Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yelling in Chinese!

Since the beginning of the year, I have made great progress in my ability to yell and sound angry in Chinese. Chinese has four tones, and so making each of those tones clear while also expressing anger is difficult if you're not a native speaker. If you don't pay attention to tones, the meaning of something like "Why are you not listening to me?" can change to something like "Why aren't you stopping chemistry?!!" which is not quite the meaning I'd be wanting to get across. The kids will figure it out, but tones are important.

At the beginning of the year, I had a very hard time expressing emotion, while at the same time communicating my tones clearly. It's hard enough to express emotion in a foreign language because you're constantly having to translate in your head, and it's not natural, and then Chinese has the added difficulty of dealing with tones. Thankfully, I'm to the point now where I don't have to think about how to say what I want to say (in the classroom, at least), and I'm able to actually express my emotions. So, I can yell in Chinese, and I sound scary rather than just loud, which is a good thing. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dentists and Bananas

It's market day in town today, which is always nice. Songgui (the town where I live) is decently big (relative to its surroundings) and gets a market day every day that ends in 3, 6, or 9 every month. Being relatively big is also the reason that the middle school is situated kids--some kids can be over 3 hours away.

Anyways, one of the main reasons that market day is awesome is that you can buy cheap fruit. Normally, to buy bananas you have to pay 3 kuai for a half kilo (1.1 lb), but on market day you can get bananas for 1.5. I probably could have gotten them for 1 kuai (about 1/6th of a dollar), but I didn't feel like bargaining.

Also, all the dentists come into town on market day. A dentist is a man with a very small table, and a few tools and sets of false teeth who will sit alongside the street and help you with any tooth-related problems you have. They're only in town on market day. It's very ghetto, but it makes a lot of sense. People need their teeth taken care of, and there's no way that they can pay for modern dentistry with a dentist who went through years and years of training.


I just got to play in the teacher's basketball game, which turned out to be a lot of fun. It was an official(ish) game, so we had a ton of kids watching for the first half, which was fun. They seemed to enjoy watching, and also (surprisingly) seemed to enjoy  it when I ran several of them over (mildly).* Tim got to come up from the Elementary school to participate, and he got placed on the P.E. teacher team, and I got placed on the regular teacher team. It was a really close intense game--we ended up tying 45-45 and not going into overtime, for which I was grateful. I'm exhausted now. I've been doing some running, but it doesn't really prepare you for basketball. I think I might try to get more into basketball while I'm over here. I've got basically no experience, but there's nobody who plays soccer, and playing tonight reminded me of how much fun running around is.

I also happened to glance at the square on the blog that has links to all my previous blog entries.....I really really like using exclamation marks in titles. Probably too much. I tried taking the exclamation off of basketball, but it just seemed wrong, so from here on out, if I'm really excited about something I'm just going to add an exclamation mark, but the default is definitely having one.

*more than once. It was different kids!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Happy Day after Christmas everybody!!

It's weird and sad being so far away from my family for Christmas-time, but I spent Christmas Eve with friends in Dali, and Christmas Day grading papers and teaching a class, so it was nice.

In Dali, people have started this truly awful tradition of spraying people in the face with silly string on Christmas Eve night. It's impossible to walk around because you'll get a mouth full of silly string, whether or not you're trying to participate. In fact, if you're unarmed (as I was) and tourist looking (I'm not really that Chinese looking) you're going to be sprayed a good amount. My enraged glower kept away a lot of people, but walking around was still not a fun experience.

More fun was last night. Where I'm at, there's a Christmas tradition of giving people apples wrapped in lots of plastic and looking all pretty. Every Sunday night my class has a study hall that I'm responsible for watching over, and my kids gave me lots of these apples. A hilarious amount of them. It's made my entire outlook a lot more cheerful.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fun Stuff!

I've been really busy lately, but here's some random stuff about eating and restaurants:

There are a total of nine Muslims in town. They're all Hui. It's impolite to say words for pork or pig around them. Their Imam runs a delicious local restaurant, and they go through an entire cow every three days. (if I remember correctly, a cow is about $450. a donkey is about $300.)

When eating, it's polite to toss bones (and other uneaten portions) on the table or on the floor.

Most restaurants have tables, but they tend to be below knee height, and have short benches or stools around them. Full sized tables are common, but tend to be reserved for the nicer places.

There isn't a single restaurant in town with a menu. To order, you look at a large fridge with a glass door and choose which veggies and meat you want cooked and how you want them cooked. It's hard for foreigners (even Chinese people) because outsiders don't necessarily know local dishes or vegetables.

Some of the best food is Chinese barbecue, and there's a couple do it yourself places in town. You sit around a table where there's a grate under which are hot coals (which is awesome because it's freezing) and cook meat, veggies, and (because it's a night-time thing you) drink baijiu.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A normal day

What I do varies a lot by what day it is, and what we've been doing recently, but today was a pretty normal day:

6:40 wake up for 7:10 morning study hall

7:10-7:50 morning study hall. The kids are still a little sleepy, so I mostly drill vocab and have them practice reading passages. (recent vocab: play the guitar, violin, piano, trumpet, chess club (none of these kids can play chess, I'm gonna teach em), swimming club (does that sound strange to anyone else?) why, or, then....there's a lot every chapter). I also did a small spelling test

8:00 walk into town and grab a meat bun for breakfast, then work on grading a test I recently gave.

10:40-11:20 class: we worked on grammar structures using "or, but, and, why"

11:30 I go an eat lunch. I keep getting food poisoning from the cafeteria, so I've started eating off campus so I head to a local place and get pulled rice noodles.

12:30 back on campus for  a tutoring session. I've been working on mastering simple key words (he, she, her, his, what, where, when...) with my slower kids, so we work on that for thirty minutes.

1:05 English Corner! English Corner happens every Wed, and every class sends its best two English students for Jarlene and I to teach. Today I taught them to sing (a modified version of) the drinking song from Jaws (Show me the way to go home.....)

2:00 Class: Learned the remaining vocab in Chapter 10 today. (Sunday, am, pm, kid, show, email, address) and reviewed previous vocab. (Jarlene co-taught this period with me)

2:50-3:30--prepped materials for afternoon, took a look at the spelling test I gave them during zaodu

3:40 class: I normally don't have this period, but having to substitute class is pretty common. The worked on a worksheet for a few minutes, and then we practiced vocab and sentence structures for the remaining time. (2 classes of content is already quite a bit for many of these kids).

I normally have a dinner tutoring session at 5:30, but I couldn't go, so I gave those kids who normally go to that session homework to leave by my door at 6:00.

5:00--6:30--We (TFC fellows) organized a dinner with our homeroom teachers. Homeroom teachers are incredibly important here (homeroom teacher is a really bad translation that doesn't explain the importance that these teachers have in these kids' lives). We had good food at a local restaurant, and got to chat about kids in our class. It was useful, and it was nice to commiserate about some of the kids with somebody else who really gets it.

6:50--7:10 Another tutoring session, this one for more advanced students. It's voluntary (i.e. only three kids show up) but it's really nice to be teaching the kids that are pumped about learning. We worked on translating fairly complex Chinese sentences into English.

And now it's now! After I'm done writing this, I'm going to type out a more official lesson plan for the class that I'm getting observed tomorrow, finish grading tests and entering the data into my tracker, and then hopefully have time to skype.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It's gotten pretty chilly here (to the extent that it's a little hard to type this because my hands are cold) and it's making me much more willing to skip showers. Central heating (and air conditioning*) are nonexistent, and the showers are solar powered, so when it's cloudy out, there's only freezing cold water. I've had some really short showers fulled with tons of yelping and dancing.* I've got a space heater in my room, but it can still be cold, and my space heater can't travel to class or restaurants with me. So, showering is a bummer, and the main way that people choose to deal with it is by simply not showering. Sadly, I've been running, and so I can't go for a week without a shower like most everybody else. I'm going to work on naturally smelling better--we'll see how it goes.

*Fun fact: air conditioner is one of the words in the curriculum for the 5th graders over at the elementary school--I don't think they could have chosen a word less relevant to these kids' lives. They have no idea what an air conditioner looks like. The curriculum is, sadly, littered with such words that simply aren't of any interest or use to my kids.

*If it weren't for the nudity, a video of me showering would probably become the next big thing on youtube.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Recently I:

saw an awesome lunar eclipse
wrote a lot of lesson plans
got food poisoning (for the fourth time since coming here)
ate lots of delicious Chinese barbecue (not related to above)
made a student cry (and I'm not very sorry about it)
found out that that picture of me is on renren (the Chinese version of fbook)
used a lot of parentheses in a blog post (because they're awesome)
and have been too busy to write blogs about what's been going on and ones answering people's questions

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Here's a picture....hopefully!

