Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Grading can be a huge pain. No matter how fast you were, it just takes a lot of time to get through 110 things--whatever those things are. What amazes me though is how willing students are to help out with it. I have students do a lot of my grading for me, and it's awesome. What boggles my mind is I don't give them any sort of reward or anything, but they're so excited to do it. Students complaining because you ran out of things for them to grade for you can really turn a rough day around.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I'm back! This semester has been incredibly busy, but class is still going well.

One of the things that I've found hard about living out here is eating enough food, especially protein. You just don't tend to eat big hunks of meat as often as you might in the states. When I first came out here, I lost about thirty pounds within two months (I was a little chubby) just because of the change of diet. And, while being skinny is great, I still need more calories and protein if I want to be able to work out and actually have energy afterwards, and so I have invented SNICKERMEAL.

To create SNICKERMEAL, you will need:
A big bowl of oatmeal
A silly amount of peanut butter
One handful of almonds
Two bananas
One scoop of protein powder
A few tablespoons of sugar
A big chopped up snickers bar.*

Put all of those things together. Eat it. It's over 1000 calories of awesome.

*If you have access to both American and Chinese Snickers bar, you should use a Chinese one. They're not as tasty, so you should save the better flavored American snickers for eating on its own afterwards.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


For Mid-Autumn Festival I got to go up to the north of Yunnan with a good group of other TFC teachers to go hiking near Meili Xue Shan, a mountain in the north of Yunnan. It was really cool, but getting there was scary. The roads up north are very narrow, mostly dirt, and right next to huge cliffs that don't have any sort of guardrail. I think everybody was convinced that they were going to die--I certainly was. It was some really sketchy driving, and I'm glad to be back. Apart from being sketchy it was also really far away, so we had to spend a lot of time in buses, which meant that if you made the bad decision to look outside of the bus, the entire time you'd be stressing about your imminent demise.

The hiking was awesome. We did three days of hiking, and it was really fun. The mountains were picturesque, and the valleys and landscape was epic. It was stunning, and hiking was awesome. I don't have hiking boots in China, so I mostly hiked in my sandals, which amused a great number of Chinese hikers.

On the way up, we stopped in Shangrila, so we had a day to eat delicious food, and bike around. I just really like being able to say that I went to Shangrila....

Anyways, here are some pics!

From biking around in Shangrila

From an earlier trip to Shangrila. This big structures are everywhere, and they're used to dry out crops. This was on the way to Napa Lake

Ready to go hiking

A pic from the hike

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Soccer, Sickness, Sadness, and Something Else

So far, this year has been a lot better than last year, despite the added workload. Having some experience, and knowing the curriculum really makes a huge difference, and not worrying about the kids' grades really takes a lot of the stress away. Sadly, this past week I've been a little sick, and with two classes that means that a huge amount of tests and homework has built up into a heavy and terrifying stack of sadness (see below). 

This past weekend we headed down to Dali for a professional development conference (about 5 hours closer than the conferences we had to go to last year) and got to meet all the rest of the new fellows, which was sweet! Good food and good people is an awesome combination. 

Being in Dali also meant that I had a chance to buy soccer balls for the girls' team that I want to start. Girls never seem to get a chance to play basketball or ping pong, so I really want them to have the chance to experience a sport, and all the awesome things that that can teach. Our field is really overgrown, and there's some construction going on right now, so I'm not entirely sure when I'll be able to start it, but I'm really looking forward to it.

In other unrelated news, there were a couple of relatively big earthquakes in my province, but they were pretty far away from where all the TFC fellows are, so everybody is safe and sound. 


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Class 83

This year, I'm teaching two bans, one of which is a little more trouble than the other. Jarlene, my co-fellow, came to observe me the other day, and took some awesome pictures! In lieu of writing stuff, and out of an interest to go eat lunch, here they are:

A shot of most of the 56 students in the class. 

I have no idea what I'm doing here, but it looks pretty stupid:
an accurate depiction of how I look the entire class

Helping a weaker student with his notes. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Class Thus Far

So, I'm currently on my second day of class (OK, that's a lie, but I wrote this when I was on my second day of class, so it totally counts), and I'm really excited about how things are going already. I've got a much better idea of what I need to be doing in the classroom, and getting started out on the right foot is going to make such a difference this year. Kids aren't going to want to give up at the beginning because they're convinced it's too hard, and both my classes seem like they're pretty on top of their game.

The other exciting thing is that I've got kids who were taught by other TFC fellows (Tim, Laura, Sasha) so those kids are pretty excited about English, and already know a decent amount. It's going to be fun to talk with them about how their former students are doing, and I think they're going to do great. One girl, Rachel, whom Sasha taught, has already really impressed me by greeting me, asking how I was doing, and being able to tell me her name in English. That's a lot, and it's awesome that she's being brave on the first day. 

The schedule is manageable as well. While I'm spending a lot more time in the classroom, I don't need to do as much prep work as I did last year. Grading is going to be tough, but I'll hopefully be able to come up with a system that has students doing some of the work, or, alternatively, I just won't have a life. 

