Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bump, Set, Spike!

Did I mention that I'm helping to coach the JV girls' volleyball team?  Yeah, go ahead and laugh.  I laughed, too, when I actually got taken up on my offer to help!

My initial thought was that this would be a good way to get to know some of the girls even better, as well as a chance to get more involved with the school.  It's all that and more.  It's also God's way of answering that New Year's resolution that I make each year about getting more active.

I had a slight problem initially -- I didn't pack any workout clothes when I came here to China!  And, being of much larger size than the typical Asian woman, I knew that finding workout pants or shorts here was a pipe-dream.  I did, however, finally work out a solution:  I bought a pair of men's pants, in a size that I don't care to mention!  They fit just fine, so today I was able to be at the practice.  Sadly, I forgot to bring my shoes with me (to school; I do have athletic shoes here in China), so I was stuck going barefoot rather than risking hurting myself in my sandals.

It was a lot of fun at the practice, but also very sweat-inducing, and not just for the girls!  We two coaches joined them for some activities.  Sam, the head coach, made the rather unfortunate rule that if no one on the side could hit the ball on the serve, that entire side had to do 10 push-ups on the spot.  After doing 20 push-ups in quick succession, we decided to alter the rule.  Shortly thereafter, we wisely abandoned it, our arms now having the strength and might of cooked spaghetti.

The girls on the team are nothing short of adorable, and are quite sweet.  A few are in my classes, which is nice, since it helps me to learn their names better (I'm still struggling to recall kids' names when they're not sitting in their assigned seats in my classroom).  I'll have more chances for getting girls' names mastered over the next two days, when we're all at Fall Camp together (all of the high school girls and female teachers will be together -- the boys and male teachers have a different trip planned at the same time).  Hopefully, I can manage to make it through both Fall Camp AND volleyball season without serious injury or mishap.

Hey, miracles can happen.

The Acquisition of Slime

It's quite entertaining to live in a country where you don't speak the language.  Take it from me -- I've done it twice!

There are, of course, the delightful and confusing escapades that happen in the grocery store.  These are made all the more possible here in China because over here (and, to a lesser extent, in some parts of Korea), grocery store layouts frequently defy reason, intuition, common sense . . . in fact, sometimes I think they plot out grocery stores with a deliberate intention of confusing foreigners!  Surely that must be why one finds baby food amongst the pasta, frozen chicken nuggets and frozen french fries in the fruit and vegetable section, and creepy eels swimming around their tank . . . right by the bakery.  

Occasionally, packaging has English on it, but the English is often less than helpful.  I've bought "pork lib soup", "hot love tea", and something that claimed to be strawberry cheese (but was actually yogurt).  With minimal command of language and rapidly-decreasing-but-still-stubbornly-present expectations of logic, one can have quite the jolly time getting thoroughly muddled.  For instance, during one shopping venture in Korea, I purchased what I thought was a package of wet wipes, only to discover later that it was white clay.  What clay was doing in amongst tissues and paper towels is a mystery that I shall likely never unravel.

Only a few weeks ago, I desperately wanted some hand lotion.  Since pretty much everything here in China is written in characters, reading the bottles was not an option.  And no, going by appearance doesn't really work either, when the brands are unfamiliar (and keep in mind that placement in the store is nothing more than a highly deceptive rabbit trail).  I found an employee who was eager to help me, but we lacked a common language.  I tried asking for the product first in English, then in Korean.  No luck.  I had hoped that the Chinese word might magically turn out to be similar.  I then pantomimed rubbing lotion on my hands.  The lady smiled widely and led me . . . to the soap aisle.  I shook my head and tried again.  

After a minute of failed charades, the woman finally said, "Bo-dy lo-shun?"  I nodded eagerly and told her yes in Chinese (that much I can say!).  She gave me a choice between two bottles, I picked one, and I went on my merry way.  A few minutes later, she chased me down.  "No, no -- no bo-dy lo-shun.  Bo-dy wa-shuh!"  I handed the bottle back, and she showed me one that was actually lotion.  This time, I disliked the high price.  I managed to recall the word for "cheaper," though I butchered the pronunciation.  She smiled again and left, then returned a few minutes later with two more bottles for me to choose from.  One was whitening lotion -- I quickly dismissed that one!  The other, in English, said on it "Grapefruit body contouring for quick penetration happy cuticle healthy."  It sounded safe enough.  When I got home, I discovered that it was an odd green slime.  To this day, I have no idea what it actually is.  It does, however, moisturize my hands very well!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Technology in the Classroom Renaissance Man by historychic

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun!

This is an animated video I made to test out the possibilities of a new program I found online.  I think it has real possibilities in the classroom.

The Rest of the Classroom Pictures

Along the wall under the "Sophomore Piracy" bulletin board is where I am in the process of creating my SAT word wall.  I'll post pictures of that once it starts looking impressive.  My plan is to eventually have SAT words going all over the classroom, on all four walls (possibly some on the ceiling, too).

Each TIme I Stop to Breathe, Another Day Has Gone

It astounds me when I pause to realize just how busy I am.  I'm given a degree of freedom in my classroom that would be utterly unheard of in the States, but with so much freedom comes a lot of work.  I'm creating one of my classes, College Prep, completely from the ground up (it's a brand new class at our school).  In my "spare" time, I'm reading, researching, studying, researching studying . . . anything that it takes to create a stellar course that will really make a difference in preparing our students.  Already I am seeing tangible results.  Today, my eight students in that class (a fun mixture of six Koreans, one American, and a Dane) successfully worked together to answer twelve SAT-level analogy problems, and got all of them right.  A week ago, they struggled with low-level ones and were utterly terrified of facing these questions on the SAT.  Seeing them grow in confidence as well as skill is all that I need by way of motivation.

It really helps that I have such an excellent working relationship with the high school principal.  She's fresh out of the classroom, so she completely understands teachers and does all that she can to support us effectively.  She's great about letting me try out any of the crazy schemes I come up with for improving student performance.  For example, she enthusiastically agreed when I asked today if I can throw an after-school SAT study party before each offering of the SAT at our school.  My idea is to allow any students preparing to take it at that time, as well as the eight in my prep class, to come for some fun study games and collaborative preparation.  Most of the students, particularly the English language learners, are terrified of the SAT.  My hope is to take away some of the terror, but leave the awe, and also help them to realize that studying with others is much more fun while still being effective.

I've been playing around with some different uses of technology in my history classes, with good results.  My kids are acing their quizzes, giving me high hopes for when I administer their first tests.  Of course, for me, the fun part is seeing how enthusiastic they all are about starting class each day.  None of the kids seem to dislike history -- in fact, most kids regularly comment on how much they like it!  The tenth graders are currently neck-deep in the Renaissance, which is not my favorite area of history in all honesty.  So, I spiced up all that history of art and such by throwing in extra emphasis on those ambitious, scandal-laden, just-plain-dirty Medicis and my old friend Machiavelli (I spent so much time studying him in Dr. Saxon's class that I feel as though I knew the man intimately).  The bigger class of sophomores whined a little over all of the notes they had to take during my Machiavelli lecture on Monday, but I told 'em, "Toughen up, cream-puffs!  Sore hands build character!"  The freshies, meanwhile, were quite excited today when I set them loose researching the worldviews of three major religions today.  They're a curious bunch, which makes them a joy to teach.  I'm finding that they really enjoy getting to track down answers for themselves.

