replace the lights. This means that Peter, Teddy's boss, is now getting into it with the manger of the hotel. Of course Teddy felt so bad about this that he came by my apartment later to apologies more. It's not really his fault but I didn't want to comfort him too much since I want him to put some pressure on them to get this done, if one more light here goes out I'm just going to be in the dark. Teddy solution for the whole problem was just to have me abandon my room and move across the hall. I just have this vision of them never using this room again because a few lights have gone out.

Yesterday we had a Christmas banquet with the president of the school. Teddy told us all to be there at 5:30 and no one was that surprised that the president was late, since it's sort of a status symbol, but we were a little surprised that he was an hour late. Ken was also about an hour late, and while that's not so surprising on its own, since Ken usually runs a little late, when I asked him about it he said that he forgot the time and had to ask Teddy again. When he asked Teddy again Teddy told him it was at 6:30 but didn't feel that he needed to tell the rest of us this for some reason. Teddy said that it would take too long to tell us, all of 15 seconds, but I think it was just that he wanted to make sure that we were all there before the president showed up since Teddy arrived at around 5:30 also. The banquet was nice Emma, the little daughter of one of the German teachers, was there and she's gotten really good at Chinese really fast. She was able to read part of a business card in Chinese characters a feat I don't think anyone else but Jason could do. The dinner was good and as usual there was a lot of toasting, but no Bijou this time.

The real fun started after dinner though. We decided to go Christmas caroling around the school so we all got some more beer and met out in front of one of the dorms. It was a girls dorm but they pretty much let us do what we want so we just went in. The people in charge of the dorms came out and said something to Clark, but he just handed them the business card the president of the school had given us and said it was OK by him. David had printed out the lyrics to a bunch of songs and Ken had some hats from Wal-Mart. We just walked into the courtyard between these big dorms and started belting out We Wish You a Merry Christmas. At first there were just 5 or 10 girls standing around watching us but then we heard thus huge rumbling sound all around the dorm as almost every person in the dorm came out to watch us. They went pretty crazy with applauding and taking pictures as we stood their and sang. We decided to go up to the fifth floor and the hallways were so packed with students we had a hard time getting though. On the fifth floor we started to sing again to thunderous applause from all around the dorm. After about four or five songs we left and went to another nearby dorm.

This dorm probably had already heard about it from the first dorm so as soon as we started singing there was yelling and screaming form all around us. The crowd here was probably twice as big and a lot more intense. Clark said that there were probably some girls in the crowd crying and I think he's right. We went up stairs to look for someone we knew and as we went though the halls people were pulling on our cloths and pushing all around us in the halls. The person we were looking for lived in room 509 so when we got there we knocked on the door but no one came out so our huge mob banged on the door until some very confused girl came out. Apparently this dorm has at least 3 room numbered 509. We went around this dorm singing until an angry looking woman with a red armband on came out and basically made us leave something about them having a test in the morning. This video is from the second dorm. While I remember us singing pretty well we had all been drinking for a while. The crowd you see was only a small part of it as people were watching from across the courtyard:

After that dorm the people in charge of the dorms must have been calling around since we were physically blocked from going into the next dorm. The dorm after that we got one song in before the kicked us out then we found a place outside the dorm to sing where they could here us. People at all these dorms were shouting and waving and taking a ton of pictures. We stopped for more beer and went to one last dorm. Here the lady with a red arm band didn't want to let us in either, but we pretty much just walked around here and started singing. We did two songs, Clark tried to dance with her for the second song. During the second song she started smiling anf took of the official looking arm band. We were going to leave but she insisted we go to another courtyard and do another few songs. Brian said the Christmas spirit touched her. All in all I don't think I've ever been a part of such a crazy scene in China. I was shouting stuff like "Thank you China, you've been a beautiful audience," the whole time. It shows still how unusual foreigners are here and how interested they are in us that a little off key Christmas caroling drove them crazy. Brian compared it to being like Ringo Starr not the most famous member of the Beatles but still pretty big.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Things Fall Apart

Quite a few things in my room are broken right now. I have four lights out, actually this one is partially my fault since I didn't mention it after the first two went out since I didn't really like the florescent lights, but now with four out I can't really see in my bedroom anymore. My water dispenser is broken, or at least the part of it that makes the water hot is. At first I didn't use it much since I didn't feel like a lot of hot drinks in the summer, but since its gotten colder I've used it more and more until a few days ago when it just suddenly stopped working. The biggest problem by far though is my shower has developed a huge crack in the bottom and water is leaking out of it all over the floor every time I take a shower. Teddy gave me the key to the empty room across the hall so that I could take a shower their if I wanted to, but I don't really feel like going across the hall every morning. This isn't though all that surprising. In China things just have a way of breaking faster then you'd think they would. I went though three driers until I got one that worked, and even now it only sort of works. The other day three men came to my room presumably to fix the lights but they looked around realized they lacked the bulbs to fix any of the lights then left mumbling something about coming back. I guess Chinese craftsmanship doesn't stand for quality here either.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown

I've received two packages in the last two days from my parents and grand-parents. Teddy must think my whole family is rich, considering one package was so large that Teddy didn't bring it to me he just told me to go pick it up. We are having some sort of Christmas banquet this Friday sponsored by the school Teddy's text message about it was priceless, "The main president will host a banquet for the coming Christmas next Friday evening. You are cordially invited to attend the banquet which will start from 5:30 at room 211 of Mingdu Shiyuan Hotel -Teddy" Well I'm glad I was cordially invited since I don't go anywhere unless I'm cordially invited. I took some of the wrapped presents from the packages and put them under my little tree. Some of the wrapping had torn pretty good, all packages arrive sort of looking like they've been beaten for a while with a baseball bat. It's really nice to get stuff from home that I can't really get here, especially chocolate that is hopefully free of industrial cleaning chemicals. I guess I'll wait till Christmas or Hanukkah to open some of the presents, since it's nice to see them under the tree. Thanks for all the nice stuff, a menorah would have been pretty hard to find, merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah

Monday, December 15, 2008

That's China

There seem to be a growing number of things for which the only explanation is, "That's China." I was on the bus this weekend going to the mall to do some shopping when I heard what I thought was the sound of some one coughing. I looked over to see who it was only to discover that it was an old woman not coughing but throwing up into a bag she brought with her. The amazing thing is that she wasn't throwing up a little, she kept at it on and off for a minute or two before I got off, and she didn't seem to be very bothered by it either. She wasn't exactly falling on the floor or clutching her stomach she was just sitting there quietly throwing up into a bag. I got off that bus as fast as I possibly could since I don't know what she had, but I didn't want it. I really have no interest in dying of a disease that is so rare or unusual that they have to name it after me. Why was an old woman throwing up on the bus? Why did no one else on the bus seem to care? Why? That's China.

