Saturday, September 24, 2011

New Haircut

Having had a stressful few weeks, I was in need of some change.  Whacking my hair off seemed a good option.

So, this morning I went to a salon where they speak only Chinese (relax, I had Beth with me), and had a wonderfully relaxing head massage as they washed my hair (oh, I do so LOVE Asia!).  Then, using a mixture of charades, Chinese, Chinglish, and some help from a guy who turned out to speak excellent English, Beth and I managed to communicate that I wanted my hair cut to my shoulders, with layers and face framing.  The man came who was to cut my hair . . . and within a moment, I knew that I was in the hands of The Artist (you should pronounce that word with an accent in your head in order to have the proper effect).

He was a very trendy fellow.  Chinese, with blond, "pretty boy" hair, tight red pants, shirt stylishly unbuttoned just the "correct" amount, and a demeanor that bespoke dedication to Hair (capitalization essential).  He examined.  He unsheathed his scissors in a way I have only seen in sitcoms.  Never have I witnessed such dedication to craft -- it was as though my head were a canvas, and he was da Vinci.  Every individual strand of hair received his personal attention.  He molded, he shaped . . . in his capable hands, my hair yielded to a master and actually behaved.

This grand production, "Mysterious Foreigner in the Hands of The Artist," naturally, attracted a fair amount of attention.  Soon, we had a crowd of about ten Chinese people gathered around us: five employees of the salon, three customers, and two people that I honestly believe just came in off the street to observe the show.  There was considered conversation, all in low, hushed voices, as the masses of hair continued to plummet to the floor.  It was a little unnerving for the foreigner, who rapidly became aware that she was losing a bit more hair than she had intended.  As The Artist worked, however, I began to see something -- an incredibly cute, flattering hairstyle -- emerging, and I realized that I had nothing to fear.

The production continued after the cutting, thinning, and such was done.  The Artist stepped back and an underling (I assume, from the respective demeanors of both parties) came forward to handle the mundane process of drying my hair.  When it was, I thought, done, The Artist returned.  A few strands troubled him, and were immediately trimmed.  Other flaws that I could not discern were likewise fixed. Then, The Artist finished drying every single individual strand of my hair, molding each of them to face the right direction.  I have never in my life received such attention at a hair salon -- it was $500 service, for the equivalent of $10.  Wow; somedays I really, really love China even more than usual.

To make the whole thing even more theatrical, the group around us actually applauded when it was over!

Here's a "before" photo of my shaggy long hair, which had managed to grow three inches since I came to China (honestly, my hair and nails have never in my life grown as fast as they do here):

And, here's the New Look, courtesy of The Artist (the photos do not do it justice; I had gotten a bit windblown from going grocery shopping, pearl-shopping at Jimolu, and two taxi rides with the window down):

"Going Chinese"

One of the Chinese staff at school remarked to me the other day that I'm "becoming very Chinese".  I agreed and told her that I'm basically an "egg" -- I'm white on the outside but yellow on the inside (and no, that is not a racist comment; it's a joke made between friends of different races, and both of of us found it funny)!  The same thing happened to me in Korea; for me, Asia is just a really good fit and I find it comfortable to assimilate into the culture in various ways.

The particular form of cultural assimilation that inspired my friend's comment was that I went out last Friday for a massage with other coworkers and decided to try cupping while I was at it.  Cupping is an expensive trendy thing on the US West Coast; in China, it's pretty normal and very inexpensive (about $3 for ten minutes).  Several of our Chinese staff swear by the health benefits of it.  In fact, one of them, Shine, was talking just recently about how her mother-in-law does cupping on her entire family any time one of them starts to feel sick, and it apparently makes them much better.

Personally, I have very high respect for Asian medicine and Asian health ideas.  In Korea, I personally witnessed the way spicy food and kimchi cured colds in a fraction of the time, and I saw the way that acupuncture cured my boss, Cate, after she had spent a miserable week dealing with horrible indigestion (it was so bad that she could barely get up).  I have had Korean, Thai, and Chinese massages, and have personally experienced remarkable health benefits from each.  The holistic way that they view the body makes sense and has positive results.  So, when Chinese friends/coworkers were telling me that cupping worked, it seemed to me worth giving it a try, even if my American brain had no idea how it could possibly be any good.