Aside from the teaching load, there are a ton of other things going on lately.  Tomorrow a group of us are having a baked potato party.  I have my Chinese lessons to keep up with, and I'm trying to spend a bit of extra time in practice each day so that I can learn quicker.  I'm helping to coach the JV volleyball team.  Fall Camp is on Thursday this week, an event which we teachers have been diligently planning for weeks.  The high school girls are going to a gorgeous island, where they'll spend a night in a very nice hotel.  To get there, we get to cross the world's longest bridge, and then on the way back, we'll get to go through a tunnel that goes under the Yellow Sea.  Our theme for the week is holistic fitness:  fit spiritually, fit physically, fit relationally, fit dietarily, etc.  I'm going to be giving the girls a short talk about relational fitness.  I've settled on the topic "Don't Be a Mean Girl" -- I'll talk about building up each other rather than tearing down, along with accompanying activities afterward.  We've planned a "casino night" for the girls, complete with different games, from which they can win prizes.  Kathryn and I are going to teach them Spoons, one of my favorite card games.

On Saturday, the day after we return from Fall Camp (it's just two days and one night), our new Early Childhood Center (ECC) has its grand opening, at which I've agreed to help run a station where children will decorate cookies (I agreed to help in exchange for cookies).  On the 6th, we're having a College Night, at which I've been asked to give a presentation about my College Prep class (speaking to parents . . . yikes!).  Mid-quarter is fast approaching, with grades due.  About that time, I'll have a major paper to grade from the freshies and the sophs are getting their first test.  One of my college prep girls is taking the SAT in October, and I've offered to give her some private tutoring, should she need it.  And then there's the teachers' conference in Beijing during the first week of October.  Oh, and the Vision Trip I'm going on mid-October for a weekend.  Whew!  My poor calendar is looking exceedingly obese these days!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Classroom Pictures (Because My Camera Finally Cleared Customs!)

Here's a few, anyway.  The internet here loads photos at an irritatingly slow pace, so I'll have to load the rest tomorrow.

"Mā, Má, Mă, Mà"

Chinese lessons are going well.  I've had three lessons so far, and I really like my teacher.  Jackie is so sweet, and she's an excellent instructor.  She and the other teachers say that my pronunciation is excellent and that I'm a fast learner, which is not at all what I expected!  I was certain that I would be absolutely horrible, as Mandarin is such a difficult language to learn.  How nice to be surprised!

Despite my unexpected skill, Mandarin is definitely a lot of work.  I move my head up or down in order to get my tones right (remember, each vowel sound has four possible tones), with the result that I sometimes get a sore neck after a lesson!  My head usually feels tightly crammed as well, since the teachers teach us through immersion.  Jackie conducts most of my lesson in Chinese, which means I have to think fast to figure out what she's telling me to do!  Most of what we've done in my three lessons so far has been to go over pinyin pronunciations.  It feels a bit silly, since in English these are just meaningless syllables.  Some of them, like bīng and sān, I already recognize as words.  Others, I have yet to learn.

In today's lesson, I discovered a word that I am certain could lead to an amusing mishap.  Apparently, if I use the wrong tone when saying the word "soup", I could accidentally ask for sugar or candy!  (Tāng is soup; táng is sugar or candy.)  Beth reassures me that most Chinese people should be able to figure out from context what I actually mean.  Whew!

I had my first big Chinese breakthrough on August 17, when I managed to call the water company and order a new bottle of water for our apartment (tap water is not safe to drink in China), in Chinese.  You cannot possibly know the euphoria I felt when the water actually arrived!  That's one of the things I love about living overseas: minuscule achievements are worthy of celebration.  I treated myself to a fresh mango for my success!

Just Like America . . . Almost

Saturday was a busy, busy day.  Kathryn, one of the secondary English teachers (we met at PFO), and I went to Carrefour with some Filipino coworkers in the morning.  Kathryn hoped to find a new cell phone and I desperately needed a new SD card (my new digital camera FINALLY cleared customs after a three-week incarceration!).  Sadly, we found neither of those things.  So, I have a wonderful new camera that can only have twelve pictures at a time on it.  Sigh.  Can't catch a break with these camera issues, can I?

We did, however, take care of various little odds and ends that we've been desiring.  I, for one, was quite delighted to finally locate a toothbrush holder, something which I couldn't find the last time that I was there.   I also found a new hair straightener.  I had bought one in the States that can accept the correct voltage, but the plug will not fit, even in my plug adapter.  After our shopping, the Ymases treated us to Subway for lunch.  Yup, we have a Subway!  It was just like the ones in the US, except for the fun of trying to explain what we wanted on our subs.  I kept saying "bu yao" ("don't want") and pointing at the iceberg lettuce, but the fellow gave it to me anyway.  The real fun came when I was happily eating my sandwich . . . and bit into a piece of paper!  Ah, the fun surprises one occasionally finds in food here!

I had two major accomplishments on Saturday:  I managed to tell a taxi where to take me, in Chinese, twice!  And we actually got where we wanted to go!  Well, almost.  For going home, the driver didn't know exactly where my apartment complex was.  I forgot the word for "turn left," so I couldn't correct him when he headed for the yacht club instead of the complex.  I kept saying "no", but that did nothing.  Finally, realizing that there was no way I could correct him without the word "left", I just called out "Gou le!  Gou le!" (thinking that that meant "We've arrived.")  As I realized today, what I actually said to him was "Enough!  Enough!"  (I should have said "daole".)  Oh well; he stopped!

It's the Small Things in Life . . .

Sometimes, it surprises me to discover little things that are missing here in China that REALLY make life immeasurably better.  Dental floss is one such thing.  Oh, I'm sure it must be around here SOMEWHERE, but it is currently doing a splendid job at hiding.

On Sunday, following a night spent with a massive migraine and no meds for it (ran out last week and haven't had time to get to the international clinic), I decided to force myself to move forward in my transition between cultures.  For the past month, I've been sort of stuck in one phase.  I eat out and I eat when friends cook, but the only cooking I myself have done has been ramen or oatmeal, with the single exception of the night I made special dip for friends (which met with the most enthusiastic reception that delicious dish has ever received).  For some reason, I have felt afraid to cook -- I guess I'm just too bewildered still by all the differences and such.  On Friday, the day after payday, I forced myself to buy some raw meat.  On Sunday, I forced myself to cook it.  It was delicious and . . . bits of it and that night's popcorn got stuck uncomfortably between my teeth.

Have you ever desperately wanted one little thing and been completely without it?  You know, like in church when there's a really long-winded speaker and you have a sinus infection but no kleenexes?  Now imagine knowing that those wished-for kleenexes are thousands of miles away.  I was absolutely miserably, all for want of a little piece of dental floss.  Ridiculous, isn't it?!

I tried several alternatives.  I brushed my teeth, which didn't help.  I tried to force the toothbrush bristles between my teeth, which only marginally improved the situation.  I don't have a sewing kit, so thread was not an option.  I tried bending a paperclip and using that . . . and successfully got it stuck between two back teeth.  That would likely have lessened my authority in the classroom, but after a desperate struggle, I managed to wiggle it out.  That experiment should never be repeated.  I next tried using the bit of thin plastic from a price tag on my new bag, but it was too wide to fit between me teeth, and after the paperclip incident, I was unwilling to try too hard.  It looked like the bits of meat, the popcorn hulls, and I were just going to have to grow old with one another.