I've been making plans for what to do with the six weeks I get off for winter break here. I think I'm going to go up to Harbin in the north with Ken and Dave first. Harbin is unbelievably cold but it has skying and some sort of ice festival. We wanted to try and get plane tickets but the school can't seem to tell us what are schedule will be for the last two weeks. Unannounced to us they seem to want to give just the westerners off for Christmas, which would just screw with my schedule, then the whole school gets off a few days for New Years. This means that for two weeks in a row the same classes will have to be moved. When they will be set for is not something the school seems to want to tell me. Why are they so slow in planning and disseminating information? That's China. We finally decided it would be cheaper to take the train there and back from Harbin, but despite the fact that the train system is clearly run by a computer, you can't buy tickets more then 11 days in advanced and can't buy tickets at all unless your in the location you want to leave from, which means there are no round trip train tickets. Why? That's China.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Little Bit Embarrassing

Well we had a party last night with some some of the Americans and some of the Chinese students. We actually played beer pong which was a lot of fun, and even got some of the Chinese to play as well. I got a bit drunk by the end of the party and started picking some people up. Being sort of drunk this didn't go so well and I fell while holding one girl and hurt my knee a little and broke her cell phone. Ken gave her some money for it and he knows her a little so I can pay her back whatever it costs. He said that she wasn't too mad and the money isn't much of a problem, it's just that I know this is going to get around campus. The students talk about everything when it comes to the Americans, I tend to know what Ken and Dave are doing before they tell me just from hearing it from my students. Also China is a bad place to be paranoid that everyone is talking about you since they are constantly, but I guess I'm just going to have to hear about this one for a while.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Teddy Got Back

It was Teddy's birthday today. We got him a cake and Dave and Ken sang happy birthday to him in Chinese. Birthdays aren't really such a big deal in China Teddy said that his parents didn't even say happy birthday to him. Our cake had "Teddy Got Back" written on it since for some reason, which he tried to explain but I still don't understand, his e-mail is We hung around his office for a while and had some cake and talked with him and his assistant a student named Kerry. Afterwords Teddy sent me this text message, "Thanks for everything you did for me. This is the most surprising birthday I've ever had in my life. Teddy will come back in 100%." I'm not sure what the last sentence means but it was nice anyways. Ken also got him a poster of some Chinese pop singer he thinks is good looking. Here is a video of us surprising him:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

English Corner Revisited

I've mentioned English corner before the thing on Thursdays where a bunch of Chineese students gather around whichever American teachers showed up to talk to them. I say whichever but it's usually just Ken and David. I'd like to go, the students love it and I want to make nice with the school since I'm interested in staying another year, though I'm not sure they really have any idea what's up with English corner, but I just hate it. By Thursday night I'm tired and I've just completed all my classes for that week. Also I just don't know what to do. It started the first time I showed up with being mobbed by 100 students standing around me in a circle looking at me, I just don't know what to say. I felt like I'd have to start preforming magic tricks to keep them all entertained. I see other people talking to the whole crowed and making them laugh, but I'm just not a performer. I don't mind speaking to crowds but I have no idea how to engage that many people. I just end up answering questions from them until some one new walks by and asks me the same questions again. Even just going for like an hour seems like torture. One student asked me last time why I checked my cell phone so much, I didn't want to say that I was really impatient for this to end. I like teaching a lot at times, but English corner has such a different vibe. I guess I'm just not cut out for life as a street performer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guys and Dolls

The boys and girls in my classroom act almost constantly like there in elementary school when it comes to anything having to with one another. It's amazing that anyone in this country ever goes on a date with the distance they keep between each other. The only time when you ever see a boy sit next to a girl is when: A, I make them or B, they are already dating. In one class I needed everyone to be in twos for an activity and there were three boys so one had to be put with a girl. When I had the girl move over to where the boy was sitting she looked at me with such an expression of shock that you'd of thought I'd asked her to marry him. Not that it takes a lot to start these classes giggling but any mention of anything like, marriage, kissing, etc just sends them into convulsions. Dave suggested at one point that we should ask the school if we could teach them basic sex ed since I don't think they ever got a class like that. Part of it comes from the fact that China still has gender relations more like the US in the 50's then the west today. Before the Communist revolution here China was a society with little regards for any rights for women. The basic Confucian idea was that the women should obey their fathers, then their husbands, and if widowed their sons. The Communists pushed gender equality but it's come out unevenly. You still don't really see many women in the upper echelons of the party or in other positions of power. In fact its only recently that women were even close to half of the students at university. In my classes they make up about 90% and a girl is always the class monitor who should essentially be the best student.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's really starting to be Christmas time in China. I wasn't sure if they were going to celebrate Christmas at all since the country is officially atheist and they don't seem to big on most western holidays. But there is definitly a lot of Christmas spirit in China. The hotel in particular has a ton of Christmas stuff. They have a big tree outside, pictured to the left, and have decorated the lobby with a big Christmas sign some lights little reindeer and some small trees. Also the cold weather is making the whole place feel more like Christmas. The stores in particular are really into it, I guess any chance to embrace a holiday the involves buying decorations then buying presents is OK with all the big stores. I wish it would snow a little for Christmas but I think it doesn't usually snow here and even when it does it's a lot later. We are thinking of asking the school if we can go around caroling, I wanted to ask them since it comes a little close to religious stuff which they can really freak out about. I'm also planning on throwing some sort of little Hanukkah party, I found a grater so I can do Latkes for the people here. I just love the holiday season, even though I'm not at home, it's by far my favorite part of the winter. Plus I'm getting about 6 weeks off in about a month, and getting a bunch of extra money since I get paid while I'm off and I get a small travel stipend plus I get half my ticket reimbursed now.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Strange Days in Nanjing

On Friday morning we met up outside the hotel to go to our train. A Chinese guy named Samson, who's a friend of Dave’s, drove us. Samson was a factory manager of some kind who got laid off not too long ago and decided he wanted to learn a bunch of English. I'm not sure exactly how Dave met him but he offered to drive Dave anywhere so he could practice his English. It's not too common to have a car here so it's pretty nice having someone willing to drive us around just to get a chance to speak with us. In the US I'm just a recent college graduate and an English major, not such hot in demand skills, but it seems as soon as I stepped off the plane here I was an expert who possesses highly in demand and valuable skill, namely that I grew up speaking English. We got to the train station and onto the D train, which is the faster of several trains that runs along the Nanjing to Shanghai route. Once in Nanjing we got on their nice Subway system, it's pretty easy to figure out since it's only one line that snakes around the city. We got to the hotel pretty quick with the idea that we would put our bags down then see what was around. That didn't so much work out, here Dave explains:

