Shell in China

Friday, May 16, 2008

Earthquake aftermath...

If you want to help out, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent is accepting donations on behalf of earthquake victims. It would mean a lot to Thad and me if you could give a small donation. After having lived here for 2 years, we have been able to see how little some of these families had even before the disaster. Anything you can give will be greatly appreciated and go far.

With love, from China,


Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Hello all! This is my offical check-in blog. First of all, I want to say thank-you to everyone who has either emailed or contacted my family to check on us after the earthquake. I really appreciate all of the love and concern over the past few days. They have been rough, but it was nice to know that people at home were aware of what was happening and able to get information. So, thank you and know tha t we are safe, if somewhat shaken.

With that said, let me tell you about the last few days here. Thad and I live just north of the Sichuan border and as earthquakes don't stop for politically drawn lines on the map, we have been impacted. The earthquake hit at 2:30 on Monday afternoon. Thad was with his friends (4 high school classmates were in town visiting) on a nearby mountain and they watched the landslides come down in a circle around our town. (We live in a bit of a bowl.) They were safe and he will have to tell you his experience, as it is quite different from my own. As for me, I was on the fourth floor of our apartment building, talking with two other foreign teachers. We were sitting at a table when Rachel said she was moving. We initially thought it was a big construction truck driving by, as they can make things rattle a bit. After a second we realized this was much bigger and made a run for it. (Chinese buildings do not have earthquake safety built in and the concrete structure was not a good place to be.) We headed out the door at a sprint, yelling down the hallway to get others going. The hallway was just shaking, but it was the stairwell that was the scariest. Cement chunks were dropping around us as we ran. I felt like I was in one of those carnival funhouses where the stairs go back and forth and you giggle as you try to climb them. But, there was no giggling. Just terror. Once we made it out of the building, the ground continued to move. I don't know how long it is officially being reported as having lasted, but I am estimating close to an etenity.

Once the ground stopped moving, we hauled all of the students to the football field for a head-count and then we stayed there for the afternoon and night. We all slept under a beautiful, cloudless sky, but it was COLD! Throughout the night there were strong afterschocks.

On Tuesday we were up early as the school continued to deal with the situtation. STudents were not allowed to go home. We have been given conflicting stories about how safe the buildings are. Provincial leaders came down yesterday and said all foreigers must leave town. We have been evacuated to Tianshui, a town about three hours north. That is where I am now. We are waiting for permission to go home, although we do not know if we will be able to live in our building again. Our building has very large cracks in it and even if they deem it safe, I have to honestly say it will be difficult to sleep there the first night back. Although we are safe, I can't say strongly enough how frightening it was at the time.

All of my students are safe as well. There were a few stampeding type injuries, but nothing too serious. Today we have been told the military dropped supplies from helicopters. I wish we were allowed to be there to help, but we were told in no uncertain terms that we would be taken out. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we will go back tomorrow.

SO that is the short story. I will try to keep you updated. We are safe though.

With love,


Monday, May 05, 2008

New Niece!!!

Welcome Keira Sage Ferro!
Monday May 5, 2008.
8lbs. 14.5 oz.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

76 days..

Well, it has been another crazy/frustrating/busy week here in China.

The craziness is due to the fact that it is spring, but the weather doesn’t want to go there yet. As a matter of fact, our friends in Lanzhou (the capital of Gansu) got snow at the beginning of the week! Mid to late April is just too far into spring to be having snow if you ask me. We didn’t’ get snow, but it rained and was super chilly here for the first half of the week. Then, suddenly, today it is sunny and warm, which is perfect timing since we did two loads of laundry yesterday and hung them up to dry. Now I can be sure I will have clean AND dry clothes to pack tomorrow.

The frustrating part of the week is due to a phone call we got on Friday night at about 10PM. You see, our 3rd year students are getting ready to go practice-teach (student teach) in two weeks. When we asked about the timing of their final exams, we were told that they would be AFTER the students got back from their four weeks of teaching. I had already decided to give my oral final exams the same week as my midterms for the second-year students, so I had a plan taken care of for them. Not having exams until a month in the future though meant that Thad didn’t have an exam ready. There was no reason to. But, on Friday night when we got the drop-in visitor from the English department and then phone call a few minutes later, he suddenly had to have an exam ready to go by Sunday night. He thought he had at least another week of regular class, so this came as more than a bit of surprise. So, between working on the slide show that he was putting together for the upcoming COS conference and making an exam for culture class, frustrations ran a bit high. But both are done now…

And of course, it has been busy. Since I am doing my finals and midterms the same week, it means that I have eight classes worth of oral exams to give. The problem is that class is scheduled in a two-hour block, one time a week, but to get through an entire class of exams, it takes twice that amount of time. That means that I am doing exams during all of my teaching times, but then also each evening to finish up the extras. For example, this morning I had exams from 8-10 and then I will have more tonight from 6-10. I am not exactly looking forward to four hours of tests tonight.