For those who don't know what cupping is, here's a description of my experience:  Following my two-hour massage (at which point I was ready to melt onto the floor), the masseuse took a torch and lit it.  Then, holding it mere inches from my bared back (a bit intimidating, yes), he used it to burn the oxygen out of glasses, which he then stuck to my back.  The lack of oxygen created a vacuum, which sucked an impressive amount of my skin up into each of the glasses.  Although this process may sound painful, it actually only hurt on my lower back, and not badly at that.  When the guy pulled the glasses off of me, the "SPLOCKing" noise could be heard in the next room, much to the delight of my coworkers.

So how was my experience?  To be honest, I think there might be something to cupping.  I definitely had a spring in my step that hasn't been there in a while, I had a noticeable lack of muscle pain (yes, I know, the massage definitely helped with that, too), I slept better than ever the next two nights, and I really felt invigorated.  I've decided to try cupping once a month for the next six months, just to see if it makes a difference.

Below, see the results of cupping -- and no, those bruises really didn't hurt!  (The lighting and the webcam washed out some of the bruises -- I had a total of seventeen of them.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vignettes from the Past Few Weeks

I'm sorry about the lack of posts this month -- let's just say, I've been lucky to find time to sleep, let alone write!  Meetings, essays, tests, creating lessons, technology problems, more technology problems . . . Stephanie has been a stressed gal lately.  But, here are some little vignettes:

Our ayi is a blessing beyond belief.  Coming home to those beautifully polished floors twice a week and a delicious home-cooked meal every Tuesday . . . ahh, healing experiences.  Ayi made jaoza (dumplings) two weeks ago, and they were so heavenly that I could actually hear the Hallelujah chorus in my head with every bite I took.  Beth and I ate off those things for about a week, since Ayi clearly thinks we are starving.  Last week, following our exhausting round of four meetings in one day, we were delighted to come home to something marvelously spicy.  I can't wait to see what Ayi comes up with today!

The girls have really impressed me.  When we first started, they could barely hit during scrimmages.  In one of our early practices, I joked that poor So Young was a magnet, because she got hit in the head SIX times!  In another early practices, all of the girls who wear glasses managed to get hit in the face (?!).  Now, they are SO much more accurate!  As always, they continue to be a very upbeat, team-spiritied bunch, but now they're adding some real skill to that.  I really think we have a shot at doing well in our first game next week.

For three weeks, I walked sadly past Lotus's fruit and vegetable stand, which was closed because her husband was in hospital with pneumonia.  Thank goodness, he is just fine now.  On Saturday, Lotus was back, to the immense joy of all of us foreigners in this neighborhood.  We all love Lotus!  I told her that we were all sad to go so long without seeing her, and she said that she really missed all of us, too.

The Joys of Technology (Can You Hear the Sarcasm?)
I had a professor in college who was fond of warning us, "Those who live by technology will die by technology."  He could not have been more correct lately!  We teachers have joked that the theme of this school year is technological difficulties.  Between our dear host country continually blocking things left and right on the internet (some days Google works, and other days it doesn't), the issues with our network, the server issues (got struck by lightening back in August, for one thing), and of course, all of the email mayhem, we have all begun to twitch a bit when we think about technology.  Last week, we had a particularly "amusing" incident:  One branch of our company did something that messed up email, then sent an email to tell us about it!  I laughed aloud over that one.  It took a few days to get the mess straightened out, which meant that I had no way of accessing the ninth grade essays, which the students had emailed to me.  Argh.  We worked out a potential solution to future issues in our last high school meeting (thank heaven for an on-the-ball high school principal!) and we have a solution as well for getting out urgent messages reliably:  We now have a whiteboard in the teachers' lounge.  Yup, we're kickin' it old school!