Tonight, after dinner at Canvas, a wonderful little slice of Americana here in China, Beth and I stopped by our local Carrefour (a huge store) to pick up a few things.  We needed a rice cooker for our new ayi to use and I needed playing cards, spoons, and stickers for the high school girls' fall camp later this week (I'll explain about that in another post).  While at Carrefour, I was overjoyed to discover packages of little tooth flossers (those plastic toothpick and dental floss hybrids that one occasionally gets from the dentist).  Few moments of life have held as much rapture as the moment when I got home, opened the package, and finally flossed that gunk out of my teeth.  As I remarked to Beth immediately after releasing a very happy sigh, "It's the small things in life."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summary of a Typical Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday

5:00 am:  The cell phone alarm, a bouncy and annoying Chinese pop song, goes off for the first time.  Grumbling, I smack the snooze button.  For the next half hour, the phone and I play a game of "Wake up, you lazy human!"and "No, I won't, you irritating piece of technology!"

5:30 am:  The cell phone wins.  I drag my defeated self into the shower, grunting a good morning to Beth as I do so (she grunts back in reply).

6:00 am:  Showered and dressed, I now turn my attention to my hair, which tends to react with the Chinese humidity by turning into a splendid imitation of a brown bush.

6:30 am:  I rush about like a crazy bumblebee, collecting graded homework, laptop, keys, thermos of coffee, and other such essentials.  I then hustle down to the bus stop, joined by several coworkers.

6:40 am:  The bus departs.  Anyone who misses it has to take a taxi.

7:15-ish am:  The bus arrives at school, and a mass exodus of teachers climbs off and heads up the many, many steps into the secondary building (elementary teachers luck out:  hardly any stairs!).  Usually, there is a morning meeting of some sort.

8:00 am:  Students arrive in droves.  I retreat to the teacher's lounge to work on grading, powerpoints, or lesson plans.  A Chinese class is going on in my classroom at this time, so until the renovations complete on the new history-and-English office, the teacher's lounge is my workroom.

9:30 am:  Time for homeroom.  I go up to my classroom, on the third floor, where my chatty and energetic batch of 16 ninth-graders await.  I do something with them for fifteen minutes, then release them.  A few usually linger to chat with me for a minute or two.

9:45 am:  The entire secondary school pauses for our fifteen minute "Tea Break".

10:00 am:  If it's a Monday or Wednesday, I go upstairs for my Chinese lesson with Jackie, my private tutor.  My lessons last for fifty minutes each.  At the moment, we're working on correct pronunciation of pinyin (Jackie says my pronunciation is almost perfect).  After my lesson, I usually take care of copying or printing needs.  If it's a Tuesday or Thursday, it's time for the first class of the day, my college prep class.  There are just eight kids in the class, and they are a mixture of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.  Right now, we're busy studying for the SAT, which means lots of research and planning for me and a ton of work for them.  They're up to the challenge, though.  I am quite impressed with how willing they are to take on tremendous study loads.

11:30 am:  If it's a Monday or Wednesday, it's time for the first class of the day:  my big batch (20) of tenth grade modern world history students.  They are the noisiest class, but are still angelic by American school standards.  There are some very neat personalities in this bunch.  If it's a Tuesday or Thursday, I teach my ninth grade ancient world history class at this time.  They are my quietest class; I question whether they are actually teenagers or not.  Personally, I think that they are too respectful and studious to be teenagers!  Classes with them are enjoyable and smooth, and I am convinced that a few of them are already capable of college-level work.  I usually feel sorry to have to let these kids go to their next class!

1:00 pm:  Lunch time, at last!  I eat in the cafeteria with the kids just about every day, since I like being with them.  We have four choices of lunch menu each day: Chinese, Korean, Western, or salad bar.  Generally, the meal is quite good, especially considering it is school food!

1:40 pm:  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I teach my second batch of tenth grade modern world history students.  This class of fourteen is much quieter than the other tenth grade class.  This is probably the most fun group of kids that I teach, mostly because of the personalities amongst them.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my teaching day ends at lunch time, so this last period is used for getting ready for the next day or for doing grading.

3:00 pm:  The school-day is over, and the students leave for home.  A bunch of them stop to say goodbye to me.  I occasionally amuse myself by teasing them with threats of an upcoming test (aw, don't feel sorry for them -- they like it!).

3:45 pm:  The first staff bus leaves school, almost always with me on it.  The other one doesn't leave until 5:00, and I generally prefer to do my grading and such either at home on the couch, or during my prep periods.

4:15-ish pm:  We arrive at my apartment complex.  The bunch of us teachers who live here walk in together, chatting about our days.  I always pause to admire the ocean for a minute or so before going through the gate.

5:00-ish pm:  If I'm not going out to dinner with other people (which is common -- most of us love eating out), I fix myself something spicy and eat in front of a movie or with a good book on Kindle.  Lately, I've been on an Indiana Jones kick.  After dinner, there is usually plenty of work to do to prepare for the next day.

10:00-ish pm:  Sufficiently exhausted, I flop into bed with my Kindle and read until sleep overwhelms me.

Ten Years from Now . . . with Commentary

In one of my high school classes, I was given the assignment of writing about what I expected my life to be like in ten years.  At that time, at age 16, I made a scrapbook about my future.  The assignment intrigued me, however, so a year later, I wrote a short essay on the topic, just for fun.  I came across this essay recently, while sorting through some old files that had somehow wound up on one of my thumb drives.  It was rather an appropriate discovery, since the essay, dated May 27, 2001, is discussing me at age 27, my current age.  When I stumbled upon this little “blast from the past” the other day, I decided to add a bit of commentary from “future Stephanie.”  The new commentary is in purple and is italicized, so as to keep from getting confused with the original essay.