I just got an email from one of my friends with this picture attached. She's not at all affiliated with TFC, and apparently saw my picture online, and decided to email me! I'm not really sure where she saw it, but it's pretty cool that TFC is getting out there more. The watermark in the lower right says TFC in Chinese.
In this picture, I'm doing review class/tutoring with some of my weaker students. You can't see any of my students, but they're there! I'm not just posing with a whiteboard because I look really good that way. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I just saw a man walking around with a monkey on his head

Seriously, that's it. He just had a pet monkey that rode on his shoulder and held on to his head. It looked like a really weird hat from far away. I was riding my bike with friends, so we didn't have any cameras to get pictures.

Another weird thing I saw on someone's head recently: a man riding a motorcycle was wearing a helmet. WEIRD

Monday, December 5, 2011


I just got back from another professional development conference, so I can answer questions! 

First, what is your typical day, start to finish?--awesome! I will write about this, but I don't have time right now. 

How do you know what the radical stroke number is? You just look at the character and count the number of strokes in one part (generally the left part) of the character, and that's the stroke number. You then take that number and look in the front part of the dictionary until you find that radical, and there you'll be able to find out where the character you're looking for is. There are also dictionaries that do it alphabetical by pinyin, but those are generally English/Other language-Chinese dictionaries for foreigners. If you don't know what the character looks like, you're not going to figure out how to write it.  In short, looking up stuff in a Chinese dictionary is a pain, and I never do it. Online dictionaries are awesome, and even allow you to draw in a character you want to look for. And I assume women are as stubborn in China as they are anywhere else? 

Dating-Marriage culture--long topic that I will totally write about soon. 

How do the kids feel about not doing great on the midterms? --They're actually OK with it. My class's grades weren't where I want them to be, but we were right in with the other classes, so they didn't feel bad about that. In addition, one of the main problems that they had is that we never covered how to answer questions like the ones that they encountered on the midterm [e.g. multiple choice, matching, writing a passage, reading comp, cloze (fill in the blank) reading, etc] which is my fault, and not theirs, and this is something that I explained to them. We've been practicing a lot more test-like questions in class, and I'm confident that there will be improvement on the final. It is sad that we have to basically teach to the test, but it's a reality of the local situation, and something that I'll probably complain about later. 


Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Recently, one of my friends, another TFC Georgetowner stationed in Yunnan came up to Heqing (where I am) to visit and check out our schools. She was struck by who many Bai women there are everywhere here. (the Bai women have a very distinctive manner of dress: ). It was something that I hadn't thought about in a very long time: I'm used to it. That made me start thinking about how many other things that I've gotten used to, that it wouldn't cross my mind to write about simply because they are everyday parts of life. On top of that, I've spent about 5 months in Beijing, and while Beijing is quite different from Heqing, I'm still not looking at China with very fresh eyes.

So, questions? I'll answer anything. Just write a question in the comments--it can even be anonymous--and I'll do my best to answer. Want to know how a Chinese dictionary is organized? (radical stroke order) Want to know more about food? About the school? About the kids? This is your chance.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pig Killing Party!

I got to go to a pig killing party yesterday with teachers from my class! It was a lot of fun. Pig killing parties are when a family will kill its pig(s) and then have a party to celebrate and eat pork. These parties have started because it's finally cold enough out for decent refrigeration and will continue through December. I'm really looking forward to going to more of them. There's a ton of delicious food, and lots of friendly people.

I don't think I'll ever have to see a pig getting slaughtered (they need to drain), which I'm torn about. On one hand, I'm told it's a horrific experience--the pig screams, there's lots of blood, and it's really disturbing. On the other hand, I do eat meat, and I feel like I should be able to confront what exactly eating meat entails.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Food Poisoned, Again

I managed to get food poisoning again, and it was a bummer, though I think it was slightly better than the first two times. Getting food poisoning just seems to be a fact of life here--there are some fellows who get it even more often than I do. Students tend to have issues with it as well--there's often a student out with stomach problems.

I'm just glad that there's a bathroom I can use close by--it makes the whole experience a lot more bearable than it would otherwise be.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm back

We had break, so Tim, Laura, Sasha and I all headed down to Lincang (about 10 hours away) to meet up with our friends down there, and have a Thanksgiving feast. We brought down a peanut butter pie and some baguettes (Dali is the only place in Yunnan with decent bakeries) and other people made mashed potatoes, duck, and soup. It was a ton of fun, and it was great to see everyone.

Tim, Laura, and I then headed to Xiben, an elementary school that's about ten minutes out from Lincang to visit our friends there (who also had an x-box, a dog, and a projector). It was a whole bunch of fun. They teach a first grade P.E. class, so I got to play with cute little Chinese kids--we mostly played "climb on the foreigner." (Only Heqing schools got vacation because we're in Dali zhou, other schools had school like normal this week).

Now I'm back in Songgui, trying to prep for the eight day school week that's starting this Friday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


My Chinglish is getting pretty bad. I've noticed that when I skype with people back home, I'll accidentally use Chinese words in my conversations. It's hard not to though--there's a lot of words that we use here (in Chinese) that don't necessarily have a good English translation, or one that we want to use: we don't say "homeroom teacher" because that's not what that person is, "Chinese barbecue" isn't shaokao, "redo class" just sounds weird, and saying "county city" seems unnatural. There's also a huge realm of food words that we use the Chinese for mostly because we would have no idea how to say it in English. There are fruits, vegetables, animal parts, and dishes that I only know the Chinese for.

The Chinese fellows also use English for a terms that we learned over summer-institute because there's often not a great Chinese translation of the same concept, or the translation sounds silly. Our Chinese fellows also tend to express their displeasure (&!*# etc) in English as well because nobody understands English other than us.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Getting Interviewed is Scary

So, there was a film crew here yesterday filming our school, TFC  fellow's classes (mine included), and interviewing us. I think the class that they filmed went well, and the interview....happened.

It took place in my room. My room is very small. There's very little room for two men with gigantic cameras, a dude with a boom stick (or whatever those sound things are called), this giant lamp-like structure that made my room really bright, my boss who was interviewing me (I ended up using English because he did) and another random dude with a high-powered camera who was snapping photos. I really wish I had a working camera so that I could have gotten a picture of all these people crammed into my room. I said words when I got interviewed, so hopefully that was what they were looking for.

(p.s. Everybody enjoyed the awesome New Mexico flag that I have hanging up)

I talked to an old lady!!

And actually managed to have a conversation! I was running, through this village that's a ways away from Songgui (where I live), and this old lady said hello, so I stopped to chat. We only talked about really basic stuff--what I was doing here, my school, which class I was teaching, why I was wasting energy running, etc. but the fact that I could understand her makes me really excited because it means I've progressed with understanding the accent. Old people are always the hardest to understand, so being able to talk to a nice peasant woman was awesome.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

I'm getting filmed today

By Jiang Wen's ( film crew. He's going to create a promotional video for TFC, and my school is one of the ones that's getting filmed. That means there's going to be scary men with big cameras in my class. I'm also going to get interviewed later, and I'm supposed to use Chinese to respond.

I'm a little stressed about the whole thing.

Devils on the Doorstep, one of Jiang Wen's films is awesome btw.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I have a new student!

And I'm actually not very excited about it. This kid is just starting school this week, so he knows nothing. We've been studying English for a couple of months now, and he's coming in not even able to say "hello," "I," or the alphabet. In addition, he doesn't understand Chinese. I was telling him that he needed to come to my room after lunch to review, and he's nodding. It's only when another student (who is actually one of my weakest students, and seems to have some sort of learning disability) comes up and tells me (in dialect) that the kid has no idea what I'm saying.* I'm able to communicate through my other boy, and we've started reviewing, but I just don't see how this kid is ever going to be able to catch up. Not only is he extremely far behind, there's just no time to review, and he's not going to understand any grammar explanations that I give in Chinese unless I have a student translate for him.

*A lot of the times the speak to me in dialect and not even realize that they're doing it. I'm the only person in their lives who doesn't speak dialect, so it's hard for them to speak very standard and clear Mandarin to me. They'll also sometimes speak really idiomatically, and that can also be problematic. For example, "teacher, release my hands!" means "Can I go to the restroom." I've actually started saying a few of the more dialecty things that they do, so if I go to a different part of the country people are going to be confused and bemused by some of the things that come out of my mouth.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Here's a Map!