In Wuzhen we didn't have passports either but it wasn't a problem, I guess in Nanjing there just stricter about this sort of thing. We weren't really sure what we were going to do but we decided to see some of the things near the hotel we were trying to stay at first. There was a temple of some sort close to there so we walked in that direction passing about a million shops selling all manner of things, including at leant four KFCs. We saw a canal near the temple with boat rides and I thought it would be fun to take a little boat ride around so we paid about 50 RMB and got on one of the boats. There was no one else anywhere around the boat area and the people who were supposed to drive the boats just sort of looked at us and went back to their card game. Dave suggested that the boats might only leave when full which would mean that our trip to Nanjing would consist of not getting a hotel and then spending all day sitting on a boat to nowhere. It was warm on the boat though so we decided to wait it out. It has been getting colder and colder in China and I think this weekend was unseasonably cold on top of that. It was pretty much in the Upper 20's to low 30's all weekend, and while we had warm cloths being outside all the time just left us freezing.

A Chinese girl got on the boat eventually and after about another 30 minutes a tour guide of some sort and someone to drive the boat came to and we were off. The tour guide would occasionally say things in Chinese that we didn't understand and the only other Chinese person was busy talking to the person driving the boat. She may have been in training to be a tour guide, I've heard that some of the people go on the tours so they can learn what's up and try to get a job giving them. The boat ride was nice passing some interesting looking buildings by the side of the canal, and some really colorful ostentatious tourist crap that they had built there. The canal and the buildings beside it were much nicer and cleaner then the buildings and water I'm used to seeing. The water was a dirty green, but it didn’t' smell or anything. In fact Nanjing as a whole is a pretty fancy built up city with some really nice and clean downtown areas, a lot more like Shanghai then Changzhou.

After that we looked in the guide book and decided to go up the mountain at the edge of the city. You could either walk up or take a skiing chair lift type device to the top. Dave and Ken of course wanted to walk but there was no way I was climbing a mountain so I got them to take the chair lift. It was pretty cold out so there weren’t that many people up on the mountain. On the lift there was a beautiful view of Nanjing and the surrounding area. It was still extremely hazy, though with the weather this was probably the clearest it ever gets and we could see pretty far. The city is pretty beautiful and the haze actually had a sort of pretty mist like effect on it. The most amazing thing was that all the land around the mountain was green and covered in trees except for a few temples and what not. I don't think I've seen anything resembling a nature preserve in China and this clearly was since the city could have easily sprawled in this direction. The chair lift took a while to go up about half a kilometer but there was this once Chinese guy who seemed to be walking along the mutinous path underneath the chairlift and was beating us up the mountain. He was really kicking it up this path though we eventually overtook him once it got really steep.

It was really cold up on the lift with the wind blowing and everything. We almost accidentally got off at the half way point since it looked like a stop and you couldn't see from there that this was just the much lower second peak of the mountain. On top there was a little park with a beautiful panoramic view of the Nanjing and most of the surrounding area. Down a little lower was a big Buddha statue that we all took pictures with. There was one guy running around the park with no shirt on which was pretty amazing considering I was freezing in a T-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, and hat. As we came down toward the chair lift again a bunch of Chinese students saw us and all wanted pictures with us. With the number of different students and all the different pictures they wanted we must have taken 30 pictures before they left. It must be what it's like to be a celebrity to be just walking around minding your own business when all of a sudden you’re mobbed for pictures. It also shows just how unusual Americans are that where ever we go people want to take pictures with us to show their friends, "look no really I met an American!"

After we got back down we decided to go to the Tomb of Dr. Sun who is considered the founder of modern China by both the Communists and the people the defeated. To get there we took a bus, which in Nanjing apparently don't stop unless you jump up and down furiously to get their attention. Even when you do get on the bus they drive around these two lane roads on the mountain at about 60 mph and take every turn in such a way you think you're about to be thrown out of the bus. It took us a few wrong stops, the character for the tomb and for a botanical garden look similar until we got there. Like almost anything in China entrance wasn't free and they sold crap about every 10 feet. In America it would be pretty rude to sell toys, and food at a guy’s tomb, but I guess that's how they get 9% growth. The tomb was up a long walkway then up 400 or so steps. The tomb itself was nice and simple but the view and the look of it perched onto of all those steps was pretty amazing.

After the tomb it was getting late so we decided to go to the French restaurant owned by the French guy I met at the Changzhou Expo. It was pretty far across town so instead of just getting a taxi all the way there we took a bus that was going in more or less the right direction until we asked a Chinese person and she told us that we should probably get off here. We then tried to hail down a cab to get us there. For some reason it took us probably 30 minutes to get a cab including two that seemed to be empty but just drove on by. We were even starting to get worried since in China dinner time usually ends a little after 7 and it was getting close to 7 already. We finally got a cab that got us there though he had to study the little map on the back of the business card I had about four different times to find it. Les 5 Fens was though open until 10, extremely late for China, so we had no problem getting a table.

The menu was written in Chinese, French, and English and all the wait staff spoke at least some English, though they didn't exactly have the French pacing down. The restaurant itself was pretty with yellow walls, French pictures, and low lights. We each ordered three courses. I got foie gras for a starter, a lamb dish for a main course, and an apple tart with ice cream for dissert. They even had more European drinks and I had a glass of Kir. The food was all really good and very French. It was pretty expensive by Chinese standards, we spent 400 RMB total or about $60. I'm probably glad that there isn't a restaurant like this in Changzhou since I think I'd eat there constantly. It was just really nice to have something really western in the middle of China. After that Dave called a person he knows who lives in Nanjing and asked if we could stay with him for the night he was busy doing something," playing with my friend," so we went to a popular foreigner bar to wait for a while. While it took forever to find the French restaurant it took telling the cab driver two characters to let him know exactly were the bar was.

The bar was down a flight of stair almost exactly under a McDonalds. When we got there they told us there was a cover charge because an American metal band would be playing. We didn't have a lot of cash so we went a street over to an ATM. It was so warm in the inside area near the ATM that we hung out there for about 20 minutes before we went back to the bar. At the bar a Chinese metal cover band was banging out some music when we got there:

In between songs we got this mini keg and brought it to one of the table in the back. The bar was pretty empty. It was about four Americans presumably in the metal band, and about 10 Chinese people including two warm up bands. Some of the Chinese people were really into it banging there head in time with the music. China is not a really good country for heavy metal music. Here the most generic annoying pop I've ever heard is more popular then you could possibly imagine. The Backstreet Boys could play every city in China and never run out of shows to do. I think these 10 Chinese people may have represented every metal fan in a city of 6 million. After a few songs the American metal band, called Corrupt Absolute came on. Now some people stumble in cliché, some people just can't avoid cliché, and some people embrace it whole heartedly. Corrupt Absolute must hit every conceivable metal cliché I can think of. There songs are indistinguishable guitar riffs and drum solos. They yell every lyric in a voice designed to be as course as possible and there songs are all about death and suffering.

