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:
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.
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!
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!
Not much going on. I had a pretty good week with the kids and thought I would share these. We’ve been studying Europe so for their cooking class we prepared a British tea for Mother’s Day. Kiki brought a ton of flowers so the kids could arrange flowers with their moms too.
The air has been nice since we had the OBOR (One Belt One Road) conference in town over the weekend. The traffic has sucked though, and the police have been raiding bars and restaurants all over the city checking people’s passports and checking for drugs. They occasionally crack down but eventually it eases up. Jess and I took a bus a little ways out to Shunyi Saturday to try to escape Beijing for a little while and do some exploring.
Monday, one of my kid’s moms decided to take the whole class out to lunch. She booked a limo van to take us out to this fancy room at a really upscale restaurant with course after course. We had about half a dozen people waiting on us and a private patio with a waterfall and swinging chairs. The kids really got a kick out of it. I enjoyed it to but on the other hand this is the kind of thing that frustrates me about China. People do things like this, partly as a nice gesture, and I give her credit for that, but most of the time it’s also about mianzi, or the Chinese concept of “face”-anything to make themselves look good and gain face. As evidenced by the hundred or so photos posted on WeChat for all the other parents to see. But I’ll get more into that another time. It was still a nice day.
Thursday was a trying day. One of the days that I question why I teach, or even get out of bed in the morning. Then, I came home, started writing, and this happened:
[9:00-Nicole is in the office in the process of boiling six dozen eggs to color later in the day. Kids run in.]
NICOLE: “Guys, stay out of this room. The pot is really hot. Go play.”
[Kids run out to the lobby. Nicole goes to print worksheets. Looks up to greet Zach as he arrives. Turns around, the rest of the kids are back in the office.]
NICOLE: “Get out!”
[Nicole picks up Fred, carries him out of the room, and deposits him on a bean bag. Goes back, picks up Rarity, caries her out as Fred runs back in. She carries Ella out as Rarity is running back in. Repeat as needed for 10-15 minutes.]
[9:30-Nicole is removing eggs from water to cool. Qing runs up to watch.]
NICOLE: “Do not touch the eggs.”
[Qing leans forward and reaches for egg.]
NICOLE: “Qing, those are hot, don’t touch them.”
QING, touching an egg: “Ow!”
NICOLE: “Don’t. Touch. The. Eggs.”
[9:45-Reading. Kids are talking]
NICOLE: “Shh. Ok, Fred, can you read? Ryan, shh.”
[Fred starts reading, Ryan continues talking, but quieter.]
NICOLE: “Ryan, stop talking.”
[Fred reads, Ryan continues to whisper in the background.]
NICOLE: “Ryan, Stop. Talking.”
RYAN: “I not talk.”
NICOLE: “’I’m not talking.’ You are talking. Whispering is still talking. Who is next?”
[Zach starts reading the next page. Girls start a conversation about My Little Pony.]
NICOLE: “Girls, stop talking, the only person talking is Zach.” [Zach continues reading.]
NICOLE (10 seconds later): “Jason, get your finger out of your nose. RYAN FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP TALKING!”
[10:15-Math class, kids are working on subtraction. Jason has to make sure he has the right answer before committing anything to paper. He also was never taught how to form a question in his last school. We’re working on it.]
JASON: “I want to this.”
NICOLE: “What is this.”
JASON: “Wo bu zhi dao.” (Translation: I don’t know.)
NICOLE: “No, if you don’t know what it is, you say ‘What is this?’.Zhege shi shenme? What is this?”
JASON: “I want to five.”
NICOLE: “Is it five?”
NICOLE: “No, you say, ‘Is it five?”
NICOLE: “Jason, say, “Is it five?”
JASON: “Is it five?”
NICOLE: “Yes it is. Very good.”
[Jason continues to next problem.]
JASON: “I want to nine?”
NICOLE: “Is it nine?”
[11:15-Recess. Note: Chinese people are always cold. Truly, they believe that if they are not actively sweating then they must be cold. In winter, parents send their kids to school in no less than six layers. In spring, it’s four or five-at least two pairs of pants, an undershirt, one or two long-sleeved shirts, a sweater, a jacket, and possibly a scarf. Regardless of the weather forecast, if the calendar says spring, they think they are cold. It was eighty degrees today. As soon as the kids got outside they started stripping and flinging clothes around.]
QING and RARITY (chanting): “Too hot! Too hot! It’s too hot!”
