Catching Up

Sorry, I’ve been AWOL. Things have been crazy lately. I finally got rid of my kids! It was a great day. There’s a couple I’ll miss, but otherwise I’m so glad to be done with this group of children, and this group of parents. I have a bunch of photos to share though, of graduation and other activities. The last 3 weeks were pretty much just games and toys. My parents are always bringing kids late, pulling them out of school for days or weeks on end; several took off after the graduation ceremony, even though we still had two weeks of school left.

Then I immediately started summer camp the Monday after our last week of school, which really should have been cancelled since I only had 2-3 kids on any given day and they were at wildly different levels. I had two that were nearly 7 and fluent in English and reading, understood everything I said, and two that were barely 4 and spoke next to no English and understood nothing, and some only came half the time. It was frustrating and impossible to plan for them so I basically just babysat and let them do whatever while I cleaned and organized my classroom for next year. We did some science experiments and S.T.E.M. activities every day though. I’m also trying to get everything organized and order supplies for next year, which I am determined will be better. It can’t get much worse.

Other than that, I’ve just been doing a bunch of homework. I have a roughly 30 page paper on American art history to show for it if anyone is having trouble sleeping… Jess and I have also been in the process of moving apartments, and it has been an ordeal. Our lease was up at the end of July and we wanted a bigger place. Fortunately, one of Jess’s coworkers was also moving and his apartment was bigger, closer to both of our jobs (I can bike to work finally! At least, when it’s not 110 degrees and/or pouring rain, as it’s been lately), and not too much more expensive. Rents are rising like crazy in Beijing and this building is in one of the more expensive areas so we really lucked out. I really like the apartment and we’ve got most of our stuff moved in. We had a month between the time we moved in here and the time our old lease expired, so we’ve been moving very gradually, packing suitcases, bringing them over in a cab, emptying them, rinse and repeat. Over and over. You know the scene in Harry Potter where they’re in the bank vault and every time they touch something it multiplies? That was our house. I don’t know how I accumulated so much stuff in three years but it’s got to go! I’m leaving for Vietnam tomorrow and Jess is heading to the States Saturday so everything has to be finished before we leave, so this past weekend was nothing but packing, cleaning, and trying to sell anything remotely valuable to fund our travels. I need to get rid of things anyway. What was I thinking, buying books? You can’t cart piles of books around the world. I knew that, but I bought them anyway. It’s a sickness. We thought we could move everything ourselves in a few trips but a few turned into 8 or 10 or 150, I don’t know, I lost track. And did I mention we now live in a fourth floor walk-up? I think we got more than our fair share of exercise this week. There’s no way I can take all this with me when I leave China, which will absolutely, positively, 1000% be next summer. I swear. That’s all the China I can handle. I believe I’ve said this before but I really mean it this time! It’s a toss up whether my lungs or my sanity will give out first.

Anyway, here are some photos of the new place:

We’ve been exploring the neighborhood this week and found our new favorite restaurant. They have excellent dumplings and everyone is really nice.There’s also one of the best markets in the city-SanYuanLi-just down the street. It’s awesome. They have the best produce and meat, plus a bunch of imported goods that are much cheaper than the actual import stores. It looks small from the outside but inside is huge-like an enormous indoor year-round farmers’ market.

I am going to try to update more regularly this year, especially because it’s my last year (really!) and I feel like there’s lots of things I want to say about China but I just haven’t gotten around to yet. I also want to travel to some more places within China before I leave for good.

For now though, my next trip will be Vietnam. Finally! I’ve been wanting to go forever. Tickets are incredibly cheap right now too, only about $250 roundtrip from Beijing to Hanoi. I leave Beijing Tuesday and have a short layover in Guangzhou, arriving in Hanoi after 11 that night. I’ve got the next day to explore the city, then I booked a tour of Ha Long Bay the next day. Everything I read and everyone I talked to said Ha Long is not to be missed and it’s the one place to splurge so I did. I’m taking an overnight cruise of the bay before returning to Hanoi the next day. Then Saturday I fly to Da Nang, which is the closest city to Hoi An, which doesn’t have an airport. I’m staying in the Old Town area of Hoi An though, to spend a few days exploring. Then it’s back to Hanoi for a day before returning to Beijing. It’s going to be a busy trip for sure. I’m excited; everything looks beautiful. I’ll definitely be posting pictures!