The singer introduced one song this way, "This is a song for my mother, it's called Fist Fuck Her." Actually I'm not sure if it was "Fist Fucker," "Fist Fuck Her," or even "Fist, Fuck Her." But either way he seemed mad. He then went on with, "Let's slow it down for a minute. This is a love song, it's called Postmortem Slut." The final song had a call and response section were he screamed "I don't care about you, fuck you," to which the small crowed would call back, "fuck you." I stole one of there posters off the wall and noticed that this is part of a whole Chinese tour there doing. I can't possible imagine there's any money in this, or that any metal band really wants to play China. After they were done a lot more people showed up, they were probably waiting for the cover charge to be lifted.

After a while we headed up to the McDonalds to wait for Dave's friend. He finally showed up and brought us to his house around 1am. His apartment was pretty nice with a couple of rooms. He is a student at our school in Changzhou but I think he's from Nanjing so his parents gave him this place to live whenever he's in Nanjing. There was a bed and a couch, Dave and Ken slept on the bed while I was on the couch. The bed was small but they got a blanket which I had a thin sheet. For some reason even when they have heat the Chinese don't seem to like to use it so despite that I had on all my cloth, my shoes, my hat, and my jacket, I thought I was going to freeze to death at night. In the morning the guy we were staying with had to leave pretty early so he wasn't there by the time we all got up. We wanted to see the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, about the Rape on Nanjing, so we got up and took a cab there.

The museum was actually free, though we did have to wait in a line to get in. The Rape of Nanjing was during World War II when the Japanese conquered Nanjing started raping and murdering a huge number of civilians left in the city. The Chinese say about 300,000 civilians were killed in the months following the takeover of Nanjing, in either organized extermination or just random killings. International estimates are somewhat lower but with maybe even double the number killed in the areas surrounding Nanjing. The museum itself is big and a lot of it is out doors. It is built around the mass graves of some 10,000 victims of the massacre a fact which they confirmed by the excavation the very top of the grave in one section. The museum is incredibly detailed and fiercely anti-Japanese, though this isn't quite so hard to understand. The Japanese have quite a history of not really apologizing for the massacre and for doing things to inflame the Chinese. In fact much of the museum seems carefully put together to respond to any claim that the massacre didn't happen or was exaggerated.

The most disturbing part comes from a series of photos by Japanese solders of people about to be executed with a sword or heads sitting of barricades. Another interesting note is the downplaying of the involvement of Nazi Germany in the relief efforts after the Japanese left. There is a flag from the Red Swastika Society next to two from various Red Crosses. One German businessman there who helped shelter some of the Chinese was also the learned of the Nazi part in China and was commended for his action by Hitler. The museum though takes almost no note of this. It was still a very powerful museum and interesting to see.

Finally, we went to a section of the old wall which is a huge 60 or 70 foot wall that used to stretch around most of the city. Constructed in only about 20 years and containing about a billion stones it's no wonder the Chinese were able to build things like the great wall. In fact Ken suggested that if we never get to the Great Wall then we could pass off the pictures from Nanjing and no one would know the difference. Besides this huge wall was a gate, actually a series of four gates that seemed so big and intimidating that it's a wonder how anyone ever attacked this city. Each stone in the wall was stamped with the location it was from who was in charge of it and when it was made so that it was easier to fix if it broke. Some sections of the wall have been clearly rebuilt, though the place we were at makes no mention of this, but it's really a site to behold. Probably more then half of the wall still exists today as well, an estimate to its engineering.

We returned to the train station and got a ticket back to Changzhou; though since the D trains are so popular we had to wait about an hour. The rest of the trip back was pretty easy and it was really nice just to get inside somewhere really warm for a change.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cold Classrooms

I may have mentioned it in a previous post, honestly with more then 80 posts now it sometimes hard to remember what I've already talked about and even harder to go back and check all the posts, but the classrooms here are not heated in the winter. Now at first blush that doesn't seem to be such a big problem since it never gets what I'd call Wisconsin cold here, but once I had been teaching for a while I realized that even though it never got as cold as in Wisconsin I can't get in out of the cold. It's one thing to be freezing on a walk to class and another to be cold the whole damn class. It means I can never really take off my jacket, especially for those frigid 8 am classes, and that sometimes I want to wear a hat also.

I asked Teddy how come all the students don't freeze to death whenever it gets down to like 1 or 2 degrees Celsius and he pointed out that that was one advantage of packing them 8 to a room. It seems funny when the school provides me this huge heated room with hardwood floors and the students are packed 8 to a room about the size of a closet without heating. I guess it just shows again how much the school likes having foreign teachers, and maybe they realize that if I had to live like the students I wouldn't have made it through a week here. It looks like me, Ken, and Dave are going to Nanjing this weekend for two or three days. I ordered the train tickets over the phone with the help of one of my students and like an hour and a half later a guy shows up at my door with all three tickets at a really nominal fee, plus in China you don't have to tip anyone.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Economic Slowdown

I hear more and more in the press, the foreign press reading the Chinese press seems to be mostly a waste of time, about how the economic slowdown is effecting China. Down at first from 12% growth to something like 9 it may be in fact lower then that, though it's always a little hard to gauge since the party doesn't exactly love transparency. What I wonder is what a slowdown or even a recession would look like in China. 8% growth may seem like a lot but when you've been planing on 12 it actually means people end up out of a job and building end up half built or empty. I see some of that here, though with the rate they build things I can't tell if that's just normal. I read a story about how there are a lot of labors from the country side who now that some of the work has dried up are looking to go back home which makes the local government nervious about a huge influx of unemployed people. I wonder how much blame the government here would git in a full fledged crises since they take so much of the credit when things go well and have built the system to make themselves totally responsible for everything. One story was about a guy from Wuxi who couldn't find more work and had to go home. Wuxi is probably the closest city to Changzhou being about a stones throw to the East. While my job isn't really all that likely to be effected, since there still aren't nearly enough foreigners to go around, it's not only the US that's effected by all this. Who new some bad homes loans in Dayton, Ohio where going to put people out of work in Changzhou, China; welcome to the global economy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

One Thousand Years of Moving Stones

There getting a lot of work done on the huge new library that is basically going to be the center piece of the school. It looks like it will be at least five stories bigger then the next tallest building on campus and given it's central location almost all of the roads on campus run either to or from it. In fact even the little canal which runs through campus is being diverted to better accentuate the building. One of the buildings I teach in is basically next to the library, though its actually a little distance from it, and has a road that leads right to it. The only problem is that while at some points that road is about three lanes wide by the time it get near the library it's tiny only about one lane. So they decided to widen it before they finish the library.