Sleeping in Train Stations

So, on my trip back to my little town from the states, my flight from Beijing to Kunming (the capital of Yunnan, my province) got delayed, so we got in at around 2a.m. which was apparently a pretty regular time for flights to get in. Buses were still running by the time everyone got their checked bags, and there were plenty of flights that were just getting in then. Rather than get a hotel room, I decided to just hang out at the train station until the morning so I could get on the train back to Heqing, and I was really surprised when I got to the train station how many other people had made the exact same decision as I did. There were sleeping people everywhere! People just stretched out on cardboard or newspapers and conked out all over the station. I ended up deciding that, because I was foreign and travelling alone, it would probably be foolish to sleep, so I just hung out in a 24 hour dicos (kind of similar to KFC) with a whole bunch of other people, none of whom, it seemed, had actually ordered any food. 

My train left at 10am the next morning, and by the time I got to my town, I'd been awake for about 48 hours straight, other than the 2 hrs that I managed to catch on the international flight over. I was pretty dead, but I managed to rally myself, and after hibernating for about 12 hours, I headed to Shangrila with some friends, and got to spend more time on a cramped bus. 

The entire time I was travelling, I was carrying around a bag that had books that I brought back to was a little heavy:

I believe I've said before that my bed it only about five feet long, and a little hard, but here are two pictures showing it. 

Headed to Shangrila on a sleeper bus (during the day)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Road Warrior: Tractor Edition

One of the things that people first notice when they come to rural Yunnan is the number of tractors that are clogging the roads. Tractors will be slowly chugging up hills with loads of gravel, bricks, people, crops, pigs, or anything else you can think of loaded inside them. They can go really slowly, so I get to feel really cool whenever I pass one on my bike. Most people around here are farmers, so tractors are really important.

While they can be frustrating when you're trying to get somewhere in a hurry and your bus is stuck behind one, they are pretty cool looking. Most have all their moving parts (including the engine) exposed, and they look like something out of a movie about a post-apocalyptic future. I went for a walk the other day to take pictures of tractors, and all of the following pictures are of tractors that I found on one short stretch of road. There are a much greater variety of tractors than these, and I still occasionally see new varieties of tractor.

This is the most popular kind of tractor on the roads around here. I'd estimate that 85% or so of tractors around here are this kind. 

When people are going to the field, or students are coming to school, they'll just all ride standing up in the back of one of these. 

This is the second most popular kind of tractor. It's more powerful and bigger, so you see these hauling bigger loads. 

This is my favorite kind of tractor. 

Another awesome tractor, clearly inferior to the last one because it doesn't have a sun roof. 

And yet another type of tractor! 

This isn't a tractor, but people drive these a lot too. They're three wheeled motorcycles (I want to call them tricycles, but that sounds weird) so you can put loads in the back. Most of the 'taxis' in the nearby big city are these, so you just hop in the back of one of these that's set up for people, and they'll take you wherever you want. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Double the Trouble

I got back to school about a week ago after a great summer, and things have really changed. Our old principal (who was awesome) got promoted, and our new principal (who is also awesome) is really young. Some teachers are leaving with the principal, and other teachers are taking a semester off because of pregnancy or sickness, meaning that we're short several teachers, and Jarlene (my co-fellow) and I are both picking up extra classes. Jarlene is teaching two classes of eighth grade, and I (with my weaker Chinese ability) will be doing two classes of seventh. Basically, both of us have twice as many kids, and twice as many hours of class-time as last year. (and twice as many piles of homework and tests)

I was originally planning on trying to do a lot of extracurricular stuff at school this semester, like tutoring, English corner, football, and trying to start a girls' soccer team, but I don't think any of that is going to happen. I was also planning on blogging more.....we'll see how that goes.

The seventh graders still aren't back to school (although the eighth and ninth graders are) so I still have a few more days to finish prepping, and enjoying a little bit of free-time before the semester starts.

Things I will post about soon:

1. Travelling in Shangrila
2. Tractors!
3. How tired I am (....I'm just assuming I will be)
4. Sleeping in train stations

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Visitor!

My Uncle Mark recently visited me, and he wrote up a post about the
experience. Here it is!

I consider myself well traveled and have been in many different places
and cultures, but I did not realize 1) just how far away Will's
village is, 2) or just how beautiful it would be in Yunnan Province.

Will was kind enough to travel several hours by bus to meet my plane
landing in Lijiang Airport.  The airport is nice - a sleek modern
airport.   Lijiang is a modern city that has an incredible "ancient
city" filled with wooden homes, cobble stone streets, stone bridges
and greenery. It has some of the most amazing street scenes, food
vendors, and the main palace is probably one of the best I have seen
in Asia.  Will and I had dinner there Sunday evening and spent Tuesday
wandering the streets and climbing to the top of a hill overlooking
the old city (a good 45 minutes of stairs, every step of which was
handled with more vigor by Will than me).

The day intervening Sunday and Tuesday, was of course, Monday.  Monday
was one of  the best of the trip and I was able to spend the day in
Will's village and attend some of his classes.    The village is about
90 minutes South of Lijiang and has about 6,000 inhabitants.  Will had
arranged transportation for me from my hotel and we met for breakfast
- a bowl of piping hot noodles in a spicy broth - at a roadside stand
beside the main thoroughfare.   As we ate, scooters, trucks, and
tractors that looked like they had been featured in Road Warrior all
chugged by.  Clearly though, no one was out for a morning drive but
everyone was already hard at work.