Hoi An isn’t even on the map, but it’s about a 40 minute drive from Da Nang, I believe.

Holiday Fun!

It has been a hectic, and festive, couple of weeks. I’m just going to tell it in pictures:

Tonight Jess and I went to see On Pointe’s original production of Mary Poppins at the International School of Beijing. It was so much fun. They turned Mary Poppins into a ballet but also had jazz and tap dancing. They used the original movie soundtrack with the leads lip syncing along in place. ISB has students from elementary through high school in one huge campus so there were all different ages. Some of the older students were really great. And all the little ones were adorable. Several kept missing cues and they’d just keep going, twirling and trying to keep up with the others.

Today’s performance of Mary Poppins

My plans with my kids for next week involve making Christmas cards, making Christmas presents, making Christmas cookies, watching Christmas movies, and then having a Christmas party on Friday before taking off on Saturday for Switzerland. Sometimes I do love this job!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just thought I’d share a brief history of Thanksgiving with all my friends and family across the world on this occasion. Disclaimer: I threw this together in 20 minutes before my kids arrived this morning, it was done entirely from memory, any resemblance to people, places, or things, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, yada yada yada, yes there are stereotypes, I have the illustration skills of a second grader, and it was intended for 5 year ESL kids who have the attention spans of a fruit fly with ADHD, so yeah, let’s not take it too seriously. But I was trying to explain briefly what Thanksgiving was and keep their attention:

TheFirstThanksgiving

Then we all made Thanksgiving lunch. Turkey isn’t really available but we roasted chicken and the kids mashed potatoes and made instant stuffing and pumpkin pie. I made some green beans and we ordered some canned cranberries online. The kids had never had them but they loved everything!

After lunch-which the kids inhaled-they were a little dopey. Which worked in my favor actually. We watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and I took them outside to enjoy some crisp fall air. It’s been beautiful the last few days.

My little drama queen, Raina!
Alisha is a ham, always performing, loves the camera
Super active boys-George in the background, and Bentley in the blue jacket. Bentley is such a sweetheart. He knew maybe five words of English when he started this year and he’s younger than the other kids so I wasn’t sure he’d keep up. But he learns amazingly fast, knows all his letters and numbers and asks me questions in English now. He’s so polite too!

Beautiful, but icy cold. Winter is either mild and smoggy, or freezing and clear. The same arctic winds that come down to clear away the smog also cause a major temperature drop. It’s also unbelievably dry. I took my sweater off earlier and it nearly electrocuted me. At night, my sheets actually throws of sparks in the dark room anytime I move. Crazy!

Tonight Jess and I went to a Thanksgiving buffet at EAST hotel. Their food is always amazing: ham, lamb, turkey, all kinds of side dishes, salads, and seafood, fruit, wine, beer, soda included. It’s a popular holiday spot for expats. Two Thanksgiving dinners in one day though-bad idea. I think I’ll go into hibernation now. Work tomorrow sounds awful.

chocolate bread pudding, apple & raisin pie, red velvet cake
cake, walnut pie (like pecans, but pecans aren’t common here), and black forest cake 

Yesterday we talked about gratitude and made a Gratitude Tree. The kids wrote all the things they’re grateful for on leaves-mom, dad, flowers, butterflies, cake, eggs, friends, eyes… Then they glued them to the tree trunk:

I’m way behind on this blog! Later this weekend I’ll catch up and post about our trip to South Korea. For now, here’s a few pictures from our field trip to the aquarium last week:

Then we read the Rainbow Fish and made our own rainbow fish to go with the story, since we’re learning about caring as our character trait, and different habitats in science. They turned out really cute!

Trip Announcement!

I’m excited to announce my Winter 2017/2018 Trip Itineraries! I just booked my last tickets this afternoon: October 27-29-Busan, South Korea; December 16-23- Zurich, Switzerland; December 26-29-Xi’an, China; and finally, February 10-22-Delhi and Agra, India. So stayed tuned for some stories!

Otherwise, it’s been an uneventful week. For science class, we’ve been learning about the 5 senses so I did a taste test experiment Thursday and let kids try different tastes: lemons for sour, coffee and super dark chocolate for bitter, cookies and sugar cubes for sweet, salt water (salty), and spicy beef jerky (spicy).

I also thought I’d share these paintings. The kids were supposed to be drawing elephants from this story their art teacher read them. These were the results; I’m a little concerned about the last one.