Ten Years from Now
Ten years from now, in the year 2011, I will be twenty-seven years old.  I’ll be older and hopefully wiser, and I will probably look even more like my dad than I already do, but at heart I’ll still be in many ways the same person that I am right now.  I think I’m going to be a much better version of myself by then, so long as I don’t mess it up.  Let’s step forward ten years and meet the Stephanie Thompson of 2011:
2011 Stephanie is seated at a very large desk in her office.  She is currently working on her 3rd novel, a historical fiction story that takes place in Hollywood during the 1940s.  She looks up from her work when she hears someone approach.
Dear Teenage Stephanie, have you any idea just how difficult it is to start and finish ONE novel?  At 27, book one is still being completed!  Interestingly, I did actually start that story about 1940s Hollywood (when I was a freshman in college), but at about eight pages in, I came down with a mixture of writers’ block and disgust at my plot, and subsequently deleted the whole story from my hard drive.
“Hi, younger me!  I haven’t seen you around in ages . . . gosh, it’s been ten years!  You won’t believe all that I’ve been up to!  This is my new office that they gave me just last month.  The library has been really excited about all the educational programs I’m starting.  I’ve only been working here for about two years, but I plan to be here much, much longer.”
“Oh, you want to know about the photographs on my desk?  Well, this is my husband and me on our honeymoon to Australia, where we went to the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park and got to meet Steve and Terri Irwin.  And this is us on our first anniversary, when we were living in Oregon.  I was expecting our daughter Kathryn at the time.  This picture here is her latest school picture.  She’s finishing up kindergarten right now.  That picture over there on the wall is of our twins, Julie and Megan, who just turned three.  The baby, Michael, is almost eight months old.  That big picture by the potted rubber tree is our most recent family portrait.  We had that done just a month ago.  Those pictures on the bookcase are of some of the classic actors and actresses that I got to meet when I wrote my nonfiction book about film history.  It was a big success.  And this picture here is from our vacation to France last year.”
Ah, so this was in the latter stages of the “Crocodile Hunter” obsession.  Frankly, that no longer sounds like an appealing honeymoon trip.  Somehow, I just don’t find crocodiles and snakes romantic, now that I’m 27.  And I never made it to France at 26 — I did go to Atlanta and South Carolina, though.  You’ll be happy to know that the classic film obsession is still going strong.  Boy, you sure have enough kids planned for us!  I’m sorry to say, none of those four dear children have been born.  I actually have 54 kids now, but I didn’t have to go through labor with any of them, and I get to send them home at the end of the school-day.  Still, I have to admit to a bit of sadness that those four vivid little ones that you imagined never got to exist.
“When did we move to Switzerland?  Oh, we came here a couple of years ago.  We love it here in Bern.  We have a beautiful chalet that sits on a hill.  The kids love rolling down that hill!  And there’s a nearby lake where we go boating.  There’s a bakery close to us where we get croissants and delicious pastries on Saturday mornings.  We take short train trips around Europe whenever we get the chance.  And whenever Mom and Dad come to visit, we usually travel down to Italy or Spain so that they can have their beaches.  Mom and Dad still don’t care enough about history!”
Well, Teenage Me, you were right about living overseas at age 27, but you picked the wrong continent!  My “chalet on a green hill” is actually an apartment by the ocean.  And instead of Bern, it’s in Qingdao.  We don’t see much in the way of croissants and pastries here (actually, I’m not nearly as fond of either of  those as I used to be), but we do live close to a very good kimbap place.  It amuses me to think about how you would CRINGE if you saw some of the things that I eat now . . . only last week, I ate raw fish!  That’s right, RAW FISH!  You were right about one thing, though — Mom and Dad still don’t care enough about history!
“Oh, you want to know more about the past?  Okay, well, I graduated with my degree in English from Evangel University, which is where my husband and I met.  Then I got my masters in library science from the University of Michigan.  My husband is an officer in the Navy.  We have traveled a lot because of his job, but now we’re staying put for a while, which is great because I love working as a librarian here.”
Ah, yes, I do still admire a man in uniform . . . but Switzerland??  You did realize that Switzerland is landlocked, didn’t you?  What on earth made you think the US Navy would station someone in Bern?  You’ll be happy to know, though, that I did get my BA and MA:  both in history, both from LU.  I’m not sure why you wanted to go back to Michigan for an MA, but be very glad that you didn’t.  You were right about getting to travel a lot.
“Well, that’s pretty much our life in a nutshell.  I love my family and my career, I get to travel a lot, and I go to a really nice little church.  So stay positive, younger me, because the future is going to be fantastic, even if the present isn’t!”
Yes, Teenage Stephanie, the future really is fantastic.  You didn’t get very many of the things that you thought you wanted most — no husband, no kids — but you do grow up to be a very happy and fulfilled person.  And someday, you really will finish that novel.  Someday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In Which Stephanie Addresses Reader Questions

Some friends have emailed, skyped, or used other means to message me with questions in the past few weeks, so I thought I'd go ahead and do an entire blog post of answers, since other readers may have similar or identical questions.

Whatever became of that typhoon?
After getting us all hyped up and ready for mega waves, heavy rain, and insane winds, Muifa slowed down, turned, and beat the tar out of Korea instead.  We did get that one day of enormous waves, followed by a storm that night, but then we heard nothing further from Muifa.  Not even so much as a postcard!

What classes are you teaching?  How many students do you have?  What are the kids like?
I teach just four classes, as we have block scheduling.  Our high school classes are an hour and a half on MTWT, and then just half an hour on Fridays.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I teach both of our sections of Modern World History (10th graders).  I get planning periods from 8:00 am until 11:30, except for the fifteen minutes of homeroom (we have that MTWT; my homeroom kids are ninth graders).  I then have class from 11:30 until 1:00, which is lunchtime (I eat in the cafeteria with the kids every day), and then again from 1:40 until 3:00, when we dismiss.  For Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get planning period from 8:00 until 9:30, then homeroom and tea break, then classes all the way until lunch, at which point I am done teaching for the day.  On those days, my classes are College Prep and one section of Ancient World History (9th graders).  On Fridays, all of my classes meet.

For my fifteen minute homeroom on MTWT, I've themed each day.  On Compassion Mondays, I discuss either a person or organization who is making a positive difference somewhere in the world.  The kids were very interested in it this week: I talked about an anti-human trafficking organization (Justice ACTs) and how they rescued an Albino African girl from witch doctors who wanted to kill her.  On Tough Question Tuesdays, I'll be focusing on a difficult moral question or situation each week.  On Wacky Wednesdays, I show funny (and clean) YouTube videos.  Today's videos were a huge hit:  I introduced the kids to Julian Smith and Monty Python.  Thursdays are Worldwide Thursdays, in which I'll talk about a recent significant news story somewhere in the world, and we'll have a little discussion about it.

I am amazed and astounded by just how good my students are.  Most of them are Korean; I only have one or two "Western" kids per class.  All of my students are quite attentive, respectful, and engaged in whatever we're doing.  One of my tenth grade classes informed me today that they find my classes very fun and interesting, which I was delighted to hear.  My biggest class is the first section of tenth graders:  there are 20 kids in that class.  My College Prep class is my smallest, which only 7 students.  The other two classes have 14 and 16 kids, respectively.  The kids are quite sweet.  In each class, there are at least a few students eager to become "pets".  They like to linger after class or come early just to talk to me.  I really don't have any "bad" kids, though I do have a couple who will require a little extra encouragement and direction on my part.  I can honestly say that I really like every single kid in each of my classes.

What creative things have you come up with in your classes?
Yes, my friends know me well!  I love to come up with odd/creative/weird teaching techniques.  In the tenth grade, I'm quite proud of what I've set up.  Each month, the kids will play a month-long themed competition game with differing rules.  This month, my Sophomores are pirates.  I have split both classes into two teams, who will all play against each other, and each team has their own ship on my bulletin board, which I have set up to look like an ocean with lots of islands.  Participation, good grades, and winning review games will earn the pirates treasure in their ships.  They trade in treasure in order to move their ships around the board.  They can land on islands, some of which are inhabited (though there is no way to tell until they've landed).  Through excellent classroom participation and such, they can earn the rights to steal treasure from each other, fire at other ships, and also bury treasure on an island in order to keep from losing it (they just email me to let me know, so that it is secret from other pirate teams).  And of course, they can earn the right to dig for treasure, too!  At the end of the month, the pirate team with the most treasure will earn a special "No Homework" coupon that each team member will be able to use to skip one standard daily assignment or bellwork.

I am also doing another fun teaching idea with the Sophomores, as we study the Renaissance, our first unit.  I have split them into small teams, and told them that they are traders in 1400.  Today, they had to look at a map of Europe from that time period, and select where they will put their trade route (they had to explain their decision).  They can make it as long or short as they want, but I explained to them some considerations and practicalities to keep in mind.  Throughout the remainder of our Renaissance unit, they'll do research on the areas their trade routes are going through and will watch how those regions change over time.  They'll also be sharing all this info with the class.  We'll have small assignments to go along with this, like making postcards from some of the cities their routes stop at.  One group wanted to know if they could engage in piracy, since their route involves the Mediterranean Sea; I told them that they can do a little bit at the moment, and more once we get into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

My freshmen are currently being trained as historians.  They learned to evaluate sources the other day, and tomorrow they'll be learning map skills and even practicing a bit of cartography.  We won't get into the really fun and super creative stuff until we actually get into history, but they seem to be enjoying themselves.  I've got fun projects and games up my sleeve for later.

