Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Sorry I've been so absent these past couple of weeks. It's been mostly work for us, with little time for play. We're nearing the end of our summer overtime, so from now on we'll only be working a measley 24 hours a week. To celebrate, we're headed to Beijing for a three-day weekend on Monday. We'll be celebrating our four-year wedding anniversary on Wednesday! So far we've never spent an anniversary in the states, but I think this year will be extra special because we'll finally be able to do something special. We're also taking our first vacation October 12-20, and we'll be headed to Shanghai for the World's Fair! Hopefully we'll have a lot more exciting posts in the near future. But for the meantime, here's a mish-mash of random things we've seen and done in the past two weeks:

Andrew taught Julia, John's niece, how to cook hamburgers and fries. It was a big success, though John ate too much and abruptly had to get up and leave the apartment to lie down. Can't decide if this is good or not...
Andrew's student Lily celebrated her 17th birthday, and we had her and Karen over for chicken soup and cake.

Andrew decided that the "dragon fruit" needed a bit more dragon, so he gave it a makeover. He was sad to eat it and ruin his beautiful artwork, but he made me promise to show you all his masterpiece for posterity's sake.

The best thing about the past two weeks was my introduction to Mop Dog. This little guy belongs to the shop-owners near the school, and while I often saw him running around outside, I was too shy to introduce myself. Instead, I admired him from afar and planned to dog-nap him. One day I got up the courage to pet him and since then he and I have been good friends. I think he might come willingly with me when the time comes. It helps that I bring him treats and scratch his belly. He's the sweetest dog, and not once have we heard him yap like others of his breed. His owners seem bewildered by my interest in him, but are happy to give me (supervised) visitation rights. I wish I could say that he wasn't being treated well and thus justify my plans of grand theft doggery, but his owners adore him, as does everyone else on the street. His real name is "Ball" in Chinese, but I've had his fake passport made to say "Mop Dog" because that was how I first thought of him that fortuitous day so many weeks ago.

The second best thing that happened recently was that we got paid! A mere pittance compared with what most of you are making in the states, but considering our only expenses for the moment are food and paying off our enormous debt, it felt like we were millionaires! It was especially noticeable because we were paid in cash. I swear this job is legit, really!

So how did we use our small fortune? After wiring about 70% back to the U.S. to pay for our loans and credit cards, we went shopping! We finally found the cheap stores that really live up to the "Made in China" label. Shirts for $2, dresses for $10, bags for $1.50, you name it, we bought it. Andrew seems to be under the impression that I am some sort of Barbie Doll, and he forewent a day at the beach in favor or dragging me through four shopping malls, buying me everything in sight. What a jerk! ;) I'm sure you can see the theme of my purchases, though. Did I mention that I love purple??

I received yet another too-generous gift from a student. Penny gave me a very nice, very expensive jade Buddha necklace. This was because I invited her to taco night at our house. They better stop it, or I'll get used to this pampering!

We've been raiding the bulk candy section of Tesco to try out some new flavors. It's actually kind of overwhelming because there are so many types of candies and many are not recognizable. There are even little packets of dried peas and fish in this section, so you have to be careful of what you buy!
This guy is near the Tesco

Last night Helen and John took us out to dinner after our staff meeting. In addition to getting to try new, delicious foods for free, these little trips give us plenty of ideas for meals when we're too tired to cook for ourselves. This place was very similar to eating raclette. A big grill is placed at the table, and each person can choose their food from a huge buffet table full of meats, vegetables, and seafood. You then grill your food right at the table. They have different sauces and spices that you can add. It's an all-you-can-eat restaurant. The price? A mere $3.50/person. Even Andrew was full by the time we left!

We finally made it to the beach today. Somehow we managed to get on the right bus (though going the wrong direction), and though we had to get off and find the other line, we made it to the beach all by ourselves. Our first stop was the Dolphinarium to see the dolphin show. It didn't compare to Sea World, but it was still pretty cool and predictably cute. There were also sea lions, which are always my favorite part of a water show. After that we hung out on the beach and tanned for awhile, which drew stares from others around us. Have I mentioned that Chinese women HATE getting tan?? When they ride bikes or motorcycles, they wear long ballroom gloves to protect their arms from the sun, and if there's even a little bit of sun out, all the women walk around with their umbrellas. It's a bit obsessive, really, but kind of cute!
"Qinhuangdao, known for it's ice-free port."-tourist brochure

Yes, that dolphin is painting

Finally, some more about food. Andrew decided to be adventurous at the store today, so we scored some dried BBQ eel jerky, some blueberry flavored potato chips, a slice of durian, which smells strongly of poop but tastes pretty good, and some "passion" soap, which actually smells pretty wonderful (but is not for eating, of course).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reflections on the Chinese Education System

I have only four students: Molly, Sandi, Karen, and Penny. Two are university students, and two are high school students. Working and speaking them has led to many interesting, and disturbing, discoveries about the Chinese education system. I thought I'd share those revelations with you.

Molly went to an arts high school, which is a different experience from most Chinese students, but in some ways better. Because she was a musician, she didn't have to cut her hair like a boys, which is what my other high school students have to do. Apparently wearing your hair as you want is an expression of creativity that is necessary for art students. Of course, if the contrary is true, what does this day about those students who are forced to cut their hair? They aren't allowed to be creative?

In addition to stifling creativity, the school is heavily involved in the student's life. All students in high school are forbidden from dating. If a student is found to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, he or she will be kicked out of school. Even Molly, who is goes to a university in Beijing, has still never had a boyfriend or been on a date. And don't even ask them is they've ever been to a party or done anything fun in their lives. It's all school, school, school.

Karen has extremely short hair, not by choice, but because her school demands it. She just started high school, and this weekend she'll be moving into the dormitories across town. Her school day will begin at 6:00am and end around 9:00 or 10:oopm. These are just the hours she will spend in class, learning. She will have three hours on Sunday afternoons to visit her family, who lives only twenty minutes away, or, more likely, catch up on homework. In her dormitory, she will not be allowed to have a cell phone, computer, or MP3 player. There aren't even outlets available to charge electronic equipment. Karen is really excited because she received special permission from her school to spend Thursday and Saturday nights with me learning English from 6:00-9:00pm. This means that for two nights a week she can leave the school and spend the night at home.

Summer vacation is only about two weeks for them, sometimes only 12 days, and yet during this time Chinese students choose instead to take extra English classes at our school, which is why we've been pulling so much overtime. If you only had two weeks of vacation a year, would you spend it taking an intensive language course?

All four of my students are hoping to study at a college in the U.S. or Canada. They all claim that if they work hard enough now, they will be able to enough the relative easiness and calm of being an American college student. I hope for their sakes that they are accepted and can go, because these kids need a break!

Of course, this rigid system explains why the Chinese have a reputation for being so hard-working and intelligent, but it all kind of seems unnecessary to me. If their goal is to study in the states, it seems that they're going above and beyond the necessary to get in. After all, I went to a pretty bad high school (in terms of its ranking in the system), I had friends, boyfriends, family problems, did extracurricular activities, attended school dances, and didn't get straight A's. After all that, I still got into the best public university in the country! Surely these over-achievers can let up a little and still be accepted to a good university? Or maybe times have changed so much and it's much harder for anyone, especially foreigners, to get into college.