The only problem is that this extension runs right through one side of a little pond they have on campus. So starting about a week ago they took out all the trees lining the pond then drained the water out so that they could build some of it back up and extend the road. It looks like the first thing they are doing is building a wall made of stones and mud and what I hope is some concrete in the middle of the pond so that they can fill some of it in and build the road on a solid foundation. This all sounds pretty normal, and it is, except for the way they are building it. In America they would have brought in cranes and bulldozers and jackhammer and whatever else, here they build this road the same way they've probably been building it for more then a thousand years, with man power. I To put these stones in place in the bottom of the drained pond two guys attach a rope around one of the stones, which must way more then 100 pounds, and the ropes attach to a big piece of bamboo which is then hoisted on the shoulders of two men who carry it to its place in the dry pond. In less then a week they managed to build a wall about 80 feet long and about 10 feet high using not one visible piece of machinery.

For all the changes people say have come and are coming to China there are still people in one of its most central industrial cities who build walls in the same way that there ancient ancestors where probably building walls. It usually seems that everything today is different and that even a farmer of 50 years ago would barley recognize the modern implements of his trade there are still people moving rocks in the oldest way in the world, by carrying them. In one sense it has this great feeling of tradition that if it ain't broke don't fix it. In another it just proves how cheap labor here is that it's much cheaper to have a ton of people moves rocks by hand then have a machine do it for them. But in another sense anyone who thinks that the time of China's ascension is at hand, anyone who thinks that in the next 50 years China will supplant America as the worlds hegemonic power should come to Changzhou and see people moving rocks the same way they did a thousand years ago.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Long Weekend

Even though it's Sunday night here it doesn't really feel like the start of the week. On Mondays I usually have two classes one from 8am-10am and another from 2pm-4pm. But last week was the end of the early class. Why a class would run for such a short time, and why I didn't have to give them a test remains a mystery, but at the last meeting I asked to make sure that the class did in fact end last week. In fact there are only five weeks left in the semester counting the week at the end where I'm supposed to give some sort of test. So tomorrow I only have a class from 2-4 then on Tuesday I only have a class from 2-5 normally, plus I don't really have to do much preparation since I have things left over from what I thought up last week, so this is basically two more days I get off before I have six and five hours on Wendsday and Thursday respectively. It's nice to have some time off after traveling last weekend and being sick last week, though I was woken up at 8 this morning by some sort of construction that sounded like they were doing it five feet from my window despite the fact I'm on the 14th floor.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

To Give Thanks

Yesterday we held our Thanksgiving in China. This is now the second time I've been away from home by myself on Thanksgiving and both times I've been sad that I wasn't back in the US but glad to be with really interesting and great people. We held it Friday instead of Thursday since most of us had class Thursday and little time to prepare. Of the six Americans at the school four made it, Brian had to work, and Jason was off somewhere. We decided to do it pot luck style since we had no real ability to get most of the Thanksgiving day food and everyone had something they could make. I made my mashed potatoes, which came out pretty good even though the milk is a little odd tasting. The butter I found at Wal-Mart was Land O'Lakes, and unlike some US company stuff was clearly imported from the US since the whole packaging was in English with a Chineese label stuck over it. I bought maybe a dozen potatoes, costing about one dollar, and made a ton of mashed potatoes, there was none really left at the end though after people took some for leftovers. Dave made a sweat potato dish. Usually they sell steamed sweat potatoes out in front of the school at night but Dave couldn't wait for night so he bought some and cooked them himself. He added a topping with almonds brown pepper and something making it very sweat. Since things like this are often cooked in an oven and there seem to be no ovens in all of China he put the dish in a pan then the pan in a wok full of water so that it would heat evenly.

Ken made stove top stuffing which came out pretty well though there was almost a bit of an indecent over a confusion between a clove and a bulb of garlic that would have resulted in the stuffing pretty much tasting like pure garlic. Clark made pasta and garlic bread. I didn't even see pasta sauce but apparently they have it at Wal-Mart. We had the whole festivities at Ken's place since it's the biggest. I was waiting around there for a while so I looked around, he has two bathrooms about four empty room, some of which could be bedrooms, a huge closet area, two porches and a TV room. It's honestly a little creepy in there with all that space. Teddy and Steve's family also came to the party. Steve's wife Spring insisted on bringing some food, one things was some sort of cabbage, one was some sort of dry sausage, and another I'm not really sure what it was. We got together at Ken's place around 6 to finish cooking. Spring hung around the kitchen watching all the Americans put the final touches on there food while Dave and Teddy got another table to put together with the one in Ken's place.

Besides the food people made Ken bought some wine, one of which we couldn't get properly open so there was a good bit of cork in the bottle. Finally, since we never really found any turky Ken and Dave went to get the closest thing, two big buckets of KFC. Ken said the people had quite a look on their faces when they pointed to two of the largest size they sold. I think they probably believe that they were personally going to eat all that chicken. We had paper plates and plastic utensils that the Chinese guests used also. In the end we put all the food in the middle and past is around in true Thanksgiving style. The food wasn't all that much in Thanksgiving tradition but the style was just right. We all sat around with friends at a big table and had a good time eating to much food. It's fun to have all the same things year after year, and if I could I would have had turkey and pumpkin pie and all the other things, but it's more about the people. We even had Steve's son who wolfed down some pasta then went into the other room to watch TV proving kids are kids anywhere. It all felt more like home then I could have hoped for.