How is China similar or different from Korea?
In some ways, it is super similar; in other ways, it is night and day.  The general appearance of where I live (landscape, buildings, etc.) reminds me a great deal of Korea, which often confuses me.  My brain thinks it is back in Korea and starts assuming it knows how to get somewhere, then gets quite turned around!  The food is similar in that it is spicy usually and involves many similar ingredients; as much as I like the food, however, I have to say that Korean food is even better.  Living-wise, I found Korea less bewildering and generally easier, which I kind of expected would be the case.  Shopping and cooking are both a lot harder here.  The humidity is also much worse.  Overall, it is not unpleasant here -- I really do love it, and Qingdao is a beautiful city -- but I have definitely met with my fair share of "Yuck Duck" moments.  For example, my brand new camera is STILL holed up in customs, with no sign of movement toward me.  I just keep taking a deep breath whenever I get frustrated, and I try to focus on the "Yay Duck" stuff.  The Chinese people that I've met are mostly friendly and hospitable, much like I found in Korea.  I particularly like Lotus, the dear woman that I buy all of my fruits and vegetables from (she runs a little stand right in my apartment complex).  She is very friendly and speaks good English, plus she has discerned my deep love of mangoes and always finds the very best ones for me!

What weird or unusual things have you been eating?
Let's see, here are the ones that spring to mind:

  • Green tea ice cream flavored Oreos (and they really are made by Oreo)
  • Vanilla ice cream flavored Oreos
  • Sea kelp and beef noodle soup with odd floating mini-hotdogs in it
  • Stewed tomatoes with eggs
  • Banana-flavored microwave popcorn 
  • Apple-flavored soda
  • Coconut and palm juice
  • Aloe vera yogurt
  • An exceedingly odd type of ramen noodle soup that thoroughly defies description, which I still can't decide if I actually liked
  • A delicious type of Muslim noodles with beef and onions
  • Two different types of curries
  • Something unidentifiable that I sincerely hope was beef
  • Dragonfruit
  • Dragonfruit, vegetable, and crabmeat sushi
  • Kiwi and lime popcycles
  • Pea ice cream (yes, normal green peas)
  • Strawberry juice
  • Blueberry juice
  • Pea juice
  • Spicy pork rib ramen noodle soup

Living in Community

I realized today that in just eight more days, it will be my first monthiversary in China.  The thought made me rather reflective.  As I was observing earlier today to a coworker, although she and I have been here for a pretty short time, we've gotten closer to most people than we would have gotten in a year's time in the States.  Living over here today is a very special, unique experience.  Coworkers are not just the people that I see at work:  they're the people that I ride to school with, walk home from the bus with, go to dinner with, have movie nights with, do Sunday gatherings with, and, in a very real sense, live with.  They're family.  And, what's more, their children are becoming my family, too.

I see a lot of the kids when I'm walking back from the bus after school.  They have a great life here!  On several occasions lately, I've met up with a group of them in mixed ages, genders, and even races, having fantastic water fights.  A few weeks ago, one of the girls had an "Amazing Race"-themed birthday party, and my apartment was one of the stops.  Just last weekend, I was musing to myself that something sweet would really be nice to go with my lunch of extremely spicy noodles.  Just then, I heard a knock at my door.  It was a group of about six of the international kids, wanting to know if I'd like to buy any of the cookies they had baked together (the kids do that frequently here, I'm told, in order to earn some spending money or sometimes to raise money for charity).  I was happy to purchase two particularly promising-looking peanut butter cookies.

The relationships with coworkers are by far the most special and important to me.  My roommate and I, as well as my friend Kathryn (the other new single girl, whom I met during PFO), had dinner with a very sweet married couple from work last night.  It was a wonderful evening.  We talked with an openness and candor that is usually missing with people you've only known a short while; it felt as if we'd been friends for years!  And the fact that their ayi, who prepared the dinner, is an excellent cook certainly increased how splendid of an evening it was!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sweaty, Sticky Sunday

Oh, the heat!  Oh, the sweat!  It's like taking a second shower every time that you step outside.  Which makes me wonder sometimes, why do I even bother showering every morning?  This morning, on the way to a gathering of foreigners, two friends and I decided to get there the cheap way, and took the bus.  Big mistake!  This being tourist season, Qingdao is presently loaded with visitors, and the bus we needed happens to be the only one that goes to the beach.  Yipe!  Now, in both Mexico and Korea, I had the experience of being on a crowded bus . . . or so I thought.  Those buses were nothing compared to this morning!  We were packed on so tightly that I was literally butt-to-butt with a complete stranger and breast-to-breast with another (fortunately female) stranger.  Talk about international bonding!

After our gathering with other foreigners, the three of us, accompanied by a very sweet Brazilian girl, met up with three other friends for lunch.  We went to a little hole-in-the-wall Muslim noodle restaurant.  I have generally found, in my international experience, that the scudzier and more low-frills the restaurant is, the better the food will be (another rule, just like it, is that street food is the yummiest of all, despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of hygiene).  This restaurant followed that rule.  It had no air conditioning, a dirty floor, and no decorations whatsoever.  It did have seats and a table.  No beverages (common over here), so a few of us tripped next door to a little convenience store and picked up drinks.  To order, we pointed to pictures of what we wanted.  The food, when it came, was absolutely delicious.  I had some sort of slightly spicy meat (no idea what kind of meat . . . I think it was beef) and noodles dish with loads of onions.

You know, noodles are a really deceptive dish.  You can work away at them for fifteen minutes (and if your chopsticks are slippery, it really can be work), and still, your plate looks exactly the same.  You eat still more and yet, to the eye, it looks as though you've made no progress whatsoever!  I am thoroughly convinced that noodles mate and breed on the plate, and that's why they never seem to lessen.

We were joined in the restaurant by a sight that really gave me warm fuzzies inside:  Two of our high school boys decided to take out their younger siblings and some other kids for lunch.  How many teenagers do you know that would do that?  It was really sweet to see a group of about ten kids ranging in age from about five to seventeen enjoying each other's company over a meal.

After lunch, we stopped off at Tommy Boy's, a little coffee place, for iced milk teas.  My favorite there is the assam tea with pearls (tapiocas), but today I felt like trying something new, so I had a mixed pudding milk tea.  Sound weird?  It was, but I rather liked it.  The pudding was actually little squares of chocolate gelatin-like substance, and there were tapiocas in it as well.  After separating from the group, Beth and I made one more stop, at the fruit and vegetable stand near the entrance to our apartment complex.  It's run by Lotus, a super-sweet Chinese lady who speaks good English and is always so friendly when we stop in there.  She always has excellent produce, and she loves to choose the very best mangos and dragonfruit for me whenever I stop in (I'm nuts about both of those fruits).  And no, safely ensconced in our air-conditioned apartment, it's time to knuckle down and write out lesson plans for the week . . . with a few movies playing in the background, of course.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

I admit, even as excited as I have been about embarking on this new course (although not entirely new; looking back, the rest of my life was really leading up to this), I was still feeling a bit tentative about being back in a classroom, after that horrible hellish nightmare that was Emmanuel "Christian" School.  I needn't have felt gun shy; today was a wonderful beginning.

The bus arrived for teachers at 6:40, just as it will every day from here on.  Having gotten only four hours of sleep last night, I was a bit sleepy, but my nerves and excitement perked up my tired eyes.  One of the great things about living in community the way that we do is traveling to and from school together.  There are always friends to talk to, which greatly relieves a nervous mind.  When we got to school, we all scurried to our classrooms to get those remaining final details taken care of.  I was relieved to find that my last two posters for my main bulletin board had at some point printed out after I left yesterday (yesterday was a "bad China day" -- three hours of computer problems, upset stomach at lunch, a walk in the humidity that got much longer than planned after I got lost, heat exhaustion that caused me to almost faint, and a twisted knee).  I was able to get the thirteen-foot bulletin finished to my satisfaction.  I hate to brag, but it really is quite a cool board!  I entitled it "Coming Attractions"and then created movie posters about various topics that I'll be covering in my classes this year.