A Test for the Sophs
My sophomores took their first "Ms. Thompson" test on Monday, and oh what a joy it was.  I have the unfortunate quality of actually caring about these kids, which means I make a lot of work for myself.  In this instance, I created four different versions of the test, to make cheating almost impossible, and put both a map and a huge essay on the thing.  Ug.  That was some painful grading!  So laborious!  For the most part, I was pretty happy with the results.  In my smaller class, every student passed!  In fact, the class average for them was 95.7%, which meant that I brought in snack cakes for them today as a reward.  In my larger class, only two kids failed.  Most kids were in the A-B range, with a few Cs and Ds.  I can live with those grades!  I was a bit dismayed by just how badly a few kids did (I told the class that a couple of tests caused me physical pain and made me punch the sofa), but I was thrilled with how seriously almost all of the students took the essay.  I allowed a cheat sheet for it (3x5 inch, and I didn't let them use it until they had handed in the main portion of the test), hoping that it would mean better thought out essays, and my plan worked!  Most students gave good introductions and conclusions, had very specific details, and even spelled everything correctly.  I think I may continue to allow essay cheat sheets on future tests.

Presentations for the Freshies
My adorably stressed freshmen had their first papers and their first big solo presentations!  They had to give a thorough explanation of their own personal worldview in their paper, then present it to the class within very specific guidelines.  I was, on the whole, quite impressed with what a good bunch of presenters I have in this class.  All of them came prepared, most had excellent eye contact, and they followed the directions!  What good freshies I have!  They were a bit frightened of the time requirement (two and a half to three minutes for the speeches), but most kids did just fine staying within the limits.  To let them know when two and a half and then three minutes were up, I squeaked Yay Duck.  Alice, a very cute and likable Korean girl (all but one of my freshies are Korean, actually) in the class, had sage advice for her classmates after she had finished her speech:  "Just don't focus on the squeak.  At first you feel afraid of the squeak, but if you relax, you don't have to fear the squeak.  And you feel very good when it is all over."

Chinese Lessons
I accused Jackie on Monday of deliberately trying to make my head go sailing off from the sheer amount of material we covered.  She smiled and nodded.  Today, it was more like facial calisthenics.  We focused on some sounds that require considerable effort (particularly the ΓΌ sound), and my mouth was actually sore when we finished!  However, both days Jackie accessed my efforts as "Fei chang hao!" (fantastic).  Apparently, we will finish pinyin on Monday, and then we move on to focusing on vocabulary.  I'm excited because I've been dying to be able to communicate better with Chinese people, particularly now that I have a new volunteer activity that allows me to interact more with them.  I continue to love my Chinese lessons, despite all the work.  Last week, I actually had the chance to teach my teacher!  Jackie taught me the word for panda, and was surprised to learn that many American zoos have them (she's never been to the USA, so she is always interested to hear about what it's like).  I mentioned that red pandas are more common in zoos, which thoroughly confused Jackie -- she had no idea what animal I was talking about!  I tried to describe them, but she was still definitely envisioning a literal red panda, so after class, I emailed her a picture.  She had never seen a red panda, and was enthralled with how cute they are.  I think these cultural interactions, where we learn about each other's home countries (or in that case, about our own), are probably even more enjoyable for me than learning the language.  I love it when Jackie explains the reasoning behind certain words or tells me bits of history.  I love, too, the large number of Chinese friends that I'm making.

I am certainly still in transition.  For those of you who have never lived abroad, I don't know that I can accurately put into words exactly what it is like -- you really have to live abroad in order to understand it.  It's a whole score of emotional, physical, psychological issues that a person goes through simultaneously, but also in stages (or in some cases, onslaughts).  With my mother experiencing health problems back in my passport country, my transition has had a definite shift.  This week was really rough, because emotions that I have not really worked through came to the surface all at once and demanded attention from me.  On Monday, I had a bit of a breakdown after school, which I worked my way through with a very long walk on the rocks in the ocean, followed by dinner with Beth.  Probably the amount of stress I've been under has made my emotions more of an issue than they would otherwise be.