After breakfast, I was able to attend Will's second session of the
day.  The kids in Will's class all wear matching jump suits and just
beam as they wrestle with English pronunciation and sentence patterns.
 Will is a dynamic teacher and after introducing me, and after  the
kids asked me questions such as what is your favorite color, how old
are you, how old is my wife (the answer that I was single was pretty
horrifying to the kids) and my favorite, what's your favorite country?
 (I gave the only acceptable answer to that last question).  After my
moment as a star, Will got down to business and had his students work
on vocabulary, phrases, simple conversations and quiet study time.
Will walks around as he teaches and does an amazing job keeping
students of varying abilities, language backgrounds, and interest
engaged, especially given the class size of around 60.

The school itself is much larger than I would have expected.   It's
pretty bare bones, with unheated and un-airconditioned class rooms and
living quarters.   The dorms for the children house 10 to a room, and
the rooms aren't that big.  The children are under far more pressure
than I ever was with classes going from 7:00 am until the day ends at
9:00 pm.  Learning English, Math, Science, and of course Mandarin
doesn't leave a lot of free time.   Will is doing a great job though
and the kids seem to really enjoy his class.  I think his goal of
transformational teaching, and inspiring the kids, or at least some of
the kids, to go as far they can with education is one that he is

Will also had me sit in later in the week in classes taught by two of
the other Fellows from the US- Jarlene and Tim.  The Fourth teacher
from the US, Laura, had a difficult class behavior wise, so I skipped
it as my presence would have been distracting to the kids.

When I was  joined Jarlene's class, it had a number of the kids I had
already met.   Jarlene and Will had combined their classes and then
split the combined classes into weaker and stronger students so they
could focus on helping both groups do as well as they can on their
upcoming exams.  Jarlene is a pretty no nonsense teacher, and as I
walked around looking at the kids' papers it was clear that many of
them had a good idea of the concepts even if they were terrified to
speak English with a foreigner (or at least me).

Tim teaches at the elementary school and has a group of about 30 5th
graders.  Will and I had the chance to talk with some of the kids
before class started.   Will was asking the kids what sound a goat
made, what sound a cow made, and then when he asked what sound a dog
made, Tim let off a ferocious "BARK, BARK, BARK" which scared the crap
out of everyone, except for Tim and Will, who had set the whole thing
up.   Tim's kids are pretty cute and tried to teach me some Chinese.
Tim is also an excellent teacher and conducts his class mostly in
Chinese which is impressive as he did not speak any Chinese when he
entered the program.    Even with the class being taught in Chinese, I
picked up a finer point of English, which as a native speaker I knew,
but had never really thought about there actually being a rule in

Will organized two dinners with most of the American and Chinese
fellows in the area: both of which were fun.   Clearly they are a
group of quality people, very much dedicated to transforming the kids'
lives as much as possible.  They very much all think about how to
engage the kids and develop them into leaders and to also develop
project development and management skills.  One of the Chinese
fellows, Sam, has been working on setting up a mini-library program
for the kids while they are on summer break.   He has the kids working
on how the program will work, selecting the number of books out of the
available stock that will go to each village, who will be responsible
for caring for the books in each village and tracking loans of the
books.   Other fellows were talking about selecting team capitals, and
different ways of engaging kids - the TFC fellows are clearly here to
do much more than teach English.

As I sit here in the Lijiang airport beginning my journey back to San
Francisco where I live, I am glad I came.  This is a part of China
that I never would have visited otherwise.  Now I know that it is
filled with hardworking kids that have a lot of obstacles in their
path, parents that are working hard to provide for their families,
teachers that are working hard to make a difference, and that the
kids, the parents, the teachers, and the fellows are all working
together to make their future a better one.

Added bonus: a few pictures of his trip!

Friday, June 15, 2012

High School Entrance Exams

Are a really big deal. It's not affecting my kids because they're only seventh graders, but the ninth graders are having a really rough time of it. They have class every day until 10:15 p.m. now, which is adding an hour onto an already unrealistically tough schedule, and they've been having class every weekend. They just don't seem to ever get a break. Those test scores are just so important to both the individual students, and to the school.

The entrance exam to college is even more intense though. There were headlines a while back because there were kids hooked up to IVs so that they could keep studying longer and harder. I mean, it makes a certain kind of logic to hook yourself up to a drip to keep your energy up, but I'm glad I never had to do anything like that in high school.

Speaking of IVs, it's totally what you do any time you aren't feeling so hot. Just go to the local clinic, and get them to hook you up with a drip for a couple of hours. Apparently it works great, but I haven't yet been brave enough to go try it.

p.s. Here's a link about the IV drip studying stuff.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Update + More on Drought

School's still going well. Right now TFC fellow at my school and at two other elementary schools are working on a group research project where students go to their villages, interview people, and learn about something (customs, jobs, farming, local problems...) that they find interesting and with guidance from a local teacher put together a project. The winning group gets to go on a trip to Kunming (which is a big deal) and 2nd and 3rd place get recognition and prizes as well, so that's cool. 

Summer camp planning is going along well. Right now I'm trying to pick which kids from my class I'm going to choose to apply to summer camp: I only get to choose three so it's a really hard choice because there's a lot of interest. 

In terms of the drought--it's been raining for the past couple days here for the first time since I got to this region, so that's a really good sign. The weather's miserable, but I think people are happy because everybody seems to have water again. The water that we use comes form a nearby reservoir, so hopefully the constant rain has been replenishing a little of the water that we've been using.  