At home dad always gives a Thanksgiving toast about what he's thankful for for the past year and while I didn't really get a chance to yesterday I thought I'd put it here: I'm thankful that I finally finished college; I'm thankful that I had fun in DC before getting to go abroad; I'm thankful I'm finally in China and having such a nice time here; I'm thankful that my family is OK back home and Poppy is feeling better; I'm thankful that I met such nice people here; And I'm thankful for all the support I've received form everyone. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Video Day

Today I am still feeling not great so in my long class I decided to show a video. I wanted to show them Shakespeare in Love since it was about England, had lots of people talking in British accents and was probably the sort of sappy thing they'd like. We hit one problem after another. We were trying to watch it on a laptop but the sound was way too low, so I went up and got some speakers. Then the music was loud but the speech was inscrutable. Finally, I decided to just take them up to my room and show it to them on my TV. They got quite a kick out of that and all commented on how nice the room was, though I agree with them 100% on that. We finally got the movie started but about 15 minutes in the DVD crapped out. That's the downside of cheap DVDs some just don't work right. The students all thought 10 RMB so so expensive, they download everything from the internet, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper then $20 or whatever DVDs are going for. So I decided to switch movies and show them Elizabeth. That one worked though it was a harder movie and some got board. Rose and Sally, who are my best students, got it though and I think it at least helped them to see some British stuff and hear a British accent. Honestly, with the sort of work they've been trained to do versus the sort they'll expect form them in England added to their language difficulties I'll be surprised if anyone besides Rose actually comes back with a degree.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cold and Flu Season

It seems like its cold and flu season in China as a besides myself a bunch of my students seemed sick. In one class when there was a quiet period I could here a bunch of students sniffling and in another class one guy had a cough worse then mine. Given that I'm already sick I hope that I have whatever the kids have so I can't get it again. Feeling bad all day really made my temper pretty short with the students. There were at least two times I yelled at them where I probably wouldn't have if I felt better. It's not that they didn't deserve it but I was just in a worse mood then usual. I feel like I want to run around with one of those face masks on though I doubt that they would actually anything. It looks like were going to be doing some sort of Thanksgiving pot luck and I'm going to make mash potatoes which is fine though it takes a lot of potatoes to make mash potatoes for like 12 people.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I seem to have come down with some sort of cold or something in the last day or two. It's not that bad really, though I'm not looking forward to being on my feet teaching six hours of class tomorrow. It's just that it seems like I have one little annoying sickness after another here. In the first few weeks it was diarrhea, which still comes back sometimes, then last week I had this annoying canker sore in my mouth, now I have this cough. It's also annoying not to be able to go to a CVS and pick up some cough drops or really much else. Wal-Mart might have some stuff like that, though I haven't seen it but things for little problems are not too frequent here. Everybody does like to give medical advice though. I know some of the things they believe, like tea being good for you are really true, but they have some crazy notions. I've heard that walking and eating is bad, not eating lunch precisely between 12 and 12:30 is unhealthy, cold water with hot food is verboten. If you ask them where exactly they get this advice form it's always something like my grandmother told me this or my parents said that. I've even heard them say that walking backwards for 20-30 minutes a day is good for you, and you see some doing just that on one of the tracks. So far I've decided to drink more tea and ignore everything else.

Monday, November 24, 2008

On the Road Again

Me Ken and David set off Saturday morning for a quick trip down to Wuzhen, a river town known for its old section and for being the birthplace and setting for a famous Chinese author. Wuzhen is close enough that it's certainly possible to go on a weekend, but it's also pretty difficult. It takes maybe 7 hours door to door and you have to do that both days, so the story of this trip is basically the story of the traveling as much as the being there. We took a first but to Jiaxing which is most of the way toward our destination. This bus was your standard Greyhound type bus with maybe the exception of the nice gentlemen who sat in front of us high out of his mind sipping on some sort of opiate.

It was pretty cold out but he had his window open for some reason and his head pretty much out of it. After some people asking for him to close it got no noticeable response the bus driver actually came back moved his head inside and partially closed the window. Now it was still incredibly windy in the back so Ken tapped his should to try and motion for him to close the window but he wasn't able to figure out who had tapped his should despite looking around and went back to intensely staring at the crack in the window. Ken said he was taking sips out of some container and must be high, but I thought he had to be drunk. Eventually though I saw that the container was way too small to put any real alcohol in and contained some weird green liquid which must be some sort of opiate. Ken eventually just almost totally shut his window, I don't think he noticed.

Out bus let us off in some really random part of Jiaxing and we stopped to have some lunch. I wasn't that hungry since I had eaten a big breakfast earlier so I just wanted to order some small spring rolls I saw on the menu. The people there kept insisting that one ridiculous and I should order two. It looked in the picture like there was three to an order but I figured that it must just be one per order so I got two. When they came it was three per order so I ended up with six. They just couldn't get over that I might want something smaller then a normal sized lunch. We walked to a close by bus station and got the next ticket to Wuzhen which wasn't for two hours so we walked around for a while. Ken had something called a Flat Stanley, a cut out of a person you send some one and they take picture with it and send it back, so he was looking for some good pictures. We took one near a motor vehicle; I wouldn't call it a car that looked like a cardboard box with wheels stick out of it. The owner of it came up while we were taking the picture but thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

We finally got on a bus for Wuzhen I was surprised to find that the bus was basically an old city bus. I do mean old to some of the seat were in bad condition and the whole things smelled like fish, though in China that could mean someone was carrying fish with them. We got seats but they just kept putting people on until they had to bring out benches and stools for them to sit on so every available inch of the foot was covered in people or bags or both. This bus rumbled on for about and hour until we arrived in Wuzhen. Immediately off the bus we were surrounded by people trying to sell us rides or take us to their hotel but we just decided to walk. One really persistent woman followed us for quite a while and when we stopped in a park was talking to Dave and convinced him that she could get us a good deal on a hotel so we got in her car like device and went on with her. Here's a video of the ride:

She did eventually find us a hotel and a really good marked down price about 60 RMB each or about $8 a night. We didn't have to pay her either though I'm sure she gets a kick back from the hotel. A lot of the hotel had hourly rates so the joke was that maybe we got such a good deal since it was only for an hour and they thought we were a couple of homosexuals in for a quick romp. Our room was nice with three beds heating and a real toilet, though there were some holes in the wall covered by a page of a magazine. We put our stuff down and went to find the old section of the city. We weren’t sure where to go so we got in the bicycle rickshaws and I thought going up a small hill the old guy pulling me and Ken was going to have a heart attack. The place we were going was actually really close but by the time we got there it was already getting dark. We walked around for a while and took some pictures but soon decided to get something to eat. Ken and Dave wanted to go to the smallest most rustic looking place and soon we sat down. Here's a video about ordering dinner:

On the video I mention it would be funny if this meal was actually more expensive then the nice restaurants. In China so far everyone has been so nice to me and so honest about money that I let my guard down and didn't think to ask before hand how much everything in the meal would cost. The meal was pretty good, not great, and we figured it would be something like 45 total, they tired to charge us 120. That's really the crew the foreigner’s price. We may be new in China but we didn't just fall of the truck. We tried to argue a little but lacked the language so we called up Steve who argued with them in Chinese for a few minutes until the lowered the price to 80 which is still too much but probably as good as we were going to get. We tried to find to find someone in the town to complain to but it probably would have been to little avail since I'm not sure this place really has an address and if it does we didn't know it.