There are definitely a lot more emotions at play for me now than what I experienced in Korea, and not just because of what's going on with my mother -- plus, China is really a completely different ballgame.  Like in Korea, I have not experienced any homesickness -- quite the contrary; despite all the issues, I feel quite at home here, even more so than I did in Korea.  Korea, however, felt more like a short-term adventure that I knew would be of only a one or two year duration.  China, from the start, is guaranteed to be two years.  But I am already feeling quite strongly that it will not end there.  I could easily see myself staying here for a very long time, assuming I am not called elsewhere.  I love my job, I work for good people, I have comfortable living conditions, I have friends, and I have an excellent fellowship.

Some people have wondered whether I have experienced any feelings of isolation.  Well, not many.  I have had a few moments, mostly earlier this week, but on the whole, living in community the way that we do here, I am generally not alone (either physically or mentally).  People here are really compassionate, and they tend to notice when someone is not running on all cylinders, so I feel very cared about and cared for.  I have tons of support and love here:  I get a lot of hugs, I found a muffin in my cubbyhole in the teachers' lounge yesterday, I get regular emails (when we aren't having tech issues, that is), I've gotten notes, and I get invited places more often than ever before.  People always want to stop and chat when they run into me, which perfectly fulfills my psychological need to get out a high minimum number of words each day!  And speaking of invitations, I get at least two dinner invitations every week!  Nitta is an encouraging and supportive principal, so even though I just agreed to take on even more work at school (?!), I feel very appreciated and valued at work.

On the whole, although transition has its ups and downs, it's a river that I can ford my way across.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Longest Week

This week shall live in my memory as one of supreme exhaustion and duration.  I am convinced that it has not been a week at all, but rather, a month.  Surely one cannot cram this much into a mere seven-day period!

On Sunday, following an enlightening "book study", I went out to lunch with a friend and her pre-teen daughter.  Her daughter just arrived back from a summer in America, owing to a passport nightmare that left her stranded in the USA for more than a month.  Poor India had quite the rough time!  She's a delightful, mature, and witty girl to be around, so I thoroughly enjoyed getting a chance to know her.  And of course, I really enjoyed getting to have my favorite Korean meal, dak galbi, for lunch!  To make Sunday even better, we stopped at a Korean supermarket, where I was able to get milk that doesn't come in a box on a shelf, reasonably-priced cereal, my favorite Korean pancake mix, and a tasty milkshake.  Then I followed all that with six hours of lesson-planning at home, which made my injured left hand swell up impressively.

On Monday, I had numerous problems with the internet, a common issue here, and thus had a miserable time finishing up my lesson plans for the week during my planning periods.  At my Chinese lesson, I discovered another sound that is extremely hard for me to make correctly.  During my first class, I dealt with two kids who came dangerously close to getting detentions (a rarity in my classes, thankfully).  After school, I had volleyball practice with my JV girls, so I took the late bus home at 5:00.  I then spent five hours grading, a sizable portion of which was spent moaning over a quiz that one class should have done MUCH better on.  I resisted the urge to put either the quizzes or my head in the oven.

Tuesday had two very involved lesson plans, more computer/internet battles, a war with my online gradebook (which it is still sulking over), a high school faculty meeting, and then . . . another late night.  Make that, an exceedingly late night!  We were having College Night at school, an event where parents could come and get all of their questions answered about things like AP classes, transcripts, university requirements, SAT, etc.  Since I am teaching and creating the College Prep class, I was asked to give a presentation about my class and about the SAT.  Since College Night was to start at 6:30 and we live 40 minutes from school, it made no sense to go home.  So, Nitta graciously took those of us who were staying over (herself, me, the director of student services, our Korean liaison, and one of the high school counselors) out to dinner at a wonderful Western restaurant.  