Also, TKK commented on the last post, and it was interesting, so here it is:

Drought is terrifying. I know that I personally take the stability of my life entirely for granted. In Ghana, one of the people in our group asked the former mayor of Accra what he was most proud of, and he said the continued existence of the country. And it really is a hugely impressive accomplishment considering the challenges the country has faced domestically and the regional instability...
Yeah, drought is really terrifying. Where do most people in Yunnan (or, you know, your particular area), typically get their water? I mean, river, aquifer, rain...? Also, the article said that money was being allocated for drought relief--what does that mean in practice? Shipping water in?
Congratulations on the compliment!!!!! I know you've worked for it. :) 

And I think that that means shipping water in. Huge 50L bottles of water have been getting dropped off at a lot of the local business, and I assume at some people's homes as well. 

Friday, May 25, 2012


So, there's a drought happening in Yunnan province* that's been going on for a while, and it's getting relatively serious in my region. A lot of the time now, you'll turn on a tap and nothing will come out. In nearby areas that are harder hit, bottled water is being used for everything. In my town, huge water barrels are being sold to all the business so that they won't run out of water during the day. I'm not really that affected on a day to day basis--worst case scenario for me is not getting to do laundry, or shower. But for people who depend on water for agriculture, and watering livestock, I know that this drought is really scary.

In other news, I was cleaning up after my class, and one of my kids came up and told me that I'm now a much better teacher than I was at the beginning of the year (when I was awful) and wondered about what made me get better. It made me all warm and happy inside. I just wish I'd been able to start off the year how I am now--the students would be in such a better place, and I think that I lost some students first semester because they got poor grades, didn't understand, and just got disheartened. It's sad to think that if I had done a better job, kids that are now not paying attention, or have given up on my class might be paying attention and be excited about (or at least slightly interested in) English. On the other hand, it does get me excited about next year, and the rest of this year for that matter.

*There are 22 provinces in China, as well as a lot more people, so each province is a good deal bigger than most states. Yunnan province has a population of roughly 46 million, so it's a big place, and a drought here affects a ton of people. In February, the Kunming (capital) government said that over 3 million people don't have enough drinking water. 3 million people. That's more than the population of some US states.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Still Chugging Along

It's Sunday night here, and I'm about finished up preparing for classes this week. Things have definitely gotten a lot easier since the first couple weeks when I was just starting out and had no idea what I was doing,, which is pretty sweet.

Today, I went to get a haircut, and it was really cool. During the first semester, I'd gone to this same lady to get a hair cut, and had no idea what she was saying. I managed to figure out that she was going to cut my hair, and it was going to be short, and, as that was what I was aiming for, I was fine with it. Today, when I went back, I actually was able to understand what she was saying, and got to have a nice conversation with her. I guess I've slowly gotten more accustomed to the accent here, so I'm better able to pick out words. It's not something that I've been able to notice on a day to day basis, but to be able to go from not being able to communicate at all, to having a conversation feels pretty sweet.

Not related to language, but this lady hasn't really encountered that many beards before, and decided that the beard hair and the head hair shouldn't meet up, so she was nice enough to fix that for me.

No sideburns for me. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Exciting Things!

1. I got a new fly swatter! The old one was getting really floppy, and was designed with the letters "A,B,C,D" across the face of it. Sadly, only the "D" now remains, so many flies were escaping through the gaping hole. I splurged on a nicer swatter--it's really whippy, and a little heavier, and it makes me really happy.

2. I saw Avengers! It was great! We took a bus to Lijiang to see it, and it was totally worth it. It was dubbed in Chinese, so we didn't understand any part of the plot, but that didn't matter. According to my Mom, we just ended up missing out on a lot of dull speechifying....and I can deal with that.

3. My students did decently on the midterm. Average was high, and plenty of students got good scores. They're still not where I want them to be, but it's nice to not be stressing about grades any more.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Recently I've gotten really into basketball. Like, really into basketball. I'm definitely one of those people that gets intensely into one thing for short period of time, and right now it's basketball. There's a group of teachers that plays every day after dinner, so whenever I don't have class I go out and mess around with them. They all have been playing for a lot longer than the two or so seasons I did in elementary school, but I've got a couple of inches on everyone so it works out nicely. I like hearing the complaint: "He's too tall!" Hopefully by the end of these two years I'll actually have some skills to go along with my height.

I think it's kind of funny that the two sports that I never really participated in growing up--football and basketball--are the ones that I'm most involved in. I'm also not looking forward to going back to the states and realizing that I'm actually not any good at basketball. That'll be sad.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


So, this past Friday I got to speak to the entire school after the English part of the speech contest concluded. I'd spent some time preparing a speech in English about my experience in Heqing, but about thirty seconds before I gave my speech, I was told that the main thing that I should talk about was the speech contest, and that I should probably use as much Chinese as possible. So, I got up to the podium, and just started making stuff up. According to other people, it didn't sound too terrible, so there's that.

The next couple days are going to spent proctoring midterms, and grading way too many English finals. I think my students aren't going to do as well as I'd like, but there's nothing to be gained by worrying about it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Two Things

First off, young ones cover your eyes. One of our vocab words this semester has been 'pen pal.' Pen, when pronounced with the wrong tones (something I'll do occasionally) is a slang word for lady-parts. "Today class, we'll be writing an introduction for our *&*($ pal! So, take out your notebooks...."  It's awkward.

Also, I'm giving a speech (in English) in front of the entire school today. I'm going to go write it now. I figure as long as I don't repeat the same word for five minutes, I should be decently alright.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More on Football!

I wrote something up on football at my school a while ago, and it looks like it's up over at TFC's blog. Take a look!