Of all the schools in China that TFC is currently located at:

I'm in the green cluster at Heqing Erzhong. The green dots are pretty separated from everyone else--we're tight, but we never get to see any of the other fellows in Yunnan. (or Guangdong for that matter)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Being a new teacher

I am still incredibly inexperienced at teaching, and it's challenging in a number of different ways. I spend a lot of time figuring out what works, what doesn't, and what I need to focus on for my class. The lack of experience hurts. In addition, all the challenges that first year teachers face are exacerbated by teaching in rural China; my class has sixty students of wildly different backgrounds and cognitive ability that don't even necessarily speak Mandarin very well. It's hard.

All of this means that my students aren't doing as well as I'd like. I need to become a better teacher, but that's not something that happens quickly, and in the meantime my kids have to deal with somebody with a month and a half of teacher training, and about three months of teaching experience--it's not enough.

The conference I just went to, apart from living up to its nickname, also helped us all out by showing us that other first year fellows were facing similar challenges and setbacks, but that second year fellows were doing awesome things. The first semester of teaching is supposed to be an unmitigated disaster, and while it might be rough now, it will get better. (or I will crack and run away from my school crying. Hopefully the one that doesn't involve tears.)


PDA Conference: fun, useful, and really time-consuming
Students: failed midterm
Me: horribly busy
Weather: chilly
Knife-shaved noodles: tasty

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


It's midterm season here, so for the past two days I've done nothing but stare at students taking midterms, and grade said midterms. The students still have midterms tomorrow morning, and then normal classes in the afternoon. All of the students seem dead and a little stressed out. I'm a little stressed out as well--I'm worried about how my students will do. It is nice to not have to write any lesson plans, teach normal classes, or do the normal tutoring sessions that I do, so in that sense it's a nice break for us teachers.

This coming weekend Teach for China has a PD (professional development) conference, that most of us in Heqing refer to as a PDA conference because of the tendency of reunited TFC fellows to greet each other with extra exuberance. I didn't go to the last one because it wasn't required for people in my county (we're far away) but this one is required, so I'll be going. I am excited to see people that I haven't seen in months, but at the same time I've heard that the actual workshops at the PD conference are not very useful, so I feel like I'm being forced to give up a weekend that I could use for home-visits and preparing materials for my class.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Please Speak Mandarin

and Write with Criterion's Word

There are signs like this all over the school, reminding the students not to gambol, to walk on the right side of the stairs, and all that good stuff. The English translations can be a little odd, and the sign "Please Speak Mandarin, and Write the Criterion's Word" is definitely my favorite.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Marijuana is extremely illegal in China, but in Yunnan, the province I'm in, it grows wild. Some of it is cultivated by local people to use as a spice in cooking, and to eat the seeds. My friends were on a home-visit the other weekend, and the father served them weed seeds. These same seeds can be bought in our county capital (which is about a 30 minute van ride away). Nobody smokes the marijuana, so the government just turns a blind eye to the whole affair.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm a Square

My school is extremely strict on smoking on school grounds, at least for the students. If a teacher find a student smoking, that student may be forced to eat their cigarette, and when (male) students ask to go to the bedroom in the middle of the night, they'll be pat searched to check to make sure that they're not sneaking off to light up in the trenches. That said, there's such a culture of male smoking around here, that it's unsurprising that so many of my school's boys want to try it. 

The other day I was riding my bike after a school on a Friday, passing 7th and 8th graders as they were walking to their villages, and many kids were smoking. As I passed by, I would yell to the kids that they shouldn't smoke, or stop smoking--I kinda felt like it was my teacherly duty. Later, I realized I was the stereotypical image of the dorky teacher: riding a bike, chiding edgy students, and in general just being a square. The only thing that saved me from completely fulfilling that image was my lack of a helmet....and that lack was due an inability to buy a helmet, and not due to any remaining coolness that would have saved me from complete squaredom.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Random Observation

When a Chinese person hands you a knife, they will do it blade first, not hilt first as we're accustomed to in the states. It feels weird to just grab a knife by the blade.

The reason enough Chinese people are handing me knives for me to comment on it--you peel every single fruit you eat here (almost). Pears (of which there are a ton of varieties) and apples always get peeled; I think it's because people don't like eating the skin, but I'm not exactly sure so I just follow suit.

My Mom, who despaired of my inability to properly peel an apple when I was trying to help her make apple sauce (I went for lots of hacking rather than proper technique), will be pleased to learn that my peeling abilities are masterful and getting better.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Squat

One of the major skills that I'm going to take back with me to the states is the ability to do the Chinese squat (incredibly well); To do a proper squat: have your heels flat on the ground, and lower yourself until the backs of your quads and your bottom is resting on your calves. It will probably feel pretty unsteady at first. (please make sure you get someone to take pictures of you attempting this--I've taught some people how to squat, and it's always a pretty funny experience).

Now that you've learned how to squat, you can do it anywhere, and for any reason. Playing cards? Squat. Eating lunch? Squat. Bored and waiting for something? Pop a squat and chillax. Going to the restroom? Get used to the position. (People have been squatting their entire lives, so it's a very comfortable position, and if there's no seat, they'll just hunker down)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Home Visits

One of the main things that I'm trying to do to get my kids invested in learning English, and in school in general, is going on home visits. Because many of the students live in villages that are up to three hours travel away (often with some serious walking) it can be quite time consuming and tiring, but I hope that it will pay off.

One of the major obstacles that I encounter doing home visits is that I often don't really share a language with the parents. Most of the people in this region speak dialect or baizuhua, and not Mandarin, so expressing basic thoughts can be quite difficult. I went on a home visit last weekend, and the father dropped out of school in third grade (which is not at all abnormal for people of his generation) to start working. This means that he doesn't speak Mandarin, has trouble writing his own name, and isn't able to help his son with his own schooling.

There's often a serious language barrier, so asking basic questions like, "Is school good?" requires serious effort on both sides. I often end p doing a lot of smiling, nodding, and they will say words in my direction, and I will say words in their direction. It's much easier with my better students because they have better Mandarin, and are able to understand me, and then able to translate for us, but the Mandarin of my weaker students is general also quite poor (a students Chinese scores and English scores are directly correlated) so even that is not necessarily of that much help. (this is exacerbated by the fact that my weaker students are also generally poorer, so that means that their parents are more rural, have less education, and are the ones that I have the most difficulty in communicating with in the first place)

I'm hoping that by just showing up I'm able to demonstrate that I care about these kids and their families and that I want them to do well, and that I believe in them, because most of the time I'm not able to communicate more than that.

This weekend I'll be doing home visits in my own town  (I don't have time for traveling this weekend), which means that the students whom I'll be visiting will be better off economically, and their parents will likely speak better Mandarin. Next weekend though, I will be trying to visit a more rural area to see a kid who doesn't really speak Chinese, so that should be an adventure.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's a miracle!!!

I'm actually uploading pictures!!! While Jenn was here for Guoqingjie (national day) she came to my class and took a couple pictures. The first picture is from a seat in the third row from the back. so there are still a lot of kids you can't see. 
The second picture is my students lining up to turn in "star-bucks" that they get for answering difficult English questions correctly or otherwise helping me for prizes. The kids get a chance to do that every month and a half or so. Prizes included pencils, pens, notebooks, and books in simple English. 

The three kids in the front of this picture are some of my weaker students, but they're really enthusiastic and well behaved.  I actually visited all three of their families over the past weekend. (Wangshilin and Liuwenfeng, the two students on the left both live in the same village which is a terrifying bus ride away. The mountain road you go on is so twisty and narrow, and there's a huge drop-off to the side. Imagine Slumgullion pass except much much much worse. Zhangzeming lives a thirty minute bus ride and an hour walk away. )
The student in the middle, Wangshilin, is one of two students in my class who definitely need some sort of special education class. There are other students who are falling behind, but him and another student definitely need to be in a completely different class. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Care Package!

I got a care package from my parents, and it's the most magical thing in the world! I'm sitting here drinking starbucks coffee, and it just feels so good. I feel so rich right now, it's incredible.

On top of that, I've only got one more class before the weekend. It's been a long week.