We got back to school just in time to set up, and then it was one looooooooong night!  We had a good turnout of parents, and they were chock full of questions.  Plus, since most of them don't speak English, our liaison Vickie (a dear Korean gal) had to translate everyone else's presentations.  When she got to her own presentation and started trying to go back and forth between languages, Nitta kindly translated for her.  Although exhausted, I did enjoy listening to the translations, as I always do.  Hearing Korean spoken just gives me warm fuzzies inside.  I made the parents really happy by introducing myself in Korean to them and bowing properly -- Nitta and Vickie had egged me on at dinner to do this, saying that the parents would love it.  They were really interested in my presentation, as I had anticipated (Korean parents are very devoted to getting their kids into the best universities).  Many of the parents were dismayed to learn that their children had missed a chance to take my class this semester; I have a feeling that my class-list for next semester is going to grow quite rapidly!  After our successful but wearying evening, we wound up leaving school at 9:30 pm.  On the way home, Nitta made an offer that was intended to be sweet but which was actually a bit ominous:  Knowing that I've had a lot on my mind lately, she told me that if I ever need help keeping busy, I can feel free to come to her.  I replied, "Nitta, did you really just make me that offer after tonight?!"

On Wednesday, my body announced its disappointment in only getting three hours of sleep for the past few days (I've had too much on my mind to be able to sleep).  I ignored it, and taught two very strenuous lessons, then coached another volleyball practice and left at five, yearning to go to sleep.  I ignored the yearning and instead went to dinner at a coworker's place, which turned out to be wonderful therapy.  We had sort of a mini-UN group of three Americans, a Chinese-Canadian, a Malaysian-Indian-Australian, and a South African.  We had fantastic conversations about the worst jobs we've ever had, previous students we've taught, current students and their dramatic lives, and language mishaps we've had here in China.  We also had a really neat discussion about bad words -- now I know that the term "fanny pack" is extremely offensive in several other cultures, and that I need to never again use any of the language that I heard from my British friends in Korea (apparently, many of those words they used were uber-offensive).

I had an "entertaining" taxi ride home.  Despite my practically shouting at the driver in Chinese to stop by the back gate of the apartment complex, he completely ignored me and took me to the front gate, giving me a nice long walk in the rain while carrying both of my computers (I have grading saved on one and need the Mac for creating my lessons).  I really need to ask Jackie to teach me some stronger language so that taxi drivers will take me more seriously!

It's still not over.  Despite taking the early bus today (a bold decision that I resolutely stuck to despite my need to work on things in my classroom), it's been another draining day.  Three hours of sleep yet again last night, loads of material to cover today, lessons for next week to start arranging for (I'm having one of the Chinese staff in as a guest speaker in College Prep), and on top of that, I'm dog-sitting for friends for the next few days, which meant finding time for two decent walks and picking up groceries for while I am staying over here.  

Tomorrow will be exhausting, too.  Quizzes in every class, plus I'm giving an emotional presentation to all of my history classes:  In light of September 11, I've decided to do a special presentation about the events, my memories from the day, and the Al Qaida perspective for why the attacks occurred (I want kids to look at both sides of stories, even if it is really controversial -- that's part of being good historians).  Then in the evening, there will be a birthday dinner for one of my closest friends here.  On Saturday, there's a shopping trip to a massive store (it's sort of like Sam's Club).  In the evening, we're having a massive birthday bonfire on the beach to celebrate about six birthdays and to create a good excuse for lighting things on fire.  Someone has already spoken about having lunch with me on Sunday (I have forgotten whom . . . oops).  Sometime this weekend, I've got to write a test for two classes and get all of my grading done for mid-quarter. 

Whew!  Don't things ever slow down around here?!  Thank goodness we have no school on Monday!  (Naturally, teachers still "get to" go in.)


Yay Duck:  People obviously like me, as they keep inviting me places.  I have the world's best coworkers.  I am never bored.  Also, my principal apparently thinks I am very qualified.

Yuck Duck:  I'm exhausted, but can't sleep.  I'm stressed.  I've had four Renaud's attacks this week.  I have grading out the wazoo (why did I assign all this homework?!).  My hand is still recovering slowly from being injured at Fall Camp.  I'm worried about my mother.  I worry that I'm not good enough to coach a sport (I mean, let's face it -- athletic and I have never been used in the same sentence).