On Sunday we went back to the old section of the city and got a boat ride around. The city definitely has a nice old look to it and while there were quite a few tourists, none American, there probably would have been a ton more in season. We walked around for a while looking at the old streets and buildings. We went to the Ancient Bed Museum, but all the beds looked the same to me. We saw this old guy hanging out in a corner of the street who we think the city might pay to stand there and Ken got a picture of him holding Flat Stanley. The guy got a big kick out of it as did all the Chinese tourists. We saw some bendy impossible looking pole that people climb as a spectacle but since it was drizzling there was no show. The town itself is nice and the streets in the old sections are impossibly narrow. There was another section of the town but you had to pay again to enter and it was getting late so we decided to head back. We got aboard the old school bus back to Jiaxing. We made it about half way before smoke starting coming out of the side and we had to pull over at a gas station. Dave explains the rest:

We did eventually flag down another bus and got to Jiaxing but there were no buses to Changzhou from what we later learned was only one of two bus stations in Jiaxing. So we got a bus to Wuxi which is close to Changzhou. Once there we got another bus back arriving back at the hotel at about 6pm. I have a lot of photos up form the trip on flickr and I'm happy to have mom and dad back so someone will click on the ads, opps I'm not supposed to say that.

Friday, November 21, 2008


A lot of my students have this tendency to tell me way more about their personal lives then I want to know. In class on Wendsday I was playing a game where I put a word on the board and they wrote down the first 10 things they thought of and I asked them about it. I put marriage on the board since my students act like there 1o years old so I knew I'd get a lot of giggles and laughs. One girl put down something like conflict so I asked her why, which is basically what I asked everyone. At first she said it was a secret, but since they constantly misuse words and don't like talking I pushed for her to explain something. I basically then had to cut her off about four seconds later when I think she was about to get into how her father beats her. I have no idea what makes the students want to share this sort of personal information. I know some of it is cultural, they just don't really have the same sort of personal boundaries we do, one student asked if she could pat my belly. One student once told Dave that she thought about killing herself. Dave was pretty freaked out and told Teddy whose basic response was to shrug it off. As Dave noted if this was the US he'd basically have a responsibility to immediately tell some one about this, but here they just sort of ignore it. It's not that I'm not interested in their personal lives, I just wish they wouldn't share quite so much very personal information.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Painting Trees

Its something I've touched on in a number of other posts but I think its one of the most common feelings I've had here in China, most of the time I simply have no idea what's going on. Some of my students in the small class, the one that's going to England, asked me how I coped with traveling and learned to adapt. Basically what I do is just go with the flow and do mostly whatever the locals are doing. Today for example they were doing what looked like painting trees. There were a bunch of guys with big buckets of what looks like white paint and paint rollers going all over the lower half of the trees on campus. They weren't exactly in a big hurry since I saw them going to class and by the time two hours later I came by with a camera they had moved about 5 trees on. I knew it couldn't be paint, honestly just thinking "hmmm who would want to paint trees," isn't enough to make me believe that they don't paint trees in China, was that it smelled terrible. Half the campus reeked of this smell which was sort of a cross between wet dog and bad eggs, though leaning toward the dog side. When I came with my camera there was about one guy working while the other just sort of talked and watched him slowly work, so I guess things aren't all that different.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Other People's Stories

I remember sitting around once listening to my parents and some of their friends talk about there almost made it moment in the stock market. The time they sold right before a stock took off or right after it plummeted. No one there was exactly going to be a millionaire or be bankrupt by what happened but I just noticed that all the stories were the same. No one had the story of the time they bought that stock right before it took off, or the time they sold just at the right moment. I wondered where all the people where who were having the other conversation. Today in my small class I had my students talk about school, their high school, their middle school, their college. I noticed that all the students had some version of the same story. They weren't good students in high school or really in college. One girl talked about how she went to what was one of the best high schools in here region, but had to pay extra because her test scores didn't meet their standards. She went on to say that her whole time there she never really caught up to the other students. She said she did about 4 hours of homework a night, about 3.5 more then I did in high school, and still was always behind. Leaving aside that it was pretty remarkable how little they complain about big stuff like this or how freely they talk about it, none of my students were ever really the top people. The only boy in the class actually attend a college devoted to garden design. I don't think there is a single college in the US that focuses on that. So I wondered again where are all the students who had an easy time in high school and got top marks. As to where the people are who made just the right moves in the stock market, I eventually answered that they must be having this discussion in a bigger house somewhere. The students with the top marks they're probably sitting around discussion it in a better school. I like the school here a lot, but what we do is pretty separated form most of the school and I get the sense more and more that despite all it's size and building that this is a pretty lowly regarded school.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Little Flowers

So if I'm supposed to be the one giving a test to my students how come they don't seem to care and I feel like I'm under the spot light? I think one of my classes is ending next week, I say I think since I'm not actually 100% sure I'll give the test then see if anyone shows up after that, so I've been trying to plan some sort of test. My original idea was to have them each come up and ask them to describe something with detail off the top of their head. In practicing this in class I saw that if that was the test no one would pass. So I gave them 11 topics and told them I'd pick on at random. I made it even easier by saying at the end I'll ask them questions that way if they are completely flummoxed I'll be able to give them some pushing in the right direction. Honestly I'm not worried about the test accurately gauging their skill honestly a three minute test is more then enough to tell how good they are. My main worry is what right do I really have to give some one a bad mark no matter how bad they are. I've had this class for maybe a grand total of 20 hours in the entire semester. They shouldn't just receive grades based on English level since I've had almost no real effect on that level.

Honestly I'm pretty sure the school expects me to pass all of them with pretty good marks, and if that's what they want I'm not really going to object. I'll probably hand out between A and C to those who come to class regularly and B to D for the others. But there is at least one students I can think of who comes to every class doesn't sleep or text or anything during class and has the English level of a 3 year old. How can I give her a bad grade when it at least appears she's trying, but how can I give her a good one when she just sucks at English. I'm just hoping that the take my lesson today to heart and basically come in with very well practiced answers to my questions. This isn't a hard test. Honestly with a week or two to study and some memorization I could probably pass this test in French, and I in no way speak French. It's just that some times the whole fly by night policy of China gets on my nerves when I feel it's been bad for the students.