QING: “I want take off” (pulls off jacket and sweater)
NICOLE: “Okay, fine.”
RARITY: “I want to take off my dress”
NICOLE: “Okay, fine” (She has two pairs of pants and shirts under it.)
QING: “I want this off” (pulls off a pair of pants, revealing another pair)
RARITY: “I want my pants off too” (pulls off outer pants)
NICOLE: “Okay, sure, whatever” (Nicole is now covered in discarded clothing)
QING: “And this shirt”
NICOLE: “Because you have to keep at least one shirt on”
NICOLE: “Because I said so.”
QING: “Wei shenme?” (”Why?”)
NICOLE: “Mei you wei shenme.” (“No why.”) “Go play.”
[11:40-Kids are collecting their clothes and lining up to go inside. Qing grabs her pants and puts them on her head, pulling them down over her eyes.]
NICOLE (sighs): “Qing, take your pants off your head.”
[Rarity pulls her pants over her head and both girls giggle like maniacs.]
NICOLE: “Rarity and Qing, take your pants off your head. You will run into something.”
[Qing falls down.]
[11:45-Lunchtime. Nicole and Lucy are attempting a conversation.]
LUCY: “So I think Dan Yang can do an art project with the kids while we hide the eggs.”
NICOLE: “Yeah, that’s fine, Jason take your finger out of your nose.”
LUCY: “Okay, and maybe-Jason, do not put your spoon in your hair. Eat your lunch.-we could do some face painting.”
NICOLE: “Yeah, I think-“
[Ella and Qing are spinning around in swivel chairs because for some reason someone decided to put swivel chairs in a classroom full of five-year olds.]
NICOLE: “Ella! Qing! Che fan! Eat your lunch! That sounds good.”
[12:30-Story time. Nicole, Avery, and kids are sprawled out on beanbags. Nicole is reading. Sniffling noise.]
AVERY: “I think you’re okay, Rarity, it was an accident. Ella, can you tell Rarity you’re sorry for bumping her?”
[Ella bursts into tears, hiccupping and gasping for breath while other kids gawk, and Avery finally has to carry her out of the room to calm down.]
[1:15-Dyeing eggs for Easter egg hunt tomorrow. It’s chaos.]
FRED: “I’m going to make Jupiter!”
RARITY: “I’m going to make Neptune!”
RYAN: “I want two colors!”
ZACH: “I want three colors!”
QING: “I want eat a egg.”
NICOLE: “I want to eat an egg. Wait until snack time.”
RYAN: “Me egg break!”
NICOLE: “Well, if you don’t stab your egg with a pencil, it won’t break.”
RARITY: “I can’t eat eggs”
NICOLE: “I know.”
[Nicole knows this because any time anyone anywhere is talking about food, Rarity has to announce the details of her egg allergy.]
RARITY: “I can eat the yellow but I can’t eat the white. But I don’t like the yellow.”
NICOLE: “The yolk. I know you don’t.”
[3:00-Snacktime. Kids are gathered around plates of fruit and crackers, talking quietly for once. Nicole takes advantage of this anomaly and goes to the bathroom. Comes back thirty seconds later to find all the kids standing in the front entrance, laughing and shouting, door open.]
NICOLE: “WHAT is going on?”
AVERY: “Ryan is peeing in the bushes. He said he couldn’t wait.”
NICOLE: “Oh, yes, he could have!”
[15 minutes later. Zach is in the bathroom.]
RARITY: “I have to go to the bathroom but Zach is in there. I will go outside.”
NICOLE: “No you will not. No one is going outside. Ever. NEVER. AGAIN”
[3:15-Nicole gives up on attempting to do anything with children and shoos them out to the playground for the rest of the day. Maintenance workers are spraying down one of the slides and sidewalk. Puddles everywhere.]
NICOLE: “Stay on this side of playground, ok? I don’t want you getting all wet. Ryan, Zach, did you hear me? Only this side of the playground. Do not go in the water.”
[Kids run off to play. Nicole and Avery collapse on a bench with sighs of relief. It lasts about 30 seconds.]
RARITY runs up sniffling: “Jason scratched me!”
RARITY: “On my there.” [Points.]
NICOLE: “On your cheek? Let’s see.”
[Avery calls to Jason in Chinese and tries to mediate. Nicole doesn’t understand a word and turns around to see Fred, Zach, and Ryan splashing in puddles and kicking water at each other.]
NICOLE: “Boys, get OUT of the water!”