Ah, Language! Thou Art So . . . Humorous

I have a theory:  I believe that the Chinese people deliberately created their language in such a way as to ensure that foreigners regularly look extremely foolish.  Recent events bear this theory out.

In my last Chinese lesson, my teacher asked me (in Chinese) whether or not I like birds.  I meant to say, "I like birds."  I said what I thought was "I like birds."  My very sweet teacher began laughing quite hard, even harder than she laughs when we successfully get my tongue tied in knots trying to say similar-sounding words in rapid succession.  In fact, she was tearing up from laughing so hard.  This was a good indication to me that I had made a mistake.  When Jackie could finally speak, she informed me that I used the wrong tone when saying the word "bird".  So, what I actually said to her was "I like to pee."  We enjoyed a long mutual laugh over that one!

I was fortunate, actually.  Our lovely, innocent, ladylike kindergarten teacher had a much worse language faux pas recently.  Being a Star Wars fan, she thought it would be fun to name one of her fish Qui-Gon.  She excitedly quizzed her little kindergartners over and over about the new class pet's name, and they eagerly shouted it back.  Many, many times.  She noticed a look of concerned surprise on the face of her Chinese teacher's aide (never a good sign).  Later, the lady mentioned to her that that particular word means "orgasm" in Chinese.  Oops!

We foreigners aren't the only ones making these "fun" blunders, of course.  Back when I taught in Korea, I was asked to give English names to some new students.  Normally, I would just name the kids on their first day in class, but this particular time, Cate (my boss) asked me just to write down the names for her, so she could tell the kids in advance (cue ominous organ music).  The next day, I asked the adorable new boy in my second-grade class to introduce himself to his classmates.  Loudly and proudly, he announced, "My name is Phallus!"  At least, that is exactly what word he said.  I was, naturally, nearly struck dead with horror.  His name was actually Felix, but Cate had not known how to pronounce it.  I quickly corrected him, then made sure to tell Cate what that mispronounced name actually meant.  From then on, we went back to having me name the kids in class!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Longest Bridge in the World (Photos)

These are photos I took from the bus while we were crossing the longest bridge in the world, across a portion of the Yellow Sea.  Needless to say, it's a REALLY long bridge, and the photos do not do it justice.  The last shot shows some of the far side of Qingdao, which is a considerable distance from where I live and where the school is (Qingdao is quite big).

I wish I could post photos from Fall Camp, but for two reasons, I cannot:
1)  I was far too busy with the girls to even think about taking photos!
2)  Had I taken any, I still wouldn't be able to post them.  There are just too many sick, depraved people in this world for me to even THINK of sharing photos of our very beautiful teenage girls (particularly with most of them being Asian).  I prefer to keep my girls safe in this very disgusting age, so my blog readers will never get to see any of my students.  I wish the world were otherwise.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Oh, the sacrifices I make here.  Imagine . . . being forced to stay in a really nice hotel with all meals provided, a trip to a gorgeous beach with wonderful warm water, crossing the longest bridge in the world (with beautiful views of the Yellow Sea), and, in short, two incredibly fun days.  The girls loved everything that we did, so there were no issues with teenage attitudes or anything like that (honestly, we don't really have that issue under normal circumstances).

We left from the school at around 9:00 on Thursday, with a gaggle of extremely excited teenage girls.  Yes, teenagers actually showing excitement about spending quality time with their teachers and high school principal -- these things actually HAPPEN here!  We piled our 87 girls, ten teachers (a great cultural gumbo of three Chinese, one Korean, a South African, and five Americans), assorting luggage, and ten watermelons into two buses and a van, and the adventure was on!  We were headed to Huang Dou, a beautiful island off the coast of Qingdao.  To get there, we rode through an incredibly long tunnel under the Yellow Sea (which the girls - and me - all thought was pretty neat).