Fun food I had recently: yak yogurt. It was pretty tasty, and you could definitely tell that it wasn't cow. I also had some yak kebabs, and some black mountain goat kebabs (no, I don't know why it was specified that it was a black mountain goat rather than just a goat, but it was) and those were good, and the yak was very rich.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Staying Optimistic

It's really important to stay optimistic and positive out here because there's always something going wrong, and it can just be a tough experience. That said:

Food Poisoning--The Positives:

Got to skip two classes
Jarlene (my co-fellow) got me some delicious crackers and a drink with electrolytes in it
I needed to lose some vacation weight anyways
It's less likely I'll get food poisoning here again
People are nice to sick people
My squatting muscles are now awesome.
It's a great excuse not to go running or workout
What doesn't kill me makes me stronger

Friday, October 7, 2011

7 Day Week

The coming week has seven days of classes. We start on Saturday and then end on Friday. It's going to be exhausting, but I'm looking forward to getting back into the classroom and doing some edifyin'. Them kids gonna get them some book learnin' and it's gonna be awesome. I'm just hoping they haven't forgotten everything over break.

I feel like I'm figuring out more and more things about how to teach my students, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how they're gonna do on the next test, and the one after that. I've got high hopes for them.

I've also started learning a little bit of (the Dali regional version of )baizuhua (the language of the Bai people ). About 90% of the population where I am is Bai, so I want to learn how to say a few basic things in it. There isn't, sadly, any sort of information about the Bai language (it doesn't really even have a written language) so I'm going to chill with my noodle guy and just ask him and other people how to say things....we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Travel Stories

My vacation is (sadly) almost over. I'm in a bakery in Dali completely food coma-ed out. Seriously, I can't move. What's making me feel especially fat is the 7 jars of peanut butter that are sitting right next to all the empty plates of food at this table. It's incredible.

I was in Lijiang a few days ago, and it was lots of fun. We just wandered around and did a ton of tourist stuff, and spent tons of money at KFC. (note: KFC in China is different than regular KFC. It's not the same thing at all. Get the Mexican chicken wrap, and the little egg custard tarts. And get the popcorn chicken too. And everything else.) Anyways, I was in this shop looking at this necklace that I wanted to buy, and I heard a Chinese guy ask how much it was, and the response: 15 kuai. I then asked the lady how much it was, and was pretty surprised when she said 25 kuai. The conversation goes like this.

-How much is this?
-25 kuai.
-but I just heard you tell that guy that it was 15 kuai!
-you understand Chinese don't you?
and then she just stares at me. she looked so uncomfortable, and eventually was just like "so.....15 kuai?" I didn't feel like bargaining for it, so I ended up not buying it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Starting Friday, we have PRC National Day, which means we get a week off from school. I'm really excited. I've got a friend coming in to visit from Guangdong, and we're going to go to Lijiang ( and Tiger Leaping Gorge (

Last time I went to Tiger Leaping Gorge I had food poisoning, so I almost died. I'm hoping that this time I'll get the chance to enjoy the scenery a lot more.

It's going to be so nice to get a break. I'm just worried that my students will forget all the English that they've already learned over the course of the holiday.

Monday, September 26, 2011


We have a meeting for all the teachers every week on Sunday, and it's pretty boring. I can't understand anything that's happening, so I just doodle or lesson plan. Anyways, all the teachers are supposed to start turning in the notes that they take during these meetings (so that they can tell that we're all paying attention), but when I was told this I explained that I have no idea what's happening ever. The response, in Chinese, "just write down random things in English, it's OK." Very soon, whoever is in charge of this, will be looking at English song lyrics interspersed with things like "something about a test," "teachers something every day," "in tacos???"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eating Meat

One of the things about living in rural China is that you are constantly aware of what exactly the meat that you eat is. You see pigs being taken to market, you see the raw cuts of meat on the side of the street, today I saw a rabbit being skinned, and it's a part of everyday conversation. I got invited over to dinner at a friend's house, and he told me that he was going to kill a chicken for me. It was a tasty chicken, but there's a certain lack of separation that I'm used to in the states.

Today I had lunch with two of my students, and we were eating in this courtyard staring straight at the pig pen (that was also in the courtyard). It was an odd experience looking at the animal whose fellow you're currently eating playing in its pen and knowing that pretty soon it'll get eaten too. My friend, a vegetarian, was walking around her school, and made friends with a donkey. A few hours later, she saw the donkey's head sitting in the refuse pile.

Graphic story time. Seriously. Do not high-light this if you want to remain happy for the rest of your day. Some of the second year fellows were walking along when they saw a cute little puppy, so they stopped to play with it. One of them decided that this puppy was so cute that she wanted to take it home with her and keep it as a pet. So, they told the owner of this dog that they wanted it. The owner says OK, and says, "just wait a sec." He then heads inside. They assume he's going to grab dog food or a leash or something. He comes out about 5 minutes later with a platter of raw meat. They decide not to pay him for the puppy. 

Another fellow, also a vegetarian, ran into a field because she saw a cow and wanted to go say hi and get a closer look. She gets close, and the cow gets its throat cut. She freaks out, starts screaming, sobbing, and puking everywhere. So there's blood, vomit, tears, and a crowd of very bemused Chinese people wondering what the crazy foreign lady is going on about. 

Anyways, all this tends to make you much more aware of where the food you're eating is coming from, which while disconcerting, I think is in general a good thing, and something that people tend to forget when just buying a hunk of meat at the grocery store or biting into a hamburger at a restaurant.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Town!

While I am in rural China, I'm living in one of the larger towns for my district. In recent years, China has been pushing towards consolidating elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. My town doesn't have a high-school, but it does have a large middle school where kids come from villages up to three-four hours travel away to go to class, and that's where I teach.

Apart from the middle school, there are also a lot of businesses around here that are involved in buying produce from the surrounding fields. This industry means that the town also has things like multiple restaurants, a plethora of small shops, and tractors parked everywhere. It's also on the main (2-lane) road between Dali (population: 600,000) and Lijiang (population: 1,300,000) so that means that it has three small hotels. Thankfully, my small little town also has a supermarket, which is a huge luxury for rural China.

Despite the agricultural businesses and hotels that make their home here, it's still a very small village; if you walk in any direction for five minutes you'll end up in a field with Chinese farmers looking at you and wondering what the strange foreigner is doing. We also get to say things like, "meet at the intersection in 15 minutes," and it's not confusing because we only have the one intersection.

I've been really enjoying my town so far, and it's fun to have the shop owners slowly get to recognize me and meet people around here. It's going to be a nice place to live for the next two years. Sadly, I'm encouraged to not say the name of the town where I'm living because then people would be able to look up the name of the school. I'm also not allowed to share a lot of things on this blog, so just be aware that you're not necessarily getting the full story by reading this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Cheating is a huge problem here. I knew that intellectually, but I hadn't really realized the extent of it until last night when I was grading homework. The assignment involved writing questions and answers, and well over half the class either copied their answers from someone, or allowed their answers to be copied. It was pretty depressing. I had way too many people who asked "Is your last name uhat" (someone had originally written "is your last name what?" and it must have gotten miscopied) told me that "My name is Neville," wrote that their last name was "Guopeng" (which is a first name coincidentally) or told me about a white key, a red orang, and a blue pen, and said that "am is student."

I'm not too worried about this as a long term problem though. It's what these kids do in every class, and this is what happens in every school in China. Even in college, most Chinese essays are copied off of the internet. They're soon going to realize that it's impossible to copy homework for English class, unless you actually understand the grammar patterns so that you can change key words (which is what I'm trying to teach them in the first place) and they're going to understand that the consequences are going to be more of a pain than actually doing the work themselves. As a long term goal, I want these kids to understand that copying homework is wrong, and that they should do the work themselves so that they can learn the material. For now, I'm just going to settle on being terrifying.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I've got a bike!

I've got a bike / you can ride it if you like / it's got gears and disk brakes and things to make it really light/ I'd give it to you if I could/ but it was really expensive

(here's hoping people actually recognize the song)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Visitng some houses

So, I did two house visits this weekend, and the difference between the two places I visited could not have been more pronounced. Both of the girls whose houses I visited are some of the best kids in my class, but one of the girls is apparently the daughter of the richest man in town. I walked into their house and my gast was extremely flabbered. The flat screen sitting in the living room, surrounded by huge leather sofas, was bigger than my wingspan, and the stone staircase went up at least two stories and maybe more. It was the nicest looking house I've ever been in, and I went to the Academy and then to Georgetown so I've been in some nice house. 

In contrast, the other place that I visited (actually the mother's hair cuttery) was in another village about 20 minutes away by car, and was much more poor. The floor was cement, it was small and cramped, and you could just generally tell that they weren't that well off. That said, I've got many students that are much much poorer than this family. It was just startling in contrast to the opulence that I had experienced the previous night. 

I mostly talked with the fathers, and they were both really convinced that education was the route to success for their daughters which made me really happy. They were very welcoming, and it was great to see where my students are coming from.'s Sunday night, so that means I should be frantically preparing for the coming week so I'm off to do just that. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Teacher! Teacher!!!