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Semester So Far

So, it's almost midterms out here, and I've been doing some thinking about how this year has gone so far, and what I want to do the rest of this year.

This semester has been hard, but in a very different way from the first semester I had out here. First semester I had no idea what it was I was supposed to be doing, and didn't know how to budget my time, so I ended up spending a lot of time preparing the wrong things, and even when I was spending my time on the things that mattered, I still wasn't doing it in a way that my students could easily understand. When I think back to what I tried teaching during the first month--the lesson I planned and executed, the homework I gave, the classroom management policies....really just everything I did--I cringe. It was really rough. I was talking with some other first year fellows about this, and the phrase that kept coming up was "Can you believe I tried.....?" followed by laughter. Rough times.

Now, I know I don't have it all figured out, but I've got an idea of what I should be doing with my time, and ways to approach lessons that gives students who are trying a fair shot at understanding the material. Class goes more smoothly, and I'm not too worried about the upcoming midterms. (Well, that's a lie, but it really should be OK) The two things that have been making this semester really hard are homesickness, and worries that I'm not doing enough out here.

In terms of homesickness--I'm going home for the summer (which I'm incredibly excited about!) and missing home is just an avoidable cost of doing this. Going far away from home can have great advantages, but it's not free.

The main thing that's been bothering me is the concern that I'm not actually being that effective. My grades are good, students are decently interested in English, and are grasping the material (and some are doing fantastically--I'll try to upload some work from my students in the future) but I don't know that I'm going to have any impact on my students that will really last. Sure, they might be slightly more interested in English in the future, and they might later look back and think that having a goofy white dude be their teacher was a cool experience, but I don't think I'm being that effective at teaching general life and study skills: perseverance, goal setting, creating intrinsic motivation in students, good note-taking, study habits, and a general understanding of why education and hard work are important.

Right now, I'm not giving my students much of anything that they couldn't get from any other English teacher in the area other than a collection of funny things that their English teacher has said. I'm not discouraged, but that's something I've been trying to change this semester, and really want to focus on after the midterm. Anyways, focusing on trying to figure out ways to teach these skills (many of which I don't actually have.....) while also teaching the present progressive has me stressed out.

Last semester I had a great excuse--I was a new teacher, and I wasn't supposed to know what I was doing. I don't want to rely on that excuse for the first of the two years that I'm here. The basics of teaching are definitely easier than they were last semester, but I feel like expectations are a lot higher too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

So, I'm a bad blogger

But here's a link to an article about me and a couple other fellows on NFL China. It's all in Chinese, but there are a couple pictures!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I'm Still Alive!

Short version of this update--vacation was nice, coming back to school was tough, and I'm still alive. 

Last week was Tomb Sweeping, so we got time off. I think it also combined with some local holiday so my district got a little bit more time off than everybody else. We had 7 days off, so I headed to Guangdong to visit TFC fellows over there, and it was a lot of fun.. I went with a friend to Xiamen (a nice big city that's on the coast) ate delicious food, walked along the beach, and had an awesome time before heading back to Guangdong. The situation that TFC fellows are dealing with Guangdong is really different. There's a ton less class time, but insane testing pressures. It's a richer area, and the default job is working in a small factory, whereas here the default job seems to be farming. A lot of the kids work in the factories on the weekends, and a lot of them quit school early to start working full time. It's really different than Yunnan in a lot of ways, and because this is TFC's first year there isn't much support for the fellows there. 

Anyway, vacation was awesome, but coming back to school was rough. I had to cover some other teachers' classes, and switch classes, which ended up with me having a miserable schedule. I hadn't done enough over the break so I spent the entire time scrambling to stay on top of everything. But, I made it to the weekend, and we're having football and a potluck tonight, so I'm pretty excited. Whooo!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I am become death the destroyer of flies

For those among you who have no lived in a rural area where trash is disposed of in giant piles that are then burned, poop rests in troughs and slowly becomes a writhing mass of maggots, and livestock droppings litter the landscape, you have no idea how prolific and terrifying swarms of flies can become. They buzz around a lot normally, and there are always about ten or so that will sneak into my room over the course of the day, and having them hover around during meals become commonplace.

Today, in my haste to grab flags from my room for flag football, I made the rookie mistake of not completely closing my door, and the enemy took advantage of that thirty second lapse. When I returned to my room after football and dinner, things were dire. But, with the experience that I'd gained over the past few weeks, I wielded my blue flyswatter in defense of my room (and all that is good and just). The battle raged on and on, but after chasing down the last crafty survivors, I swept up all the corpses that hadn't fallen behind my desk, and took stock of the enemy strength. Sixty two dead flies. (Yes, I counted). Which means that the total number of dead was much higher. Victory was sweet.

tl;dr I just killed sixty plus flies, and I'll be picking flies out of the places they fell for a long time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

School Inspections

The school is getting inspected tomorrow, which means that every student spent the entire day cleaning their dorms, the campus, classrooms, and the bathrooms. They're normally responsible for cleaning everything anyways, but whenever there are education bureau officials swinging by, extra effort is made to make the school look immaculate. Over at the elementary school, in preparation for a similar inspection, about an entire week was dedicated to this cleaning process, and artwork was specially made by the students to hang on the walls. It's impressive how much effort goes into this cleaning, and right now my school is looking awesome.