Friday night Jess and I held our Second Annual Halloween Movie Binge. Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas, black bean and bacon chili, corn bread, and apple crisp. We even did some pumpkin carving.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

This upcoming week is the Mid-Autumn Festival/National Holiday, so we have a week off. It’s the only reason I’ve survived so long. No travel plans unfortunately. For the holiday I least. Jess and I just booked a weekend trip to Busan at the end of October though. Other than that we’re just saving money for our New Year’s trip to India. But there’s a lot of places in and around Beijing I still haven’t seen so I’ll do some exploring here.

Kiki went to her hometown for the holiday and sent everyone who works for her a Tianjin specialty-hairy crabs. Live crabs. 15 of them. Seafood is always super fresh here-literally still swimming. Instead of bags of frozen fish and shrimp, the supermarkets have aquariums with every possible variety of seafood splashing around. The market near my house is one of the best in the city and I always tell myself I’m going to learn how to cook live seafood but I haven’t brought myself to do it quite yet. But now I have these crabs and either they’re going to be dinner or I’m going to have to put a plastic wading pool in the middle of the living room and give them all names. I’ll let you know when I decide.

Also, they didn’t get delivered until after 10 tonight and Jess and I were both ready for bed so we look a little crazy, and Jess’s camera work goes a bit spazy at the end, but it’s still funny:

July 25, 2017

I know, it’s been an absurdly long time. I was busy with end of school things and when I finally got through that I was just exhausted and didn’t feel like writing. But I’m home in Kansas City at the moment for a visit so it’s time for a long overdue update.

To begin with, my flight home was an adventure in and of itself. I took off work a couple days early, after two solid weeks of helping to write curriculum and planning lessons, so I could have a full month away from China. Got to the airport early on the 12th, checked in, no problems, my flight actually boarded on time, which is practically unheard of for BCIA (Beijing Capital International Airport). And then we sat. And sat. First, because of BCIA air traffic control. This is normal as it’s the second busiest airport in the world; there’s usually a line to get off the ground. But while we were waiting there was a loud bumping and shaking underneath us in the back of the plane. So then we waited for maintenance to check it out. And for them to fix one of the air conditioners which had broken. Did I mention it’s been over 100 degrees in Beijing? Yeah. Eventually they let people go back to the gate for about 20 minutes. When everything was fixed they reboarded everyone and about 10 minutes after we got in our seats they announced that we couldn’t take off because the crew’s time had expired. So, back off the plane, through immigration to get our exit stamps canceled, customs, and then we were all rebooked on another flight the next morning and shuttled to a nearby hotel for the night.

It wasn’t all bad though because I met some fun people and got to hang out with them at the hotel and while we were waiting around the airport the next morning. The hotel was really nice and the airline took care of everything, rooms, food, transportation, rebooking flights. My trip was a little more complicated because I actually had two round trip tickets, one from Beijing to Boston (with a stop in San Francisco) and another from Boston to KC (with a stop in Chicago). It was cheaper for whatever reason (I will never understand airline logic) to fly from Beijing to San Francisco to Boston to Chicago to Kansas City, than it was to fly from Beijing to Kansas City with a stop in San Francisco. And my youngest brother is in Boston so I thought it would be great to stop and see him on my way back to Beijing. But I didn’t particularly want to stop in there on my way to KC; it’s just always cheaper to book round trip tickets than one-way. So it was a bit of a hassle to reschedule my connecting flights.

The next morning we got back to the airport and were delayed again. Because they tried to put us on the same plane, again. And the air conditioner was broken, again. One of the crew had told us that this particular plane was supposed to be decommissioned last September. I’m not feeling very confident at this point… Eventually they told us to move to another gate and we boarded a different plane there. The people who were already at that gate got sent back to our gate to wait for that plane to be fixed…I hope they made it off the ground but I have my doubts. And all this running around made us miss our newly rescheduled connections in SF. Which would have made me miss my next connection in Boston. When I explained everything to the ticket agent though he was super helpful, and instead of making me fly halfway across the country and back he got approval to change my ticket to go from SF to Kansas City and skip Boston altogether. So despite leaving Beijing 26 hours late, I still got home the same day I planned.