Teacher! Teacher!! Please come to my home!!!!

This weekend I'm going to start doing home-visits so I just asked the class who wanted me to come to their homes, and the response was overwhelming. There were a ton of students earnestly raising their hands and yelling for me to go visit them. It's just such a foreign experience from my middle school days. If one of my teachers had asked if anybody wanted to volunteer their home for a visit, everyone would have done their best to not make eye-contact and sink into their seats, but here it's considered an honor. 

And the surprising thing is is that it's not only because I'm white and foreign, although that might contribute to the excitement a little bit. All of the TFC fellows do home visits, and the Chinese fellows also get plenty of volunteers. Kids here want their teachers to come to their homes and visit their family. 

My next challenge--actually making it to the places where I'll be meeting these kids. Some of the kids come from villages about 30km away, so there's definitely going to be some traveling involved. And probably a lot of showing people a sheet of paper and then getting pointed in various direction. We'll see how it goes!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

English Class

One thing that I've noticed in class is that students are completely unwilling to ask questions when they don't understand something. I've repeated over and over that I am happy when they ask questions because that helps them and helps the entire class, but am unhappy when someone is confused about what is going on but isn't asking questions. Despite this, the kids still don't dare to ask questions. I don't think I've had a single student ask me a question since I've started teaching, and some of them are definitely wayyyy confused when I call on them. It's frustrating, especially because I think it's a cultural problem so it's going to be hard to overcome.

My plan: have a class dedicated entirely to teaching them how to ask questions and why questions are important. Hopefully that will work and they'll actually raise their hands to ask questions rather than just to answer them. .

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Aftereffects of the Dali Trip

I've been talking with a few of the other fellows after going to Dali, and the vast majority of us came back from Dali with pretty upset stomachs. None of us are used to a Western diet anymore, and that's all we were eating in Dali. Coming back to my town and eating Chinese food feels really good. (that's not to say I'm not desperately craving sandwiches or breakfast burritos with salsa, just that my digestive system is relieved)

Just got back from Dali!

And it's crazy how much work I have to do before tomorrow. There's always so much to do, especially when I take off the weekend to eat Western food and relax and not do work. The worst is definitely the grading, and I only have 60 kids.

We just celebrated the mid-Autumn festival in Dali which means we ate moon-cakes (not really very tasty) and enjoyed the full moon. While in Dali I met this man called Whisper who was from Bernalillo, New Mexico, and was one of the odder characters I've encountered. He described himself as a "citizen of the world," held forth at long length on various odd topics that we were already pretty familiar with, and was basically a ninja because he would just keep popping up out of nowhere. A lot of the expats that end up living over here are quite weird and I'd say that about half of them have really nasty looking dreadlocks.

Anyways, as tempting as it to procrastinate doing work to keep writing things that people may/may not find interesting, I'm instead gonna procrastinate by cleaning my place (it needs it).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Flexibility of the School Schedule

I'm constantly amazed by how flexible the school schedule can be. Because we have Monday and Tuesday off, we have extra classes today (Friday) and the students have to stay at the school for an additional night to attend classes tomorrow morning. This kind of schedule rearranging is common, and we only hear about it at the very last minute (i.e. today).

I'm excited to have a little break! Some friends and I are going to be headed to Dali where we'll meet some other fellows who are headed up from near Lincang. I'm looking forward to seeing people, spending way too much money buying pizza and peanut butter, and taking a little break.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Advice from some officials

The TFC fellows at my school had a meeting with a few education officials yesterday, and they had three pieces of advice for me (specifically): talk more with people, listen to more classes, and drink more. They then proceeded to expound on that last piece of wisdom, and started asking me about my alcohol tolerance (speculating that it would be high because I'm tall) and telling me that they're looking forward to seeing what kind of person I am when drunk. It constantly surprises me how much drinking is an accepted part of guy culture, and this activity that is openly endorsed by everyone--my principal, education officials, as well as my superiors.

On that note, I've figured out part of what I'm supposed to do when I have zhizhou--apparently it involves sitting in a guardhouse and drinking baijiu with chain-smoking Chinese men till 11:30 at night. I've decided that from now on, when I'm in doubt about what I'm supposed to be doing in a given situation, I will find the nearest Chinese men and start drinking baijiu with them.

Sorry for the discussion of drinking on this blog--I'm trying to make it as family friendly as possible, but it's such a part of men's culture here, as well as part of my job (I'm the designated “酒代表/drinking representative" for the fellows at this school) that it just comes up a lot.

I'm a zhizhou?

So, I'm a zhizhou this week. I'm still not sure exactly how to translate this, but it means I'm responsible for things. Exactly what things I'm still unclear on, but it involves walking around the students' dorms, and making sure they're there at night (from 9:45--11 at night). It also involves being awake at 6:40 and making sure the kids do a good job lining up for food. And then I'm supposed to do some more walking around, or something. Most of what I've been doing has been unclear to me, but I get to have a journal and flashlight, so that's cool? And I don't get to sleep much.

This experience basically encapsulates my experience in China so far--I had no idea I was doing this until 5 minutes before I started doing it, and I'm not really sure what I'm doing, but I just pretend like I do.

Fun times?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Putting me in charge of naming kids....

....was probably a very bad decision. I'm giving all of my students English names, and I get to choose them, which means there's going to be some awesome names in my class. On the guys' side: Odin, Thor, Loki, Mal, Wash, Jayne, Bruce, Wayne, Quint, Snow, Perrin, Archer, Lando, Han, Neville, Bast, and quite a few others. For the girls: Kaylee, Zoe, River, Inara, Penny, Elayne, Denna, Arya, Sansa, Val, Leia, Alanna. (if you can name the TV show, movie or book where each of these comes from, I'll give you a star-buck--seriously)

I'm trying to learn all the kids' Chinese names before I give them English names, but it's really hard. It's difficult for even local teachers to learn all the students' names quickly, and I'm trying to do it in a foreign's tough, but I'm almost there. I'm just really looking forward to being able to ask a question, and then call on Quint , Odin, or Arya to answer it. Other TFC fellows are giving their students similarly interesting names; there's a Batman, a McNulty (the Wire), and a McLovin (Superbad) to name a few.

I just hope all of my students will know and be able to pronounce all of their names in two weeks....we'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Almost through another week!

First off, this is a family friendly blog, so I don't get to talk about things like using the restroom nearly as much as I would like to. I've been meaning to write a blog entry discussing nothing but that, but I didn't want to put it up here. Anyways, my friend who is also in Heqing with me just wrote an entry with her take on the whole situation ( so check that out. I've got my own stories to tell as well, but will have to wait for another time (and probably a different blog).

I'm more than halfway done with my second week of teaching! And nobody has stabbed anyone else yet! And I haven't had a nervous breakdown! In short, things are good. One of my favorite things about this school is that some of the male students have definitely gone through puberty, but (probably due to general malnutrition) are really short, so you get this kids that look like they're in 5th grade talking in these epic deep voices. It's just so incongruous.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Scheduling anything in China can be a mess. Yesterday I was getting ready to go teach class and my supervisor walks up and tells me that I (and all the other foreign fellows) need to catch a bus in the next hour to go to Dali (which is about 2.5, 3 hrs away) where we'll be spending the night and take care of visa stuff in the morning. It was kinda a surprise but it ended up being a nice trip because we got to swing by the Dali walmart to buy all those wonderful things that walmart has (3 jars of peanut butter and a folding camping chair).

In general, schedules in China are subject to change at the last minute, and aren't really general knowledge. Last year, at my school, fellows were told on a Friday that there wouldn't be any classes for the next week because there was going to be a vacation. This was the first time the teachers had heard of this week long vacation. In general, you hear about vacations about two days before they actually happen, which makes scheduling trips, and having people visit....interesting.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two Days of Classes Done!

So, I've only had two days of classes, and I'm pretty sure my students already got me sick. I'm not really surprised; coming into close contact with sixty little kids is probably not the best way to stay healthy. Hopefully I'll be feeling better by the time that Monday rolls around.

Anyways, I've been at my placement for a few days now, and I've already had some fun food: duck head (which is just kind of hard to eat, definitely prefer duck neck), and chicken feet (which I liked much more than the last time I had it, tasted kind of like barbecue), as well as other random things that I ate without knowing what they were.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I'm moved in!

I'm finally moved in to the teacher dorms at my school. It feels so good to not be lugging around my stuff, and to actually have everything organized.