The students arrived at 8:00, fresh-faced and eager . . . yes, actually eager.  They wanted to be there!  High-schoolers who actually look forward to the start of the school-year!  It's another world here, I tell you.  We got them (just the high-schoolers -- the other grades had their own activities) arranged by grades in the auditorium, then did an orientation assembly, complete with firm reminders about dress code.  Nitta, our awesome high school principal, cheerfully informed the students that she has "beautiful" long skirts for girls who wear too short of shorts or skirts, and labcoats for those whose shirts are out of dress code. Additionally, she promised to acquire some "really attractive" shirts for any girls who come in wearing immodest tops.  We actually don't have as strict of a dress code as one might expect.  Kids are allowed to wear shorts (of an appropriate length) and jeans, and sneakers are perfectly all right.  No holes, no flip-flops, nothing immodest (low cut, too tight, or too short), no tank tops, no track suits or athletic wear, and all shirts must have a collar.  In other words, a perfectly reasonable dress code.

After the assembly, we dismissed the kids to their homerooms.  True to their word, my fellow teachers really did put together a fantastic homeroom class for me.  My ninth graders are a cheerful, obedient bunch, all with fun personalities.  There's not a bad egg in the bunch!  All but two of the kids are Asian, and I've got ten boys and five girls.  I had the kids introduce themselves, each telling their name, how long they've been in China, and the thing that they are most looking forward to this year.  Although all but two of my kids are not native English speakers, I was quite pleased with how well they speak.  Of course, there's a bit of that Korean knack for extra syllables, but overall, they pronounce words well and have good vocabularies.  After introductions, I informed the class that the best way to bond with new classmates is some good clean murder.  They blinked in surprise, then laughed when I explained that we were going to play Mafia (it's a really fun and easy game that goes over quite well with kids).  Unlike when I taught in the US, I only had to give directions once.  What a difference THAT makes!

After a fun game of Mafia, I did two more academic games, both of which the kids loved.  In the first game, a great one for English language-learners (without being dull for native speakers), I broke them up into three teams of five and put them in three columns.  The kids in the front row each got a whiteboard and marker.  I gave them a word, and they had to race to write a synonym.  The first one to hold up their board (with a correct answer) earned a point for their team.  They then passed the boards to the next players on their teams, and we went on from there.  After a few rounds, I made the game more interesting by requesting antonyms sometimes.  I was thrilled to see some really creative answers, rather than just simple short words.  For my second academic game, which the kids liked even better, I would say the name of a place, and then the players would scramble to write the name of a place starting with the last letter of the one that I gave.  I had another thrill of delight when I discovered how good these kids are at geography.  One boy further gladdened me by asking if they could use ancient place names.

At 10:00, we gave the students a snack and bathroom break, then sent juniors and seniors outside and freshmen and sophomores to the gym for games.  With the freshies and sophs, we played a really fun icebreaker game (to the joy of the students, teachers joined in, too):  We had one less seat than people, arranged in a circle; the person without a seat had to go to the middle and call out something, like "People who have long hair" or "People who like to eat kimchi" and then everyone that the statement applied to had to get up and rush to another seat.  Naturally, we all got hot and sweaty!  I was fanning myself with my hand when one of my ninth graders noticed; that sweet girl immediately started fanning me!  The game was hilarious to participate in and to watch.  I thought it was particularly clever when one girl called out "People who have lived in Africa", which only applied to our South African teacher, thus positively guaranteeing the girl a seat!  We sent the kids home at 11:30, and congratulated ourselves on a great first day.

Tomorrow, classes begin.  We will be doing block scheduling this year:  Four classes per day, in one and a half hour blocks.  'A' classes meet on Mondays and Wednesdays; 'B' classes meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On Fridays, all classes meet for just 35 minutes each and we have an assembly.  This week, since we only have two days for classes, we're doing Friday's schedule on both days.  I can't wait to meet the rest of my kids!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Who Wouldn't Want to Go to a School Like This?

I have to admit, I'm a little jealous of our students:  I would have given my right eye to go to a school like ours as a teenager!  Not only is it a gorgeous, spacious, and clean building; we do an incredible amount of extra things with the students.  The school is divided into four houses, just like at Hogwarts (from the Harry Potter books).  The houses compete in various games and competitions throughout the school year.  I learned yesterday that my house is Morrison (our color is green . . . uh oh, that's Slytherin's color!).  There are also "Homeroom Wars", in which homerooms compete against one another.  Additionally, we have fantastic drama productions each year.  Perhaps the most enticing thing to me, however, is the technology.  All middle schoolers and high schoolers (and their teachers) get school-issued laptops, and we're making the most of them in the classroom!

I can't believe all the awesome "techy" tools I get to use as a teacher:

  • As I mentioned before, no textbooks for my history classes!  We're trying out an online program that grants us access to loads and loads of primary documents, so that our students can learn history without constantly being bombarded by bias.  Oh, they'll still get some, of course, since it is impossible to completely remove bias from any subject, but at least it won't be as overpowering as bias tends to be in most history textbooks.
  • With the enthusiastic support of my HOD (Head of Department), I'm pioneering the use of the Kindle app (it can be downloaded onto computers by students who don't have a Kindle reader) in my tenth grade Modern World History classes.  With that, they'll be able to download autobiographies and other useful books for free, which will help immerse them in history better.
  • I just got my Moodle account set up today.  With Moodle, I'll be able to have the kids do their bellwork on their laptops rather than wasting paper (plus, I'll have constant access for checking their work), set up discussion forums, and even administer quizzes online (which I don't actually plan to do; I prefer to quiz the old-fashioned way, on paper).
  • We're using for all essays, papers, etc.  I used that program in college, so I'm quite familiar with it.  It's a plagiarism checking program that figures out whether students have copied work and even tracks down where they got it from.
  • We have a really good online program called PowerSchool that makes gradebooks easy to maintain and readily accessible to parents, in addition to its other charms.  It also makes attendance, discipline, and such easy to track.
  • My classroom has an excellent speaker system and computer projector, so no annoying, old-fashioned overhead projector to battle with!  Instead, I can use slideshows, show DVDs, utilize YouTube where appropriate . . . and of course, I plan to use Prezi (it does presentations that are even neater than what Keynote and PowerPoint can make) from time to time.  I bought a clicker with a laser pointer in it back in the States, which will allow me or students to move about without being tied to the computer during presentations and lectures.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Our Friendly Neighborhood Typhoon

Muifa actually hasn't even hit us yet, but already the waves are awesome!  The sheer power and force of nature never ceases to amaze me.  The same areas that I walked on by the water yesterday are now underwater . . . the water is almost up to the middle walkway on the sea wall (that walkway is about 10-15 feet below the top of the wall)!  The huge waves keep beating on it, many of them splashing well over the wall and flooding the main walkway.

Naturally, I changed as soon as I got home from a gathering of friends, and raced outside to get a good look at those waves.  (There were lots of other people out there too, Mother.  And there was no way for me to get swept over the side.)  I meandered about, snapping photos with one of my useless cameras (two years from now I'll be in the US for a visit and can get the photos off the camera), and wading on the sidewalk (about three inches deep in water).  I found some friends of mine from the school, the Kubalskis, and joined them by the wall.  We marveled at the magnificence of the waves, occasionally darting backward to avoid getting smacked by them as they came over the top of the wall.  Kevin got soaked from head to foot by one of those waves, much to the delight of the Kubalski children, Hattie and Peyton (very nice kids).

