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!

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"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"