Our theme, which we teachers spent weeks putting together, was FIT: being fit spiritually, mentally, emotionally, relationally, academically, physically, and spiritually.  We explained to the girls that to be truly fit, they needed a holistic balance of all of these, a concept which they readily embraced.  For one of our first fit-themed activities, we had in advance told the girls that they were going to have a healthy lunch competition.  They were broken into eight teams, which were a mix of girls from each grade, with either one or two seniors in charge (we like giving the seniors opportunities for leadership, and the younger grades enjoy having an "older sister" relationship with their upperclassmen).  Each team had a budget of only 30 kuai (almost $4) per person, including the teacher in charge of their group (each group got at least one teacher).  The girls had to prepare a lunch that was healthy, delicious, and colorful.  My worst fear was that I would wind up with a group that did tuna in some capacity -- I regard tuna as a dish best reserved for cats.  I was overcome with relief and delight when I learned that my gang of girls had decided to do chicken fajitas (not a common dish here in China!).  For dessert, they had a traditional Korean rice punch that I love.  I told the girls that they were superstars for picking such a delicious lunch sans tuna -- and the judges of the lunch competition agreed, because my girls came in FIRST place!  Other groups did lunches like kimbap, bibimbap, and sandwiches.  One group made homemade banana milkshakes for their dessert.

After lunch, we sent the girls up to briefly get settled in their rooms.  Then it was off to the beach!  This being China, we naturally had to have a wee bit of drama with that:  we had forgotten the money for the beach (it was a pay-beach) back at the hotel (luckily, Shine, one of the Chinese teachers happened to have exactly enough money with her) and the guards there kept trying to insist that they needed identification from each of us in order to go.  After about ten minutes of playing the "No, you don't" "Yes, we do" game with a few of the teachers (I was busy amusing forty-odd impatient girls back on one of the buses), the guards finally relented and we were able to proceed.  That's one of the things I've found about China:  You often have to accomplish things in difficult, odd, or roundabout ways and they usually take seven times as long to happen (we call it the "Rule of Seven"), but eventually, things always somehow work out.

We had a blast at the beach.  We started with a game called "Butt Wars" where to people try to knock each other down using only their butts as weapons.  I joined in, partnered with one of my history students.  We had a stalemate: neither of us could knock the other down!  After that game, we played something even more violent:  "Kick the Bucket".  In that game, the seniors had to guard a bucket while ALL of the other girls tried to rush in and kick it over.  If a senior tagged any girl on the back with both hands (or if another girl got a senior), that person was out.  We played three times, each time involving a lot of grabbing and a lot of girls on the ground.  No injuries, though!  Well, no human injuries:  the bucket died.

The next (and probably most violent) game was "Steal the Bacon", in which we divided 86 girls (one had gotten sick shortly after we arrived, so a teacher stayed behind at the hotel with her) into two teams, which stood about thirty feet apart, facing one another.  In the middle were two black rubber tubes (the kind that go inside of tires).  Each girl had a number, and when we called out numbers, those girls had to run and fight to drag the tubes over to their line in order to score a point (one point per tube).  This game was hilarious to watch!  During one round, one girl decided to pull the legs of another out from under her; then, she and her teammate carried both the girl AND the tube over to their side!  In another round, a rather quiet, shy, and timid sophomore (who is also a new student this year) managed to steal a tube while the other girls were fighting over the other one.  She made it all the way to her side, unchallenged!  She was as shocked as anyone, and began jumping up and down shouting, "I did it!  I got it!"  I was so thrilled to see her accomplish that; I absolutely adore that girl (if I were allowed to have favorites, she would make the ever-growing list).

After that game, we encouraged our absolutely filthy, sand-covered and sweaty girls to go swimming in the very welcoming ocean.  I meant to just go wading right then (I had my bathing suit on under my clothes, so I was planning to go swimming later), but then I overheard a few girls discussing the merits of throwing Ms. Thompson in the water, so I decided to just dive in and get thoroughly wet (Nitta, our awesome high school principal, made the same decision based on overhearing a similar discussion).  A few girls who decided to splash me were promptly dealt with, and then I went wave-jumping with the girls, which made them all very happy.  They really love doing things with teachers (I'm still in shock over this)!