Completely unrelated, but there's a speech contest happening on 4-20, so I'm pretty excited that one of the kids from my class is going to get the chance to show off their awesome English speaking ability and hopefully do well in the competition. I'm still not entirely clear on what the contest entails because all the instructions are in rather formal Chinese, and I've decided that rather than slogging through it I'm just going to ask a local teacher what I'm supposed to do.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Quick Update

Flag football has been awesome--we've tossed it around two times with groups of students, and they're getting into it. We'll have our first legit practice this Sunday, and I'll definitely have pictures to post up.

Class has been fine. There's a ton of content that these kids are responsible for, which means that some kids are definitely struggling, but I think it's going as well as can be expected given the circumstances.

In other good news, I'm hopefully going to help design part of the curriculum for a fun summer camp that a second year TFC fellow is putting together. It sounds awesome, so I'm really excited about that.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

High School Kids and Saint Paddy's Day

So, we had a bunch of high school kids here, and it was cool, but strange seeing so many foreigners that I didn't know walking about town. I was in the supermarket while the group walked by, and the supermarket ladies thought it was the most fascinating thing ever. (To be fair, not much happens around here) It was great having a few kids come to my class. My students were really shy, but it was cool having them do self introductions that my students could understand. They were really excited to realize that  I hadn't been tricking them this entire time and that they could actually speak a little bit of English and understand what was happening. Earlier in the day we had done some ice breaking activities with the high schoolers and groups of students from all the TFC classes, and that was fun (especially for those of us who got to watch them try to build towers out of newspaper, mime things like going to the restroom and not having toilet paper, and doing the human know) and I think all the students (local and foreign) enjoyed it.

My favorite part of the trip, however, was definitely watching some of these high school girls confront the horrors of the restroom in nicest restaurant in town (which is really pretty comparatively clean). Ladies, if you somehow end up finding this blog post, I'm sorry, but I lost it when one of you walked out of the restroom with tears in your eyes. (I should really work on being a nicer person)

Also! St Paddy's went well! We had a bonfire with extra papers that had accumulated in our rooms, and roasted marshmallows (one of our amazing second year fellows brought them back from Beijing) and made s'mores. It was great to spend time with everyone--it's rare for all of our local TFCers to get together, so it's always a good time when it happens.

Now  I just need to crank out a ton of lesson plans, worksheets, and other stuff so I'll be ready for class tonight.....

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hello People!


So, for the past two days power has been pretty intermittent, which is not really a big deal, but it definitely cut into my plans to write up a nice blog.

Class continues to go well, although several of the worst students in the class seem to have given up on school completely. Another kid in my class (one of my favorites) isn't coming to school anymore because he'd been stealing a whole ton of stuff from other students. Still, having all the students in class return from New Years break is definitely a positive thing, and I just need to spend more time creating a radically different curriculum for those students who are at the bottom of my class and aren't experiencing that much success.

Although many of the students at the very bottom of my class have given up, there's one kid who hasn't, and is working really hard and it's freaking awesome. he seems to have some sort of speech impediment (in Chinese as well as in English) but he's been coming to extra review sessions, and is spending a lot more time on his homework than he did last semester. He's a great kid, and seeing him work hard makes me want to do a better job for those kids that need a slower and less involved curriculum to find success.

And, St Paddy's day is coming! In what is apparently a regional TFC tradition, we're going to use all the extra papers that all of us have all over our rooms (and trust me, there's a ton) to build an epic bonfire. We will then sit around and be merry.

Also! This Friday (tomorrow) there are a group of high-schoolers who (through a connection with TFC) are coming to visit our school. We get to do activities with them and some of our students, and then they're going to come and observe my class, which should be interesting. I'm going to try and use them to have an "interview the foreign person!" activity, which hopefully won't go too horribly wrong.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Back in the Swing of Things

I feel like I'm readjusted to teaching, and living at school, and things have been going well. While I might not be a good teacher yet, I'm a ton better than I was last semester, and I feel like classes are going more smoothly. As is normal, I have a ton of grading and worksheet making to do, but I've still had enough time to hang out with friends, and we're planning on playing some flag football this weekend (partially to rediscover how to throw a football and all that, but mostly just because it's gonna be lots of fun). 

This semester I've decided that rather than only tutoring the weakest kids in my class, I'm going to make every single kid in my class meet with me once a week so I can make sure they're not going off in the wrong direction, and just to give them a chance for some practice by themselves. During meals, I have 6-7 kids come and have little practice sessions. Last night was the group with the strongest (and hardest working) kids in my class, and it was awesome. These kids tend not to get much attention in my class because they quickly master the material, and are paying attention, so it was great to get some time to practice with them, and it was awesome how much English they've got down. It's made my entire week a lot better. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I'm a football coach!!

I just got a package full of all the flag football materials that I'll be using to try and make a flag football team here at my school. By far the people who are most excited by this development are other fellows up here, although the kids do seem interested. It'll be fun to see how it goes, especially given my lack of football knowledge. If it goes well, we might be able to get an NFL player out here, and that would be the coolest thing ever! Imagine a three hundred pound, muscled, NFL player walking around the town where Tim and I are the tallest people, and I'm one of the heaviest people around for miles.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I've Made it Through the First Week! (again)

I've finally made it back after a long time away, and just finished up the first week. It's been pretty busy with preparing stuff for the semester, and just trying to get everything running smoothly in class, but it's been good. At the end of last semester, I was a little burned out on teaching, but I got pumped about it again over break, and now I'm coming back to school to realize that my kids didn't spend the entire vacation getting pumped about learning.... I was pleasantly surprised, however, by how much they remembered from first semester. We just got done with review, so I'm excited to start actually teaching new material next week.