Next semester I'm keeping careful records of who attends and who participates and no matter what the school wants that's going to determine most of the grade. If I worked at some sort of other job I wouldn't care as much about how exactly good I was at it, and I certainly would feel bad about not being up to snuff, but I guess I just feel like a teacher is still some what of an important job and that I have a responsibility to the little buggers. Today in class we where playing a game where I gave them a card with a job on it and they had to get the rest of the class to guess the job. I gave one student "Teacher" and she just said gardener. I stopped her thinking she had some how tipped the class off since it seemed such an unlikely connections but she explained that in Chinese gardener is a common metaphor for teacher, the class being the flowers a gardener tries to help grow. I laughed and referred to them all as flowers for the rest of the class, but I guess I just care about my little garden.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Temporary Flowers

There was a track and field sort of competition for the students and facility this weekend. Dave won the 400 and the 800 meter races, he probably could have won anything longer too since he's basically a distance runner. He said that the other people just basically sprinted out of the gates but then lost steam way before the end. The whole thing was an odd mix of formality and the usual fly by night style of China. Apparently most of the teachers who were participating had to come to the opening ceremony in suits, but the American's of course didn't have to do anything like that. Most of the events were pretty standard fare like running and high jump but there were some odd sports. First there was one mostly for fun which involved lines of twenty people each person holding the foot of one of the people behind them and then all hoping down the track. Also there was a 20x500 meter relay, that's 20 people on each relay team. I guess if you just did 2 or 4 you'd never get to all the people here. When they gave out little medals to the students they would have them stand on a small podium like thing give them flowers, take a picture, then take the flowers away to use again. All the schools competed against each other though I don't know how many of the students cared since most just treated it as a three day weekend.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Steve invited me and some of the other Americans over to his house again today, this time Dave insisted that if his wife didn't join us for dinner we are all going to leave. Steve is a pretty interesting guy. He's an English teacher, which partially explains his interest in hanging around with Americans, but it's more then that. He really makes an effort to get to know all the new Americans, and given how often people change here, that's really saying something. In a country where most people are pretty shy, he's fairly outgoing. When we play poker he seems to get very excited. The first time I thought it was because he had three beers, a lot for him, but he didn't drink as much this time and was still probably the most rowdy one at the table. English is also an interesting career choice in a country where all English is essentially taught like ESL back home. If you took a course in Spanish at a university in America it would be more about Spanish literature then how to speak Spanish. Therefore it would matter less if the teacher was a native Spanish speaker or not. But here English is taught more like ESL is taught in high school, the focus is on speaking and grammar. I'm just not sure how many non-native English speakers teach ESL in America.

Steve also isn't treated as well by the school as the foreign teachers are. If were a little late for class nothing happens, hell nothing really happens if we miss a class altogether. But Steve said he was once about three minutes late for a class and was worried the school would fine him something like a months pay. I'm sure partially because he hangs around Americans so much his English is better then pretty much anyone I know here, a fact he really enjoys when you point out. His wife has a masters degree of some sort but I've never really spoken to her much. I'm pretty sure she was the only woman Steve ever dated, which is pretty much in keeping with Chinese tradition. I've compared gender relations here to the US in the 50's and I think that's pretty close. Maybe the most interesting thing about Steve is how he acts as a mirror for us. It's always interesting to see what he think about what we are talking about. When Lynn visited me, her, Dave, and Steve were all sitting around talking. Lynn was talking about some creepy guy who was hitting on her so the conversation sort of turned toward sex. Steve out of no where asks what we thought was the correct thing to say to his son about masturbation. I was completely floored, but to Steve this conversation seemed related to talking about sex where no American ever would have made that jump. Oddly it was Lynn, who had only known Steve for about 30 minutes, who could pull herself together enough to actually give Steve anything like an answer. It just shows how many little cultural assumptions there are that we are not even aware of.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Well I promised some video from the Halloween party and here is the best of it. Me, David, Ken, and Bryan doing a impromptu performance of YMCA. We had planned to do some rehearsal but had never gotten around to it. I'm at the far end of the stage from the camera.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Big Trouble in Little China

I wonder if I cut odd one of my students heads and stuck it on a spike in the front of class would that actually be enough to make the rest of them fall in line, because right now I think they'd just shrug and go back to talking in Chinese. My small class which had been so good for the past couple of weeks was in full rebellion today. I asked them to tell me something about college life, or high school, since too many had gone to the same college undergraduate. While most seemed to think it was boring and begrudgingly did it one girl just refused. She just sat there with her arms crossed refusing to participate. I basically had a choice here I could have tossed her out of the class, or at least threatened to, or I could talk to her about what her problem is and try to resolve it. I chose the later and I'm not sure it was the right choice. I spent a good amount of time trying to understand what her problem was, more or less it was that she wanted more focus on vocabulary and role play. I know some of the other students don't want this though and I think it's a bad idea. I think that my activity where each person speaks and then everyone else asks them questions is really helpful since it gets them all talking and asking and answering questions.

I've always had some trouble punishing people in class since I don't always feel I have the authority to since I have no earthly idea what I'm doing. I feel weird laying down the hammer trying to get them to do what I want when I don't know if what I want is right. In an attempt to convince them that you could talk at length about anything I lead a 45 minute in depth discussion of a coin, it's actually a scene from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I have no idea though if any of my point got through to them, and too much of the argument of class style was conducted in Chinese But I think that sure or not, good idea or not, right or not, I just have to lay down the hammer. I said at the end of class that some of this confusion was my fault for not being strict enough with them, and they all said no they liked my temperament, but I'm not sure that isn't part of the problem. I think that I have to worry less about if they like me or the class and more about what they're learning. It was harder at first when I was struggling to keep my head above water but now I need to do more.

There are a lot of different attitudes toward teaching here. No one came to China to teach, we all taught to come to China. Some give the absolute minimum, which here is pretty little. Honestly I understand the impulse. I've never been much of a worker at some of the part time jobs I've had. I spent hours at the gift shop I worked at surfing the internet or sitting in a closet, not that it matters much when there are no customers. But here I just can't bring myself to care that little. I care a lot less about the bigger classes to be sure, but I just sort of feel as if this smaller class, the one that's going to England, needs me. Most of the time teaching feels like some weird joke, or crazy experience, but with my smaller class I starting to really care about them and feel invested like, dare I say, their teacher. It's even weirder since at least two of them are older then me. Some of the other teachers make more of an effort, but I think in the beginning I was more concerned with getting through class then how I did it. Now I'm feeling more pressure to not just teach but to be a better teacher. Next time I'm bringing a jar and anyone who talks in Chinese has to put 1 Jiao, 1/10th of a RMB. I don't know if I'm doing the absolutely best thing to prepare them, it has it's good sides despite being boring, but I need more order in this class. What did Machiavelli say it's better to be feared then loved, I'm not sure he was wrong.