After swimming with them for a while, I went to join some of my freshies for a walk on the beach.  I happened to find a sea urchin, which sparked a Teachable Moment.  I showed it to the girls, who had never seen one before.  Before I knew it, I was teaching about sea shells, sea creatures, and ocean ecology to a group of about ten fascinated freshmen!  We found some more urchins, several other types of shells in various pretty colors, and even a few jellyfish.  I explained how to properly clean the shells that they wanted to keep, so hopefully no parents have to suffer any nasty smells this weekend.

When we got back to join the group, it was time for devouring all those luscious watermelons, building sand castles, more swimming, more "Steal the Bacon", and lots of talking.  It was, in short, the perfect day at the beach.  Despite the large group of girls, we had only two injuries, both minor:  a skinned leg and a cut foot.  Neither of them were on me.

We did showers and then dinner once we got back to the hotel, followed by praise songs.  Nothing is quite as awesome as all those happy teenagers singing and dancing with enormous smiles.  Our guidance counselor Amy did a talk on emotional wellness followed by a journaling activity, and then we had a Casino Night-style game night for the girls.  Kathryn and I taught some of the girls how to play Spoons, which was a major hit (definitely the most popular game of the night).  At 10:30 pm, all girls, except seniors (they got to stay up as late as they wanted), were to be in their rooms, and we teachers did our rounds of room checks.  I had the whole tenth floor in my jurisdiction, which meant about 13 juniors.

The only dark spot of the weekend (well, I actually do find it amusing now) was the disappearance of all but three of the juniors from my floor.  One girl informed me that the seniors had collected them.  I immediately went downstairs to find help, where I learned from Kelly, one of our Chinese staff, that she also had missing junior.  Together, we split up to look for them.  About half an hour later, we located the reprobates, who had gone back to the proper floor while we were searching for them.  I then sternly sent them all to bed.

Today, we enjoyed a fantastic (and enormous) breakfast, followed by some more praise songs.  After that, I gave my little talk about relational fitness.  I had decided to talk about toxic friends.  Using student volunteers to act out the parts (which they were great at!), I described six types of toxic friends: leaches, ditchers, excluders, users, backstabbers, and teasers.  I then explained the harm that each can do, and how to handle them appropriately.  For my activity, I had a game that the girls really enjoyed.  Once I had finished, we awarded the prizes for the four winning groups and the two girls who were teacher-selected MVPs.  We then concluded with a wrap-up activity in which each team of girls had to find some way of presenting all that we had talked about regarding fitness.  The girls had about an hour, and then they wowed us.  We saw well-drawn posters, side-splitting skits, a super cute song, and obvious evidence that the girls had put thought into their work.  We were quite proud of our girls as we dismissed for lunch!

We left right after lunch.  Girls were divided according to where they lived, and I wound up being the only teacher on my bus!  I reminded the girls to pay close attention as we drove, because we were about to experience one of the neatest parts of our little retreat:  We crossed the longest bridge in the world!  The views of the Yellow Sea and the mountains were beautiful.  After we had crossed into Qingdao, it was apparently time for a new game called "Photograph Ms. Thompson".  I have no idea what sparked it, but most of the girls on the bus suddenly wanted me to repeatedly pose for them.  A gaggle of the girls also informed me that I have the nicest teeth (I'll have to thank my childhood dentist and orthodontist when I'm next in the States for a visit).  The things they compliment about!

Although it was the most fun two days in recent memory, I was nevertheless happy to arrive home to my spotless apartment (courtesy of Ayi, who came in to clean on Thursday), where I soon had an unpleasant migraine to deal with.  Fortunately, it was of short duration.  The day concluded with spaghetti and a movie with the roomie, who just returned from Middle School Fall Camp.

Gosh, I really do SUFFER living here in China!
"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"