Things I came back to:
1. a messy room (I was somehow expecting it to get clean over such luck)
2. two packages from my family! my bookshelf is now full of chocolate, green chili, coffee, and other delectable treats!
3. the smell of burning trash
4. a letter from one of my cousins! it was awesome!
5. my lovely squat toilet   (I actually missed squatting while on vacation. having a throne is definitely better when you've got food poisoning, but on a day to day basis I'm a fan of a nice squatter)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Work Work Work

Vacation is not yet over, but sadly I'm already working away. There's a ton of stuff I want to have done before I go back to school (unit plans, reading passages, worksheets for review, plan for first week, new investment, management, and homework plans.....) and I've parked myself in a hostel in Kunming and am just working away on it all. It's boring, but the more I get done, the better the coming semester will be.

Vacation was really relaxing, and I got to see a lot of cool stuff, but not really that interesting. Most of my time was spent on a very touristy route, so here's my vacation in 30 seconds:
1. got an epic sunburn.
2. western food always available--weird.
3. Vietnam=scooters, Thailand=cars
4. I love vietnamese coffee, avacado shakes, vietnamese sandwiches, and pad thai
5. gained weight
6. rented a scooter while on an island (that had no cars)=awesome
7. rode on way too many buses

I'm looking forward to getting back to teaching. Vacation was nice, but I definitely missed having some purpose in my day to day life other than trying to enjoy myself.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

And He's Back!

I'm back! I've been on a small island in Thailand, and apparently there was some problem with the satellite connection so the island was internetless for a while, but the internet is fixed! (just in time for me to leave).
Vacation has been great, but here's something I wrote on one of the many long bus journeys I've been on about how the semester ended.

So, I've been away from school for a while now, and I think I've finally stopped stressing about class, and have started getting a little exciited about going back. Not excited enough to go back early or anything, just excited to start thinking about what I'm going to do differently and better next semester. I finally got to see my final grades for my class, and I'm pleased. My kids did well. Out of the ten normal class (our school has two advanced classes that only have the strongest students) my class got the fourth highest average on the final which is a pretty big jump from the midterm where we were second to last. Test scores are incredibly important in China (something I'll write more about) so seeing that kind of improvement is gratifying.

Right now, I'm working on a reader full of passages for students to practice their reading skills. The curriculum really doesn't do a good job of teaching reading, so I applied for an internship with TFC to write something that will help. I don't know if anyone (other than me) is going to actually end up using it, but it's a fun project. The current passage is about a lion who lives at the zoo and who wants to be friends with a panda, but is worried that if he gets hungry he'll eat his friend. (He ends up eating the panda's brother to solve this problem. Sadly, his panda friend decides that she doesn't want to be friends with someone who would eat her the lion eats her too because he's still hungry)

I'm also working on figuring out how I'm going to review with my kids when we get back to school. I really hope that they studied over break, but if their study habits are similar to my own, they'll have forgotten all their English, and I'm going to have to restuff their heads with all the English that they've forgotten.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hanoi (+Halong Bay)->Hue->Hoi An-->

Great news! My Uncle Mark got me a camera for Christmas!!! Pictures of Halong Bay will be up soon!

I've been traveling for about a week in Vietnam, and have spent time in Hanoi, Halong Bay (one of the most beautiful places I've ever been), Hue, and Hoi An. The thing that has struck me most has actually been the number of foreigners around. We're traveling on what has become informally known as the Banana Pancake Trail because of the industry that has sprung up to to provide tourists with Western tasting food and amenities (like delicious banana pancakes), and it definitely feels like we're always interacting with people associated with the tourist industry. Prices are relatively high--a bowl of noodles in a tourist area can cost up to $2.25, while it should cost a dollar, and candy bars, sodas, and beers all have inflated prices. Right now, I'm taking a twenty-four hour bus to Saigon, and I'd say 85% of the passengers are foreign, mostly European, with a couple of Chinese tourists mixed in. It's odd--I'm used to being the only strange foreign person on a bus. There are so many foeigners around and foreign food is everywhere so I keep feeling like I'm traveling in the States.

So far, Vietnam has been gorgeous, and pretty interesting. We went to a few museums in Hanoi, and a few other sites. The museums weren't that great, but I found them really interesting because everything was written to support the viewpoint of the Vietnamese Communist party. There were common references to "the enemy," "our patriotic sister....," and quite a bit of self-aggrandizing fluff at all the exhibits--even at the Woman's Museum. The biases of museums are fascinating. Like, at the air and space museum the Enola Gay is just displayed as a B-29, with no mention of dropping the bomb. 

Anyways...the museums weren't objectively great, but I enjoyed them a lot anyways.Halong Bay afterwards though was awesome. We stayed on a boat and cruised around this gorgeous rocky outcrops. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a little bit of sun, but the scenery was fantastic, and we did stuff like stopping at an island to check out these caves, going kayaking, and jumping off a boat.