Apart from that, the dorms I'm in now are awesome. I've got a little study area, a bed (that is at least 6 inches too short if not more) and a room with a faucet where I can do laundry. I'm in the same room where Collin, one of the first batch of fellows and now in charge of organizing the Yunnan region for TFC, was living, and he left a bunch of stuff behind that I can use (various pieces of furniture, a small laundry machine!, a space heater and an electric blanket (it gets horribly cold here in the winter), and powerstrips and buckets). It's a great little place. It also even has internet! And it's all mine--I don't have to share it with anybody, and that feels surprisingly good.

I'm teaching class in two days, so I've got to run around preparing for that, and buying all those little things that I need, so I'm definitely going to be busy for the next few days, but I'm excited about it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


heqing is awesome and gorgeous! sadly mt hotel doesnt have internet so l can only use my kndle. i will be .eeting my pyincipal omorrow so lm pretty excited. we ill ne doing evemts all day that will culminate in a dinner where the principal will try to make me drink too much baijiu (a chinese spirt that tastes like rubbing alcohol).

lm excited to be here and even more excited to find out more about when l start teaching and other vital info like that

Friday, August 19, 2011

Great New Diet!

Apparently, eating nothing but Chinese food ends up being a fantastic diet. I've lost 10 to 15 pounds since I've been here (not really sure exactly because of lack of scales) and it just happened by accident. Guys just can't get the same amount of protein and fat here that we do in the states that allows us to bulk up, so the weight just goes away. My pants are all falling off, and I might have to punch another hole in my belt pretty soon.

Sadly, girls have the opposite problem. Most of the girls who came here last year with TFC ended up gaining a good amount of weight over the year. We've all got our theories for why this happens, but it definitely does. I'm just glad I'm on the good side of this weight change thing.

I've been in Dali for the past couple of days, and I've been eating almost all Western food (Dali has a lot of tourist stuff) and I can definitely feel the difference. My wallet also is feeling the difference--I've been paying about 5 times as much per meal, and it's tasty but it's not even that good. I want to get to my placement and start eating delicious Chinese food again.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Placement Day!!!

I got placed!! I'll be in heqing county at heqingerzhong, a middle school. Here's a link to all the information that wikipedia has on heqing:   It's pretty informative. It's an awesome placement, I really like the people that I'll be with (Jarlene, Tim, and Laura are the American fellows, and I really like the Chinese fellows as well) and Teach for China has been established at the school I'll be at for 3 years so we've got a good relationship with the principal and the locals.

The location is fantastic also. It's pretty near Dali. People say that Yunnan is the New Mexico of China, and if it's the New Mexico of China, Dali is like Santa Fe. It's this hippie mecca that has great restaurants and is near some really great climbing, and has a cool expat community.

We also got moved to different dorms yesterday, and they're awesome. We actually have bathrooms in the dorms, which is incredible. We also have power outlets and tables so it feels like we're living a life of luxury. We moved in yesterday, and pretty much everybody was on the 5th and 6th floors so I got horribly sweaty carrying peoples' luggage up for about an hour. The two flaws in these dorms is the absurd number of cockroaches that are sharing the dorm with us, and the construction that is perpetually happening in and around our rooms at 6 in the morning. I'll be leaving pretty soon for my placement though, so I'm hoping the place I go to next will be even nicer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Test Day!!

We had the end of the summer test for the students at our summer institute, and my kids did really well so I'm pretty excited. Even Lock, one of my weakest students, who got a 27% on the test we gave at the start of the program, managed to improve to a 44%, and several of my students improved even more! Hanna (another one of my favorite students) went from a 22/40 on the initial test to a 52/56 on the final, and I had other kids improve similar amounts! Tomorrow we get to have a party, so it should be lots of fun!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Teachers and Homeless People

After two weeks of teaching, I've noticed three things about myself:

My hands are constantly covered in various colors of markers from making posters.

My clothes are covered in chalk.

And I mumble and make weird sounds. (We're practicing the short vowels in my phonics class (pat, top, met, cut, fit) so I practice making those specific sounds for class because making those sounds by themselves is not natural.

Basically, I walk around covered in various substances, mumbling sounds and grammar patterns under my breathe--teachers are basically homeless people except the content of the mumbling and the quality of the grime.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Normal Weekend

Because this coming week is the last week of school, we only have to plan two real days of lessons, and the rest is reviewing, testing, and a party, so we ended up actually having time on the weekend to go out a little bit.

It was pretty fun. The normal weekend activity is to first get shaokao (chuanr) which is basically just meat/veggies/fish/bread barbecued on a stick with some spicy sauce. It's pretty taste, but it's better and cheaper in Beijing. Anyways, you end up just sitting outside under a small tent on this little stools that make all of the taller fellows (myself included) look ridiculous. It's pretty ghetto, and probably a very good way to get food poisoning, but it's a lot of fun.

After that we normally go to the one club in Lincang. I'm not a huge fan of clubs, but it's a lot of fun because pretty much all of the fellows go, and it's just a funny experience. Most of the foreign fellows (the Americans) end up dancing, and the entire club of Lincang people just end up staring. The YMCA song came on and people were literally video-recording the Americans who were doing this strange dance and singing along to this weird foreign song. Also, as a white guy in this club, if you try to walk anywhere by yourself in the club, you will literally be grabbed by Chinese men who will force you to take beer shots with them. There's no real way to refuse, because they will literally be hanging on to you, and forcing a cup of beer into your hand that you're supposed to cheers them with and then chug. (note: in Lincang, when cheersing, your goal is to get your glass lower than that of the person you are drinking with, so you end up essentially divebombing with your cup to be polite. It's....interesting.

Apart from that, I spend a lot of the time doing "interventionist dancing" to protect the female fellows by aggressively positioning myself to rescue them from unwanted attention. I've gotten quite skilled at extricating people from awkward situations. This whole adventure takes place in the smokiest atmosphere possible because people can smoke inside, so every single guy in the club will have a cig dangling from their lips the entire time (which they will also try to force on you, but are more willing to accept a refusal than with their cups of beer). All in all, it's a very interesting experience.

Finally, we end up heading back to our wooden boards to go to sleep. Good times.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Harry Potter 7!!!

I went to see Harry Potter with pretty much every foreign fellow, some of our management, and several Chinese fellows, and it was great. We filled up the theater, and the entire movies there were occasional cheers, boos, inappropriate suggestions, and cheers of "Longbottom!!!" ringing out. It was a lot of fun, even though the 3d wasn't working for the first 30 minutes or so, so we couldn't actually really see anything; everything was just really fuzzy--we couldn't even read the title of the movie when it showed up.

Three things I love about this movie theater:
1. You can just walk in with food and drink (because they don't sell anything)
2. There wasn't a single preview or warning played before the movie--it just started on time.
3. They sell pirated DVDs within the theater. (and also apparently have a pool hall attached)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I made it through another week!!

I finished my second week of classes/teaching! And I think everything went well. I felt a lot more confident in the classroom, and the kids are mastering the material which is really rewarding.

My birthday was yesterday, one of this absurd string of 5 birthdays in a row that we've had this week, and it was real nice. I just went out to eat with a few friends and a cheap local place that's pretty quick (people had lesson plans to write) and then swung by the pool hall to relax. Tonight is Tim Worm's birthday (Tim is one of the 7 Georgetown people here) and we're going to go out tonight to see Harry Potter 7 because it just got to Lincang. Tim's mom somehow managed to get a cake delivered to Tim at the school. He got a call, and then this guy showed up on a motorcycle with a cake for him. I was pretty impressed.

This weekend should hopefully be more relaxing than last week because next week will be the last week of this summer program, so we don't have to plan lesson plans during the week, and one day is a test and the last day is just a party, so we've got less to do. I'm really looking forward to relaxing and hanging out with people. It's definitely needed after the past couple of weeks--I need some time to unwind.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Star Bucks

I've started giving out "Star Bucks" in my 8th grade class, and it's been working out great. The kids will be able to redeem the "Star Bucks" for candy/stickers/pencils etc, and my "Star Bucks" all have the Starbucks logo on it which makes me chuckle. Anyways, I have this really hardworking girl in my class, Hannah, who is still a little behind, and is coming in early for extra help. On Tuesday I gave her a "Star Buck" for answering a question most of the way right (because I really wanted to encourage her and give her one). After class, she comes up to my lectern, and in this really sad voice says "Mr. K, I didn't answer the question right," and then hands back the Star Buck. I try to refuse it, saying it was close enough, and she just says, "No, no" then puts the Star Buck on my lectern and walks back to her desk.