[Zach and Fred take off running. Ryan continues to splash around, twirling and humming to himself.]
NICOLE: “RYAN! GET OUT OF THE WATER.”
[Ryan laughs and kicks water across the playground.]
NICOLE screaming at the top of her lungs: “RYAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GET. OVER. HERE.”
[Ryan looks over, cocks his head to one side for a moment, then slowly strolls away from her.]
NICOLE: “Ryan. Come. Here.”
[Ryan looks over at her sideways, pauses, turns back, and continues walking away.]
NICOLE: “RYAN. Five minute time out. If you don’t get over here RIGHT NOW, it will be ten minutes.”
[Ryan slowly drags himself over to the bench, stands next to it, and starts twirling again.]
NICOLE in serial killer voice: “Sit. Down. Now.”
NICOLE, 3 minutes later: “Why are you in time out Ryan? What did you do?”
RYAN: “I don’t know.”
AVERY: “Are we going inside now?”
NICOLE: “No. We’re staying out here until their parents come and take them away. Hopefully forever.”
[4:00-Dismissal. Technically, but not really, because parents don’t pick up their kids, they send their ayis (nannies) who show up sometime before four and five-thirty. ]
RARITY: “Jason’s nose is bleeding.”
[Nicole turns around to see Jason covered in blood from a massive nosebleed. Avery and Lucy sit him down and try to stop the bleeding, clean him up, stuff some tissue in his nose, and send him back to play. Jason pulls tissue out of his nose and proceeds to run around the room splattering blood on every surface. Girls run around the room screaming at the blood. Ryan runs around screaming because he is Ryan and that is what he does.]
[4:30-Nicole goes home, drinks alcohol, eats chocolate, and attempts to erase her memory before repeating the next day.]
Friday wasn’t much better than Thursday, but our party was fun. Here’s some pictures I thought I’d share. Happy Easter, everyone!
So I’ve been working on a much longer post but it’s still not finished and it’s just some general China stuff, so I’m going to keep working on it and post sometime soon. For now though, I know it’s been a while, so I thought I’d post pictures from the last couple weeks. It finally feels like spring, although March has definitely been a mixed bag. We went from sunny, clear, and sixty, to smoggy, rainy/sleety, and freezing, and back again in one week. But Jess and I were able to get out and take advantage of the clear days. Two weeks ago we went to spend an afternoon at Forest Park, the north end of Olympic Park.
Last weekend we went to the Wanda Plaza IMAX theater to see the new Beauty and the Beast movie. I know it’s gotten some mixed reviews but I loved it-it’s one of my all-time favorite stories. We explored the area around the mall too and found some cool things:
I printed up fake money for my kids to earn and started a store where they can buy fun stuff: toys, candy, coupons for iPad time, to skip an assignment, skip clean up duty, etc. Yes, I have resorted to out and out bribery and it has worked wonders. We’ve been studying Asia-Russia, India, and Arabia, and made a Russian lunch for cooking class one day, then some Indian cake this week. We also started learning about space in science and they are so excited; asking a million questions every day. One three minute video about Mars turned into a thirty minute discussion about aliens.
In other news, Jess and I took up boxing, which is actually a lot of fun and we have not managed to seriously injure ourselves, each other, or anyone around us, so that’s always a plus. The first few classes went kinda like this though:
Yeah…we’re a little out of shape. But on the way home the other day I ran into a woman passing out flyers for a gym really close to our house. So we ended up joining that too; it was incredibly cheap. Two year membership for 3700RMB, about $540. And they even have a pool.
This weekend I spent doing massive amounts of writing for my psychology class, cleaning, shopping, and trying to get some work done for school because it’s going to be a crazy week. We’ve got a field trip to the planetarium on Thursday, a tie-dye party on Friday, then Jess and I leave for Malaysia super early Saturday…think two a.m. early. What were we thinking?
Beijing back in Beijing is taking some serious readjustment. It’s cold, smoggy, and I’ve been fighting the jet lag all week. So I cheered myself up by booking a couple more trips for this spring. Taiwan in March and Shanghai with Jess in April to see Wicked. I couldn’t get tickets in Beijing because the only ones not already sold out were crazy expensive. Shanghai had way more performances. Plus, I finally get to see Shanghai!
My kids were loopy this week after their break. I was so happy to see Friday. Kiki invited all CEC teachers to her house for dinner after work and we enjoyed Japanese hotpot and wine. Lots of wine.