Other than that, Vietnam has been a really lovely tourist trap, which I can totally deal with. I feel bad, but I've really been taking advantage of this trip of eat a lot of Western food. I mean, I've had a lot of pho and banh my and all that good stuff, but having a banana panckae with bacon (on the side) makes me absurdly happy. The baguettes and the coffee here are spectuacular., the people are friendly, and not worrying about class is really nice.

p.s. The bus ride is long, but the scenery is gorgous. To my left the ocean is this gorgous torquouis, the beacues are white and sandy, and the sky is amazingly clear. If I could get to my camera I'd totally be snappingn pictures right now.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Traveling in Southeast Asia!

The school year ended, so I've been traveling in Vietnam. I haven't had internet, so I've been pretty out of contact. When I get a chance, I'm going to find a cafe with wifi and sit down, write about it, and upload some pictures.

Happy Chinese New Year everybody!!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A farewell to family

My Dad's account of the last couple of days in China. (He's much better at blogging than my sister is, right?)

Yesterday we hired a car and went to two tourist destinations outside of Kunming.  For you geologists in the audience, you will be pleased to know they each consist of Karst formations.  The Stone Forest is 1.5 hours southeast of Kunming.  The formations their are mostly towers and and very narrow canyons left behind when the softer rock eroded away.  Words, as do photos, fail me.  We spent hours wandering through narrow canyons, down staircases, up staircases and through door-sized arches.  The whole area was very well developed (you probably guessed as much, when I mentioned staircases).  We started at a new ticket building.  Like many public buildings in China it was made of stone and had slippery marble floors.  Once we had our tickets, we went outside and learned we should buy more tickets for the trolley to take us to the actual gate to the park.

After the five minute ride to the gate to the park, it was just a five minute walk to the actual trails.  As mentioned, down stairs, up stairs, around rocks and through arches.  We took pictures.

After three hours of wandering we took the trolley back to the headquarters.  For reasons I do not understand, the trolley dropped us at a different building from where we had purchased tickets (and more importantly agreed to meet our driver).  Because all the buildings are stone with slippery marble floors, it took us a little while to figure out that we were not at the right place.  Eventually we found our driver and he took us to lunch.  

After lunch (egg and tomato soup, eggplant, peas and meat, and "pockmarked grandmother's tofu,") we went to "nine countrysides" which is a canyon that heads into and through a cavern.  Again, the trail was paved with rock.  The rain had stopped so the trails were not as slippery as they were in the Stone Forest.  The deal included a boat ride and more stairs up and down.  The path followed the stream into a very nice cavern.  Our guess is the trail went through the cavern for at least a mile.  Before the last set of stairs we came to a sign that offered a "pole slide service."  It turned out that was a sedan chair ride, but we declined. Once we finished the last set of stairs we were able to get a "rope lift" a.k.a chairlift, to the top.

Then a two hour drive back to the hotel.  Before dinner I went for a walk through the nearby park.  One area of the park had a barbed wire fence with many notes and pictures stuck on the wires.   Folks were gathered in small groups and some were reading the notes.  I have no idea what it was all about.  Then we went to treat Will to some western food at Salvador's.  Will ran into at least four people he knew from TFC, including two supervisor types.  All of them are great.  

Today is Sunday (Saturday evening in Albuquerque)  I am headed out for a short jog.  Then Tessa and I will probably go shopping, to lunch and then the airport.  I look forward to being home, but am not excited for the flight back. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Another Blog from my Dad!

Yesterday we took the bus from Dali to Kunming.  The bus ride was an uneventful trip and had time to show three Chinese movies.  One romantic comedy about a 30 year old man who was trying to get his masters in psychology at Oxford, but could not because his examining panel felt he did not understand women.  So he goes home to China and falls in love with a girl who turns out to be a student at the high school where he teaches.  For some reason they are roommates too.  Then he declares his love.  The student rejects him.  He goes back to Oxford.  The girl realizes her mistake and follows him.  Coincidentally, she shows up during his re-examination and declares her love and he passes and they get married.  Or close enough.  The other movies were not much better, but at least they made the trip seem much longer than expected.

Today Will needed to go to the Vietnam Embassy, so Tessa and I went to the Horti Expo Garden.  The cab ride was another adventure.  For a long time we were stuck in traffic, but it seemed to make the cabbie very, very angry.  She just kept yelling and honking until traffic started to move again.  I do not think it was because of her yelling.  I think the light just changed to green.

The Horti Expo Garden had a very nice entry way and ticket taker.  When you are buying your ticket you can see some tour trolleys, a snack bar and a giant clock on the side small hill.  It turns out that is about all there is to see.  Mostly is a deserted group of exhibit halls and "national gardens."  Some of the exhibit halls are crumbling.  One even has grass growing out of the wall.  The China Hall was in pretty good shape, but just had some furniture samples on display.  The Thailand garden area had a sign that said "Crocodiles," but that just turned out to be an empty stinky room.  After wandering in the rain, all the while watching out for escaped crocodiles, we decided to head to the "Expo National Styles Food Area."  By that time our expectations were very low.  We finally found the abandoned building where the food area used to be and decided it was time to head to the exit and find some lunch.  If you need a set for a low budget, post apocalyptic disaster movie, I can recommend the Horti Expo Garden. 

Once we had found the exit Tessa and I found a restaurant.  It turned out to be the kind where you point to the items in the glass door fridge.  At that point we really missed Will, but we pointed to some veggies and some meat, got a great lunch (some kind of grilled ribs, spinach with garlic and a soupy green leafy thing), and headed back to the hotel.  The traffic on the way back was much better.  Will had just finished the first part of his efforts at getting his Visa so now we are all back in the room and planning our next outing in Kunming.