It was so cute and awesome. I'm sad she didn't keep it, but it was so nice to see that she really wanted to actually win one, and was honest enough to want to do it the right way.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another lesson learned....

when playing soccer on gravel, you should: 1. Definitely wear a shirt. 2. Don't look to draw fouls simply because it would be a PK and a red card in a real game....3. Don't fall down, ever.

Road rash--all over my back, legs, and arm.

Soccer with the Chinese Fellows

I've been playing a decent amount of soccer with the Chinese fellows (once or twice a week) and it's been great. They're really friendly, and I love how casual it is. My favorite part is that, because they've never had refs, the whole concept of part of soccer being to fool the ref is completely non-existent. People call their own fouls, even on themselves, and it just makes playing so much more friendly.

Walking over to the cafeteria yesterday I ran into some of the fellows playing, so I joined in. I was wearing jeans, a dress shirt, and dress shoes, so I ended up going barefoot, shirtless, and in jeans that we're rolled up over my calves. The field is just dirt/mud, so my feet ended up getting a little torn up, but it was fantastic, and I'm told I looked hilarious: a giant white man running around in a goofy outfit is apparently something that strikes people as quite funny.

We're going to play against some of the high-schoolers in an hour or so, which should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A normal day

I've been extremely busy so far at institute, which has been awesome, but it's also meant I've done a really poor job of keeping in touch with everyone from back home.

Anyways, I figured people might be interested in what I do in an average day.

7:20 Get up, do morning necessities, swing by dining hall to grab food before getting to the classroom at 7:45
7:45 Students start showing up around this time, which means I have to be in the classroom. I normally spend this time eating my breakfast, addressing any questions that students have, and reviewing my lesson plan for the day.

8:30--9:10 Class. I'm teaching an 8th grade class (English) to about 16 students. Right now we just finished up discussing the differences between inexact and exact adverbs of frequency (i.e. I usually do something, or I do something twice a week).

9:10 Run down to the elementary school. When I got there today there were around 70 kids in the classroom. The teacher who teaches the class before had combined their class with another one so that both could practice their greetings, and it was disastrous. The Chinese of these two other fellows isn't very strong, so I got to restore order and calm. I felt pretty dictatorial and powerful afterwards.

10--Yell at kids who are running in the hallways.

10:10-10:50 Class. I also teach a 5th grade phonics class, so today we learned how to say the short vowels o, and e (think odd and egg) and d. They got it pretty well, which is good because tomorrow we're going to read our first book. It's pretty exciting! The kids are starting to have English accents because of how I stress the vowels to them, it's pretty cute.

11--Yell at kids who are going too close to the river or who are running in the hallways.

11:10 Grab lunch with people on the way back to campus.

12: See a cow running down the street. Shortly thereafter see two men on a motorcycle chasing said cow.

12:10 Try to sneak a 30 minute power-nap in. See a cockroach on the inside of the top of my mosquito netting. Dive desperately out of bed taking my pink mosquito netting with me. Decide napping isn't going to happen. Take a bucket shower, and then start doing laundry (in the same bucket).

1:00 Group meeting with our team leader. Talked about time management. I really wanted to be working on my lesson plans the entire time because that would have really been the best use of my time.

2:00 Go to print shop to print out giant copy of "Get the Pets"--the book we're going to be reading in phonics class. Chill with an old Chinese guy and his dog while my stuff is printing. He had a really strong accent, but we managed to have a conversation which was pretty cool.

2:20 Spend time writing lesson plans. I needed to be done with the lesson plans for Monday through Wednesday by tonight for both my classes .

3:30--5:00 Lesson on how to teach phonics. Pretty interesting, but I'm still of the opinion that we probably should have had the lesson before we started actually teaching phonics.

5:00 Lesson plan some more.

6:15 Grab dinner with some friends at this local restaurant that we like. Like pretty much every conversation here, we ended up talking about teaching, our students, our placements, and food we miss. For once, strangely, we didn't end up talking about bathroom issues.

7:00 Write lesson plans.

9:00 Now, taking a break to write a blog.

9:30--2:00 Finish writing lesson plans. Write guided notes and assessments for tomorrow. Print stuff out. If time, work on posters and trackers for class.


Monday, July 25, 2011

I am Mr. K, hear me roar

I had my first day of teaching today! And I'm still alive and didn't feel the urge to run away, cry, hide, or puke afterwards which is definitely reassuring.

Now I just need to write 3 more lesson plans, two guided notes, and revise my phonics lesson plan before bed.

And fun food of the day--miniature dried spicy fish/minnows that I found at the corner store. Not half bad.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

About that Backpack

So, that backpack I bought turned out not to be the wisest of purchases. Within a day, its main zipper and one of the straps had broken. On the second day that I shared with that backpack one of the plastic bits on the strap snapped, sending my backpack and everything in it plunging to the floor. My poor little netbook was in my backpack, and it didn't really like getting dropped. My screen cracked, which means only 2/3 of my originally small screen is working, but it's enough to get stuff done. That backpack was definitely not the best purchase I've ever made.

Also, completely unrelated, but I had some crickets yesterday. They were slightly spicy and pretty good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

So I bought a backpack yesterday

And I was pretty proud of it. I paid 25 kuai for it, about $3, so I thought I had done a good job shopping. Today, one of the straps has already broken. I'm hoping the other one will hang on longer, because as long as I have one strap and a zipper working I'm going to be pretty happy. I'm just amazed at how cheap some of the stuff you can buy is.

And I'm not sure if I've mentioned this, but we found out where they sell pirated movies in this's in the movie theater. Let me repeat that: they sell pirated DVDs in the movie theater. It's the last place that I would have looked, but they've got a pretty big collection of DVDs that were clearly not legitimately purchased.

When I was shopping yesterday I also managed to get a new local sim card, which I'd been needing to do for a while. So, I have a phone number again which is really pretty exciting (at least for me).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

If some Chinese kid gives you a hot pepper...

...and dares you to eat it--don't.

And just because it's not hot immediately, it doesn't mean that you should just keep chewing.

That's all.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another week in Lincang

I've made it through another week here, and I definitely feel like I've learned a lot. One of the main things I've learned is that doing laundry by hand is a major pain. It just takes forever, and is basically the worst thing ever. Laundry machines are one of the best inventions of all time.

Classes are going well too. We're spending more time working on phonics and the actual mechanics of teaching English as a foreign language, which ends up being pretty fascinating. The Chinese teachers have (mostly) shifted their focus to more classroom appropriate vocab, which is much more interesting, and it's so much easier to be motivated to study. I now know how to tell a kid that all of his ancestors are ashamed of him, the teacher in charge of me that corporal punishment just isn't my thing, or how to tell a kid that letting her friend copy her homework is still cheating and that she has made her parents lose face--all of which will be useful.

Even though we don't have classes on the weekend, I still feel really busy. Doing laundry, studying, and try to keep up with people on the internet makes time really fly by. Next week will be really interesting--a week from Monday we will starting teaching classes here, which is pretty terrifying. We'll be preparing hard, but I don't know how ready we'll be to stand in front of a class and try and help them learn. I'm sure we'll all get more nervous as it gets closer, but I'm sure it will go fine.


I'm a huge fan of the food here. The staple dish is noodles in a light spicy soup with a small bit of meat, chives, and other random veggies. It's pretty delicious. There's a lot of standard Chinese fare as well--white rice that you top with flavorful and spicy chopped veggies and meat. My two favorite dishes, which is available everywhere because everyone likes it, are rice with tomatoes and eggs, and mapo doufu which is a spicy tofu dish. I'm a huge fan, but I definitely need to look around Lincang for more variety. I've hit up some of the more ethnic places, which have been nice, but this place definitely lacks far behind Beijing (or any of the major cities) in terms of the varieties of food available. At least it's delicious. I've managed to charge my camera, so I'll try and take pictures of all these delicious foods that everybody who is reading this blog doesn't get to eat. :D

Friday, July 15, 2011

Exciting Things!!!