Marcella remarked that these waves are coming at us from more than 700 miles away . . . we then speculated about what it'll be like when the storm actually gets here!  After a while, the Kubalskis went in, and I found a very friendly Chinese woman who was eager to chat.  She turned out to speak very good English, which made conversation ever so much easier.  Sometimes I get a very strong feeling of bitterness towards those involved in that wretched Tower of Babel -- it would be so nice, once in a while, if languages were not quite so diverse!  The woman and I enjoyed conversing and occasionally darting away from walls of water.  I was impressed to see how one series of waves just down from us managed to bend a lightpost!  From the waves at high tide last night, there were several tiles that had been ripped loose from the walkway and cast into the grass.  From here in my living room, I can see and hear that the waves are continuing to multiply and to grow in size and speed.

The gates to my apartment complex have sandbags in front of them now, so clearly there is concern about the amount of water we're going to get.  I'm curious about how drenched I'm going to get on the way to the bus stop tomorrow -- I probably won't be able to walk the path that I usually take, owing to the waves coming over the wall, so I may have to search for another, much longer, route.

Yup; a wave got me!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Saturday Evening Walk

With Typhoon Muifa set to visit us on Sunday night, I thought I might as well enjoy a long walk after work  today (I went in for about seven hours to work on getting ready for students), while we're still enjoying nice weather.  So, with my Kindle along in case a good reading spot turned up, I walked down the gorgeous walkway by the ocean, then went and climbed on the rocks for about an hour.

I enjoyed being alone with my thoughts as I hopped and skittered over rocks and boulders, occasionally splashing into a bit of trapped ocean water, or pausing to admire unique patterns of barnacles.  It was low tide, so the waves weren't doing anything impressive or dangerous, and besides, there were dozens of Chinese people out there enjoying similar activities to my own, so I judged it as relatively safe fun.  Knowing me, I could have found a way to make it dangerous, but lately, I have not been nearly as klutzy as usual (well, I did bang my head on the hood over the oven and jam a thumbnail tonight, but that's just child's play really).  There were a few boulders that held particular interest to me:  the way that the sun hit the barnacles and shells that covered them, they looked like they were made of gold.

As I meandered over some smaller rocks, I came upon a truly arresting sight:  a bright purple starfish!  His coloring was actually what I would call electric purple, with a bit of orange as well.  He seemed content on the rock he was gripping, and I don't care for living souvenirs, so I marveled at him for a few minutes and then left him alone.  I also enjoyed terrifying a small crab, who scuttled away at remarkable speed.  There were loads of nasty sea-bug-like-creatures that resembled . . . I have no clue what they resembled.  Alien life forms?  They were quite creepy and their scurrying habits a bit disconcerting, so I avoided them.  A helicopter flew overhead, so close and so low that I thought it may crash land on top of me, but then it landed next to the walkway directly above.  It seemed to be somehow related to the China Coast Guard, though I can't be certain.  I think it was surveying the coastline in preparation for Muifa, but there again, that is mere speculation.

After my time amongst the rocks and sea creatures, I climbed up to the wooden walkway by where the chopper had landed and walked all the way down to the Qingdao Yacht Club.  I have to admit, in the years prior to coming here, it never occurred to me that China would actually have a yacht club -- but there is certainly a very nice one here.  I also passed by the Olympic Sailing Center (it's right there with the yacht club), which you likely saw if you watched the Beijing Olympics.  There was a white lighthouse that caught my eye, so I headed over to have a look at it.  Lighthouses have captured my imagination ever since I was a little girl and saw Pete's Dragon or read the Boxcar Children book, The Lighthouse Mystery.  From the ages of about 5 to 15 (oh, heck, I still do!), I often pondered how neat it might be to live in a lighthouse.

I circled the lighthouse, paused to curiously watch a few brides doing photo shoots there, and amused several small children merely by being a foreigner.  One of the Yay Duck / Yuck Duck things about China is that staring is not considered rude.  If people see someone they consider odd or interesting (of which foreigners are apparently both), they stare and point to their heart's content.  On the one hand, it gets a bit annoying sometimes, although not so much after my year of Korea that got me accustomed to it.  On the bright side, turnabout is fair play!  I sometimes like to observe them!

On my way back, I felt that more rock-climbing was needed.  I particularly fancied some enticing large barnacle-encrusted boulders closer to where the waves were hitting (relax, Mother, it was still low tide), so I headed in that direction.  I had forgotten just how slippery my red sandals get when they're wet!  Fear not, gentle readers, I did not fall!  I slipped a little, but remained standing upright . . . or close to it, anyway.  I found a perfectly nice rock in a more secluded area, where I sat quite comfortably and enjoyed my current book on my Kindle, contentedly listening to the waves smacking the rock in front of mine.  When they got discernibly bigger and bolder (pun intended), I got up and hiked back up to the main walkway.  I only wish that my new camera were here already, so that I could have photographed my gorgeous evening walk.

Well, Muifu is supposed to hit soon.  Here's hoping that our windows hold out!  We've already brought in the plants and the balcony furniture, and apparently the emergency plan is that teachers will hole up at the school if worse comes to worse and we have to evacuate (the school is on much higher ground and is a fair distance from the ocean).  So far, Beth and I really aren't worrying.  The Chinese people living in our area don't seem worried, and we figure they probably know best.  Just to play it safe, though, in case we happened to lose power, we made sure to take showers and do the dishes tonight!

Friday, August 5, 2011

My First Typhoon?

Apparently, Qingdao is directly in the path of Typhoon Muifa, from whom we're expecting a visit on Monday.  The waves outside were already getting big today; it was a little bit like dodgeball walking to the bus this morning!  The waves kept splashing over the wall, intent on attacking innocent pedestrians.  I managed to avoid any undesired wetness, but I may not be so lucky this weekend!

Click HERE to see a map of Muifa's anticipated route.

The US government has already issued a warning for all of us Americans over here to take precautions and stock up on water, food, and such.  So, I'm planning to stop by the grocery store on my way home tomorrow (I'm going in to school for part of the day to get more work done on my classroom).  At the moment, Muifa is a category 2 typhoon, but it's expected to be a category 1 by the time it hits us.  We're supposed to get winds of about 75-94 MPH and lots and lots of rain.  Some areas are being warned of mudslides; fortunately, we are not among them.  I just hope we don't get flooding or severe damage.  Living within clear view of the ocean may not be so nice if that happens!

What a way to start our first week of school!  (School starts on Wednesday, the 10th.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Yay-Yuck Day

Today can best be summarized in one word:  loooooooong.  My head is crammed past capacity with new information, new concerns, new responsibilities, and my ever-increasing To Do list.  And the students start in just 6 days!

To begin with, let's get the "Yuck Ducks" out of the way:

1.  I've had an upset stomach and accompanying unpleasantness for the past two days.  Today, my neck felt left out of the pain-fest, so it started hurting badly around noon, leading to a full-fledged massive headache by the time I boarded the bus to leave school at 4:30.  Owing to the tummy issues, I haven't been able to eat much yesterday and today, which has made me feel even lousier.

2.  There is just so much to do, in such a short amount of time.  One teacher cheerily remarked to me today, "Don't worry about it; you WON'T get everything done."  Though well-intentioned, her comment did little to reassure me.