There was a time when this kind of chaos would have sent me into a panic or angered me but the more I travel, the more I’m able to brush these things off. There were some people on the flight who were hopping mad and screaming at the gate agents and I just had to roll my eyes. Is it an annoyance? Sure. I get frustrated too sometimes. But is it worth screaming about? Screaming at people who have no more control over it than you do? In the scheme of things, does it really matter? I like to make plans-I have books full of notes and schedules and to-dos-but I also know things don’t go according to plan all time, or even most of the time. It’s the unexpected things that sometimes end up being the most memorable, good or bad. So what I remember about this trip is that I got to finish two books I’d been meaning to read while I was waiting. I got to have a nice dinner and interesting conversation with Baynie from Las Vegas and Meredith and Ben from Wisconsin, who gave me some great ideas of places to visit when I finally take my cross-country road trip, hopefully next year. I got to soak in a hot bath and get a good night’s sleep in a hotel that I can’t even afford-for free. I’ll remember the chatty business lady who flies back and forth to China every other month (didn’t catch her name), that befriended us at the hotel and later, when she saw us stuck in the check in line at the airport, went and bought us all her favorite breakfast rolls to eat while we waited. I’ll remember the friendly flight attendant who asked all about my life in China, kept us all updated on what was going on, and even tried to help me find a different connecting flight on her phone while we were waiting. And I’ll remember the ticket agent in San Francisco who could have told me that I had a non-changeable flight, as three previous representatives had, but instead spent half an hour on the phone with his corporate headquarters trying to upgrade my ticket and finding me a way to get home as soon as possible. People are people, anywhere you go, and people are generally nice if you’re nice to them. Most of things I hear folks complaining about could be solved with a smile and a simple “please and thank you”.

I had another situation in June when I went to Macau for my visa run. I usually go to Hong Kong but I wanted a change. And if I’d flown directly into Macau it probable would have been fine, but I also wanted to see Zhuhai, on the mainland, because I’d heard it was beautiful-one of the cleanest cities in China. So I planned to fly to Zhuhai after work on a Friday, crash, get up early and go the port, where you can walk through the immigration building into Macau on the other side. Solid plan. Except my flight was delayed and I didn’t get to Zhuhai’s little airport until almost 2am, when we were the last flight in and almost everything was shut down. I had booked a room online at a hotel near the airport, and stopped at the information desk to ask the only employee in sight how to get there. She didn’t recognize it, but called the number on my booking to ask them for me, since no one spoke English there. Turns out, the hotel did not accept foreigners, only Chinese people. This isn’t unheard of in China-either they didn’t want to deal with foreigners or they couldn’t accept foreign passports. (Some places require a 15 digit Chinese ID number.) At any rate, I was stranded with very little money, and would get my refund until later in the week. The girl at the information desk was a little lost too, but she pulled out her phone and between her English and my Chinese, and a really good translation app, managed to explain what was going on. By this time a curious security guard was hovering around trying to help too. He suggested a hotel nearby where airline staff stayed and they helped me call to book a room. Then the girl called her friend who also worked at the airport and had a car, and I waited a few minute until they got off work at 3am, then they drove me to the hotel, walked me in and negotiated a lower price with the girl at the desk, and made sure I was all set before they went home. I’m so grateful for people like that; they make the journey worthwhile. And I got to have a good time in Zhuhai (which was beautiful) and Macau:

I wanted to post some last pictures of my kids, too-I had some adorable ones of them in their little graduation cap and gowns-but I can’t find them! I need to get my computer organized. The last month of school was a blast though-we did experiments with eggs, trying different ways to wrap them and then throwing them off the roof (only one broke!) to see which was strongest, making baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, movie day, art projects, making a class book and just playing games. I’m going to miss those guys but I’m excited for next year. At least, I think I’m better prepared for next year.

I’m just enjoying being home for now and seeing family and friends. My driver’s license expired about a year and a half ago while I was out of the country. And since it had been expired over 6 months I had to retake the whole test. I had attempted this when I was home in December and failed the driving exam so I was actually nervous this time. I know how to drive; it’s like riding a bike. But I can’t stand being judged. I had a death grip on the wheel the whole time, and the examiner looked about 22 years old, which was annoying. But I passed! It feels good to drive again. I’ve been hanging out in the pool, playing with my dogs, and revisiting some of my favorite places. Definitely experiencing some reverse culture shock though. When I first moved to China I would automatically convert everything I bought into dollars; now I convert everything I buy in the States to RMB, and it hurts. Oh it hurts. Prices here seem outrageous to me. My mom is coming with me visit my brother in Boston when I leave KC. She booked our hotel last night at one of the cheaper places available, and the price of two nights there would cover accommodation, food, transport, and activities for two weeks in most places in Asia. And the choices here are overwhelming. I spent like an hour and a half in the grocery store the other day. Most the shops I go to in Beijing might have 5-10 different options for something, say, ice cream; here there is a mile-long aisle devoted to it. In a way it’s nice, but there’s also something ridiculous about it. We drive to places I would just walk to in Beijing. Life here seems foreign now.