I now have a VPN!!! And the internet is amazing!!! Lana got it for me as an early birthday present, and it’s fantastic. I was able to skype with video, and I’m listening to Pandora, and I might even move this blog back to blogger where it originally was so that people can comment and stuff. 
Almost as exciting: we found nice bathrooms!!! They flush!!! And they have a (short) door!!! And they’re not horribly far away. And they’re still squat, but it’s great. There is a constant stream of foreign fellows going into this one building to use the bathroom. That’s the only reason any of us are ever in this building, so you walk up the stairs, see about 5+ people (especially if it’s at a popular time) and give the head nod or other acknowledgement that you’re really excited by how your situation has just dramatically improved. 
Speaking of bathrooms, (which I seem to do a lot) I went to go to the little boys room right before bed, and there were about 10 middle school/high school kids in this bathroom (and more in the entrance) smoking away. Everyone hid their cigs when I went into the restroom, but it was clear that they were just standing around the walls for the express purpose of smoking. I definitely smelled of smoke after my short sojourn, and I was coughing when I was leaving. It just made me laugh. 
Following that adventure, I decided to take a Chinese style shower. Basically, on every floor there is a room full of faucets that is used for brushing teeth, washing faces, and doing laundry. You can also just strip down to your underwear, and dump a basin (which we all have) of water over yourself. Then you lather up (protip—you get to clean your boxers while you’re doing this) and dump more basins of cold water on your head to rinse off. Anyways, I had locked the room when I left (there are problems with theft here) and when I tried to open the door my copied key just snapped. So I was stuck in the hallway of the dorm, wet, and in my boxers. I managed to get a hold of one of my friends, and I got someone else’s key to get back in after about an hour. And, as a result, I got to meet a lot of the kids that we’re sharing the dorms with. So, yay!
I also just discovered that the guy who is leading the sessions where we learn about teaching theory is an avid climber who brought his rope and stuff, so we’re going to try and make it up to Dali (a bigger more famous city) to go climbing!!

Small Problems...

I’ve ran into two small problems so far. One was withdrawing money from a bank—it ended up charging me 150 bucks, and then didn’t give me any RNB, so that was a big bummer. I talked to people at the bank, and it sounds like China Construction Bank and Bank of America are just blaming each-other or something? Banking terms in Chinese are not my strong suit. But basically it ate my monies. We’re starting to get a small ($30/week) stipend next week though, so that will be nice. 
Also, gmail is just really problematic. I managed to get on now (with the lovely wifi we’ve now got in our workroom) but it’s not that dependable. I’ll be able to read all my emails, so definitely email me! but my responses are likely gonna be short. I’m considering buying a VPN (basically a thing that allows me to connect to a server in the US and bypass the firewall (and use netflix!)) but it would just be a rather large portion of my salary so I’m hesitant to do it just for email and netflix, especially when gmail works just fine on the kindle. 
Also, cockroaches and mosquitoes everywhere. 

The Dorms

We finally moved into the dorms that we’re going to be staying in for the rest of the institute where we learn how to teach. They’re the exact same dorms that the middle schoolers have been living in….and they’re interesting. 
My bed is literally boards that you cover over with a blanket like object. And the bathroom is a trench. There are short walls (lower than waist height which makes things awkward) and no doors or anything so it’s a very public experience. You just go in and chat with friends. For some of the fellows, it’s their first time using a squat toilet, so we practiced in the hallway (which I’m sure looked hilarious). 
Other modern facilities, like plugs, washing machines, air-conditioners, or anything of that nature is completely non-existent. 
All the Chinese fellows are here now, and they seem to be pretty awesome. I’ve already tossed a frisbee around with one of my new Chinese roomies and some of the other guys. they all seem great, but learning names is going to be difficult. Both Chinese and American fellows have been having problems learning each-others names, but I feel like the American fellows are having a rougher time of it. 
We’re supposed to use mosquito netting on the bed, and I ended up getting this bright pink mosquito netting that is clearly meant for use by a 12 year old girl. Added to that, the sheets that I was given are covered in flowers, so basically my bed is pretty cute—not necessarily what I was going for—but I guess I’m a pretty princess?? I’ll deal. 

Thoughts after 1 Week

1 Week in LinCang:
Thoughts after one week: 
1. the food is amazingly delicious. 
a. I feel so sorry for people who can’t eat spicy food because they keep crying and sweating and don’t share my opinion. 
2. I’m going to get good at pool while I’m here—there’s a pool hall nearby, and it’s real cheap, so I’m going to get awesome during the twoish months I’ve got here. Fair warning: I plan on pool sharking everyone when I get back to the states. 
3. every conversation with people here eventually turns to bathroom issues (e.g. some of the girls hadn’t realized the correct way to face in the stalls, and were apparently mooning everyone (even the little middle schoolers whose school we share))
a. every conversation here also uses the teaching lingo/skills we’ve been learning (e.g. How would we able to teach someone to correctly use a Chinese squat toilet? Objective: SWBAT (students will be able to) explain and demonstrate the proper squat position….)
4. the other people in the program here are awesome. I’m a huge fan of everybody
5. teaching is going to be so hard. I’ve talked with a lot of the older fellows (especially ones who aren’t associated with teaching us and are willing to be more honest and direct) and it sounds tough, and it also sounds like there are things that we just aren’t hearing at all from TFC (my program, Teach for China) but I’ll get into that some other time. 
6. I’m really tall and white. 
a. (people notice)
7. other than chuanr (Chinese meat on a stick) the kindle is the most amazing invention in all of ever. 
a. I had pig mouth on a stick last night (surprisingly tasty)
b. if I was writing this on my kindle I could post it right now, rather than having to wait for the internets to work, the only downside being actually having to write on the kindle. 
8. I’m really tired, this program is exhausting, but in a good way. It’s going to be nice to have two days to relax and recuperate.

The Internets

Accessing the internet will hopefully be much easier next week because our leaders are trying to set up a workroom for us with wireless, so once that gets put into place things should be better. As it is now, most of the internet bars require a Chinese identification card to use, and the places that offer wireless are crippling slow, which coupled with problems loading western websites already, makes it extremely frustrasting. Apparently the PRC is limiting access to gmail, so sometimes you can manage to get on, and sometimes you can’t. 
Thankfully, I’ve got my Kindle!! It’s got 3g capabilities, so I can just sit in the hotel and surf the web (very slowly). More importantly, the 3g on the kindle somehow circumvents the Great Firewall, so I’m able to access gmail (and even facebook!). I’m so happy I can email people, even if typing on the kindle is extremely challenging. Most of my emails have turned into a “Thanks for writing! You’re awesome!! But I gotta go because writing this took about 15 minutes.” Apart from the length, every single message I’ve sent has been riddled with spelling errors because they’re hard to avoid when writing on the kindle, and  backtracking to fix them is so time consuming that I’ve just given up on it. 
Apart from basically saving my life with its 3g, the kindle has been really awesome for reading. The screen is great, and I’m happy that I’ll be able to get access to good books when they come out (GRRM, Jim Butcher, WoT) because otherwise I’d be devastated. It can even handle pdfs (somewhat poorly) which means I can do my reading for class on the kindle rather than on my laptop screen

Classes :-/

There’s about 50 of us American (mostly) fellows who are here for a week before the Chinese fellows get here, and we’ve been working for the most part on learning to be teachers by going through basically the same program that the Teach for America kids go through with some extra stuff added. The TAL sessions (Teaching as Leadership, they love acronyms) are where we learn about what makes a teacher effective, how to construct an effective lesson plan, what good practice looks like, etc are really fascinating because you can recognize them using the same things that they’re trying to teach you to teach you and it just gets really meta. It’s just really nice to have the example of what a good lesson and teacher should look like at the same time that we’re learning about these things. 
These sessions actually contrast a lot with the Chinese language sessions because these Chinese teachers have definitely not gone through this kind of teaching program, and approach teaching with a very different mentality, so we end up analyzing what the Chinese teachers could do to improve, while at the same time learning Chinese. 
The Chinese classes are going well. The first day, I got placed in the lowest level Chinese class, and moving classes was somewhat inflexible so I had to wait till the evening to chat with the Chinese teachers about moving me to a different class. It ended up being a really funny conversation, because the fact that I was able to have this conversation with them in Chinese clearly meant that I had been placed in the wrong level. I got moved to a much higher one, and talking with the teachers then we figured out that while I had tested for level, that information had just not gotten processed so I was put in the default lowest class. Having one day of that class was kind of cool though. I was with all the kids who did the pre-institute training in Beijing, and it was awesome to see how far they had come in only 3 weeks.

Hiking Qishan

LinCang is up in the mountains, and it’s beautiful. We decided to use our last day of freedom to try and hike one of the local peaks. In China though, when you “hike” up a mountain, you’re walking up stone stairs that are set into the mountain going directly upwards, and it’s hard because you end up doing nothing but walking up stairs for an hour and a half. I was really craving a good old fashioned trail the entire time I was walking up. I mean, I feel like making a simple trail is just so much easier for everyone involved—workers don’t have to put in stone steps, and people who are hiking it get to walk up in a way that’s not miserably exhausting. Not everyone in the group we were going with ended up going all the way—it was a tough hike—but I made it!
The view from the top totally made it worth it though.