3.  The camera issue (see previous post).  I keep seeing interesting, odd, and/or beautiful things that I want to photograph!

4.  I bruised up both of my shins and my ankle the other day.

And, so as not to end on a negative note, here are the "Yay Ducks":

1.  The other teachers in high school are absolutely wonderful people.  I learned today that I will be a homeroom teacher to a group of ninth graders, in addition to my other responsibilities.  Three of the other teachers got together and switched around the class lists to deliberately give me a really good group of ninth graders, since it's my first year here.  So, I have the cream of the crop in my homeroom (honestly, there really aren't any kids that are bad; there are just a few that require a bit more work out of a teacher than others do).

2.  The school lunches here are really, really good.  For example, today we had a delicious yellow curry (which I would have enjoyed a whole lot more if I didn't have this very unhappy stomach).

3.  Tonight we're hosting a big group of people (9) for dinner and Psych.  Everyone is bubbly, friendly, and fun -- even to me in my present doped-up-on-pain-medication state.

4.  I've been getting some great ideas for my classes.  Three other teachers have commented that they really wish they could sit in on one of my classes!

5.  I get along famously with the head of the social studies department and with the high school principal.

6.  We had a faculty and staff picnic yesterday evening, where I got to meet dozens more people.  So far, all of the kids that I've met are really sweet, and people keep going on and on about what a phenomenal group of tenth graders we have this year (I teach both tenth grade history classes).

Despite feeling absolutely lousy (and drugged), I'd still say that Yay Duck is firmly in the lead.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Frustrations

Woe is me!  After spending more than an hour online tracking down the cord to my digital camera when I first arrived here, I was convinced that that would solve my problem of being unable to access pictures off my camera.  The cord arrived today . . . and it was the wrong cord.  In short, the seller lied about it being right for my camera.  I went to Sony's website only to discover that they won't ship here.  The cord on Amazon that I recognize by sight as being the correct one also only ships within the US.  I checked to see if my new school laptop had a slot that would fit my memory card -- again, no luck.  Finally, I realized that the only way I'll have any pictures in China is to break down and order yet another camera (making a grand total of three cameras in my possession, one of which doesn't work).  Grrrrr!  So, I broke down and ordered another camera (if I buy it here, it'll be entirely in Chinese and will cost more than what I spent online, including the cost of shipping).

To my "delight", I also discovered that I left the cord to my digital photo frame back in the USA, so there is no way to use it.  This just isn't my day for electronics.

Yuck Duck:  This entire situation with cameras.
Yay Duck:  I got a lot done in my classroom today, including significant progress on the massive 13-foot-long bulletin board.

It just occurred to me; I had camera troubles in Korea, too (fell off my bike and damaged my digital camera, then had to buy another one)!  Is this just my lot to bear when I live oversees? I have this sudden image of myself at a ripe old age, surrounded by cameras, each acquired in a different country that I lived in.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Painting the Bedroom

Yesterday, I picked out the perfect color for the bedroom.  It's called "fine silver" and it is a nice light grey, which perfectly matches the new duvet cover.  Today, I painted.

Knowing me as you do, how do you think that went?

A.  Stephanie stepped in the bucket of paint and splattered her entire floor.
B.  Stephanie slipped and landed butt-first in the paint tray.
C.  When Stephanie was up on the dresser, she dropped the paint tray on the floor and splattered paint everywhere.
D.  Stephanie fell off the nightstand she was using as a ladder, but miraculously didn't spill paint.
E.  None of the above.  Something much, much worse and far more unusual happened.
F.  All of the above.  And then some.

Well, surprisingly, painting went quite well.  Beth helped me tape and helped with some of the trim work before she left for dinner (she's bringing me back Indian food, bless her).  Amazingly, the answer to the quiz up above is D.  At one point, I did miscalculate the width of the nightstand, and wound up crashing to the floor.  Somehow, I managed to keep the paintbrush up in the air (I was working on trim at the time).  I may have bruised my hip a little, but other than that, I'm just fine.  Ginger-peachy, in fact.

I hope to be able to post pictures soon.  The bedroom is drying at the moment; once I get stuff moved back in, I think it's going to look really nice.

Riding in China (Shudder)

A more appropriate title for this post might be "Sit Back and Say a Prayer."  Or, "Taking Your Life in Your Hands and Trusting that the Maniac behind the Wheel Isn't Going to Kill You."  Or "China's Secret Way for Cutting Down on Population:  Automobiles."  They would all make appropriate titles.

In the eight days that I have been here, I have managed to discern only one rule that drivers in China follow: Try to avoid hitting the car in front of you.  The vehicles beside and behind, as well as all things smaller than you (especially pedestrians) are fair game.

Having spent a year in Korea, I thought I had already seen the world's wildest driving.  They use the sidewalk as an extra lane, for pete's sake!  But Korean drivers cannot hold a candle to Chinese drivers.  There is a special kind of insanity on the roads here.  If crazy driving ever becomes an Olympic event, China will medal in every category, and no one will be able to accuse them of cheating.  I wish I could say that they do it well enough that there are no accidents, but that's different from Korea, too (I saw very few accidents over there).  So far in China, I've seen at least six or seven accidents.  I've seen a bus come within a foot of taking out a woman pushing a stroller.  I've even dodged my own fair share of buses.  I've seen fear in the eyes of my fellow teachers that will haunt me till the end of my life -- which may be soon, if Chinese drivers have their way.

Yesterday, Beth and I went to go get paint for my room.  It took FOREVER to get a taxi, but at last we succeeded.  He took us all the way to one of the major roads in the city, where we suddenly hit one of the oddest traffic jams I have ever witnessed.  In the same section of road, there were cars attempting to go in all FOUR directions, simultaneously.  No one had any intention of actually stopping and waiting their turn.  Causing and complicating the mess was an accident:  a car had hit a bus, and the two vehicles had been abandoned in the center of the upcoming intersection.  So, our taxi was attempting to go one way, with cars going the same way or the opposite direction cutting in front of us and behind, while other cars behind us and on either side were trying to keep going straight.  Our taxi wound up with a flat tire, so we had to get off and then catch another one, this time taking even longer than before.

Walking is particularly hazardous here.  The common comparison made is that crossing a street is like being inside that old Atari game, Frogger.  It's perfectly legal for cars to hit people, from what I've heard.  There are very few crosswalks or walk signals, and generally those are ignored by cars, who just keep coming anyway.  They usually honk at pedestrians for DARING to walk while there is a WALK signal.  A few times, I've found myself trapped in the middle of a major road, waiting for the traffic to thin out in one lane so that I can make it across with all limbs accounted for and attached.

The school bus is perhaps the most terrifying part of daily life.  I was talking to one of our Chinese staff the other day at dinner, and she said that even the Chinese staff are afraid to ride with one of our drivers! He's a nice fellow with kind eyes and a friendly smile, but he drives like a demon-possessed version of NCIS's Ziva David.  He zips about, seldom braking, cutting off buses and cars alike, leaning on the horn as though it were a lifeline, and frequently using the lanes on the other side of the road when the correct lanes are too slow to please him.  I'll never forget the day last week when he veered into the opposite twos lanes at top speed, straddling the both of them, in the path of two oncoming buses, whom he managed to avoid at the last possible minute.  Then he wove into the correct lane, managing to fit our bus into an opening of only a few feet.  The entire time that he did all this, his face was perfectly calm and placid.  I, meanwhile, was gripping the seat in front of me for dear life, convinced that I wasn't going to live to teach a class here.  One of the other teachers told me that it helps if you don't look.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"