June 3, 2017

Crazy fun couple of weeks here! Officially my kids graduate next Friday so we’re just having fun right now. Some of them will leave after next week, but the rest will still stay through the end of June. The smog went a little crazy last week so I had to keep the kids inside for recess, but then had the idea to make a tent/cave out of tables, chairs, and tablecloths. It reminded me of being a kid and my grandma let us take pillows and blankets and hide under the furniture. Creativity is seriously lacking here-they don’t know anything about pillow forts. It was sad. But I taught them everything I know so my work here is done.

We’ve been learning about Africa lately, and last week we focused on Egypt so I let them build sugar cube pyramids and we made the Nile out of tin foil and little clay camels and boats. They loved the idea of mummies too so we made some out of pipe cleaners.

Last weekend Jess and I wanted to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie (Loved it, btw). Jess found a new website to book tickets in English and we randomly picked a theater which turned out to be a 40 minute drive outside the city. But it was fun to explore a new area. The Shine Hills mall in Shunyi is this huge outdoor shopping center with tons of stores and restaurants with all kinds of cuisines. It’s full of these fun sculptures and play areas too-we took pictures with some of them. We even found an amazing Italian restaurant and a small petting zoo! So random 🙂

And since Tuesday was Dragon Boat Festival, we had a four-day weekend to enjoy, which, even better,  meant a three-day workweek this week. So after a much-needed break, I came back this week, taught Wednesday, then we had a big blowout party for Children’s Day on Thursday. It’s a big thing here-my school set up a wading pool and rented a big bounce house/slide. The kids all brought water guns and we filled up water balloons. I unfortunately did not think to buy a water gun, but found a watering can and threw buckets of water at the kids when they attacked me, because you can do that here without getting sued by hyperactive parents. In fact some of the parents came and ran around shooting the kids with water guns. Everybody was soaked by the end of the day. The kids even talked me into going down the slide with them. It was all fun and games till the upstairs neighbors came home and called in a noise complaint. Super fun day though!

Clockwise: Me, April, Rarity, Jason, Ella, and somebody’s legs going down the slide, Jason, Ryan, and I’m not quite sure what’s going on in the last picture-they all just kind of piled on top of me!
Clockwise: me and Jason refilling at the pool, George seriously eyeing his next target, and Qing shooting me…with a wicker basket on her head…cause she thought it would protect her from my watering can…even though she was already soaked. Kids!
Qing was super serious-she had Cookie on the ground surrendering! Then there’s Zach, April, and Lucy tickling George.

Friday morning the kids had class with their Chinese teacher, then in the afternoon, since we’ve been learning about dinosaurs in science, I set up a dinosaur dig. I took a Lego dinosaur kit and buried all the pieces, plus small plastic dinosaurs and eggs, in two big containers of dirt and rocks. Then I split them in teams and had them put on gloves, and, because I’m diabolical like that (and had time to kill) told them they weren’t allowed to use their hands. They had to dig everything out with coffee stirrers, chopsticks, tweezers, dust them off with paintbrushes and q-tips, and then piece the dinosaur together as a team. It was awesome. Then I let the watch the (original) Land Before Time movie. I don’t think I’d seen it in 20 years and we were all tearing up and laughing in the same places. They loved it.

I got some great news this week too. I thought I’d only have a two week break this summer but our summer camp was canceled so I actually get a full month off. I’d been planning to travel around Vietnam and Cambodia but since I get more time I decided I’d rather go home for a while, since I haven’t been home in the summer time in about three years! I can’t believe it’s been that long. I’ll definitely do southeast Asia sometime this year hopefully, but for right now I’m just excited to go home, see my family, walk around barefoot, swim in the pool, and play with my dogs. Only 6 weeks to go!