October 1st is China’s National Holiday; this year marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. Every year, the entire country gets a week off to celebrate. Which sounds nice, right? But it’s the entire country. At the same time. And for many people it’s the only vacation time they have, so the result is millions of people trying to hit the same hundred or so tourist spots at the same time. It’s insanely crowded and horrifying. Beijing was fairly quiet for the first half of the week because most people leave the city to travel elsewhere. But then they come back…
Anyway, Jess and I stayed home, partly because we wanted to avoid the madness, mostly because we had no money to go anywhere. We managed to explore a bunch of new places though. And the weather was spectacularly clear and blue, just cool enough to be considered fall.
Otherwise, we were pretty much our tea-drinking, scrabble-playing, movie-binging, junk food-eating selves all week. It was kind of fun just being lazy.
Switzerland was definitely a good choice of pre-Christmas getaway! Zürich was charming, with lots of old cobblestone streets and medieval history, but also very modern. The scenery is stunning, surrounded by Lake Zürich and the mountains. Everything was all decked out for Christmas and there was just the right amount of snow. Not to mention heaps of chocolate and cheese. What else do you really need?
I booked a private room in this Airbnb apartment which was really comfortable. The hosts were nice and it was easy to walk to the tram-stops and get around. It was in a quiet residential area but easy to get downtown. I thought I might have a bit of trouble with language but nearly everyone I encountered switched to English when they realized I didn’t speak German. I also heard so many conversations in French, Italian, Spanish, and more. I’m so impressed with the way people from other countries grow up speaking multiple languages. I wish schools in the States emphasized this, and from a younger age.
One thing I really loved about the city, once I figured out the transportation system, was the trams. There are regular trains/subway lines that run in and out of the city, I took one to the central train station from the airport, but within the city there are above-ground trams that run along the streets. I saw virtually no traffic while I was there. It seemed like most people take the trams. There’s only a few minutes between them, and to get from the outskirts of the city where I stayed to the central area only took about 20 minutes.
I enjoyed exploring the Old Town of Zürich so much, along the waterfront and down all the winding cobblestone alleyways. It’s like a maze in some places. The weather was cold but not horribly so. It snowed for hours one day but it was really nice to be out walking in the fresh air.
I found the Fraumünster Church really interesting. It’s built on the site of an abbey started in 853. The king at the time granted the abbess power to hold markets, mint coins, and appoint the mayor; effectively she ruled the city. I don’t have pictures of them, but the choir windows were designed by Marc Chagall.
One day I booked a tour to Mt. Rigi, which was amazing. From the center of Zürich, we took a bus to the town of Weggis, a little over an hour away. From there, a cable car took us most of the way up the mountain, then we switched to the cogwheel train-the first mountain railway in Europe-for the rest of the way to the summit of Rigi Kulm. It was a cloudy, foggy day, impossible to see up or down from the top, but still a lot of fun. I climbed a little way up from the train station. People were running around, having snowball fights and sledding.
The views on the way up and down the mountain were breathtaking:
From the summit, the train runs back down the mountain to the town of Vitznau, where we took a boat across Lake Lucerne to the town of Lucerne. I was excited to finally see the Chapel Bridge:
I returned to Beijing on the 23rd and lost my battle with jet lag. It was exceptionally brutal this time. I can’t stop napping. But Jess and I had a nice Christmas here:
We went to see Loving Vincent after dinner, which was a truly incredible film. I loved the artwork, but the storyline was great as well. Otherwise, I got to spend some time video chatting with my family and relaxing around the house. So it’s been a nice holiday overall.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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!
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:
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!
It feels like I just arrived back in Beijing and now I just spent the past 6 hours cleaning and packing so I can leave again. The past three weeks were kind of a blur, back to work as usual. Our last day was yesterday so we celebrated by making some dragon masks and papercutting traditional characters for Chinese New Year, aka Spring Festival, with their Chinese teacher, Carol.
I did not neglect our apartment either, cleaning and hanging up traditional decorations. I put the character for Fu, or good fortune, on our front door. Then I stuck smaller versions on every other door in the house.
I also put one on ShuaiShuai’s tank for good measure. I’m taking no chances. We need all the luck we can get in this house.
That’s all for now, but I’ll be posting very soon from Barcelona. Countdown to take off- 10 hours, 19 minutes!