The exam for my class is double-pronged. First, the students have to create a television advertisement for the Book Nook. The ad must be at least three minutes long and should encourage students to make use of the room. Then, they must also bring with them a magazine advertisement that they have created in conjunction with their TV ad. I have had some pretty creative ads so far. One group of boys donned fedoras and danced into the room with these little signs they had made. (The fact that two out of the three of them had their signs upside down just made me laugh even harder!) I’ve had lots of songs they have written, as well as some pretty creative setups. A group of girls did a little skit about how the Earth is invaded by aliens who know all about our way of life because they had been secretly studying English and western culture in the Book Nook! Very cute.

The best part of the week, though, is going to be the weekend. Tomorrow night Thad and I are headed to Chengdu, where Peace Corps China is based. It seems crazy, but it is already time for our COS (close-of-service) conference. This is a required meeting for PCVs who are headed home soon. I am assuming it will be a lot of paperwork and job-related things, which in and of itself isn’t so cool, but getting together one last time and hanging out will be tons of fun. (For people not leaving on the same date as us, this could be the last time we see each other.) I know both Thad and I have big plans for the weekend and the conference. His entails playing poker and winning some yuan; mine entails spending that cash in fun ways! Of course, there will be lots of western food consumed throughout the weekend as well.

Finally, not to be overshadowed by COS conference, four of Thad’s senior school classmates are in China as I type! They arrived just a few hours ago in Beijing and will meet us on Monday in Chengdu, at which point we will pick up our tour-guide duties.

This week has been a roller coaster at times, but knowing that we get to get out of town for a few days has made the work a little easier to plow on through.

76 days…not that I am counting…

Monday, April 14, 2008

Riddle Me This...

Q: How many people does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Three. One to put grocery bags on his feet, set a desk on a bed and climb atop it to reach the fixture (worker), one to stay on the solid floor and hold the wobbling desk to ensure the relative safety of the first (Thad) and one to stand back, gigging and taking pictures (me).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Winning Essays

1st Place Winning Essay

A “Friend” of Mine

By Becky, Class 4, Grade 2

Without friendship, the tree of life will die as time goes by. The soil of heart will become a wilderness. And friends come in all shapes and size.

I was a lovely girl when I was a senior school student, many many friends surrounded me. We always chatting, singing, climbing, playing basketball or doing other things, together. School life seemed joyful, although many books and a pile of papers played the main part. I think I was really happy at that time. Before I came to this college, I always dreamed of my college life, it should be more wonderful than in senior school, I thought. However, I was wrong, almost everything is not the one I expected. I tried my best to make friends, but I failed. My foreign teacher told me I should learn to adapt and if I had done this I would find it’s a good way in our life. I remembered how I can’t change the world, but I can change myself to be happy in life. Maybe I was a little mad, I then spoke English to everything I met at any time, flowers, trees, grasses, rivers, stones, birds and so on. Anyhow, life still full of boring. To my surprise, my foreign teacher introduced a friend to us. I visited him in the hope of making friend with him. I was a little disappointed when I first saw him. He had a common appearance and his body is not big enough. Just because of lonely, I visited him from time to time. Unexpectedly, day after day, I found myself couldn’t go without him, he is so learned.

Up to now, I don’t know which country he comes from, maybe America, but I’m not sure. Because the only language he knows is English. He owes many tapes, CDs, magazines and a great many books, which gives me various knowledge and only written in English. I can borrow whatever books I like from him, he never says “No” or “Stop.” Also I can read any book I want at his home. So far, I have been reading many books, it refers to animals, fashion, western foods, cartoons, fights, history, politics, music, sports, famous persons, diary, detectives, fairy tales and other kinds of stories. My favorite book is about detectives and stories. Of course, during my reading, as new words I met, my vocabulary enlarged, the information store in my memory is enriched. Every time I met the sentences and the short paragraphs which I thought is useful or beautiful, I would write them down, memorized it and used it in my study. Personally speaking, the important information I learned is not just these books themselves, but the feelings and thoughts they give me. Some stories in the books or some plots in some books sometimes really touched and moved me inside. It taught me the knowledge which is out of books and it made me think a lot.

Many books have vivid pictures. It helps us to understand the story easily. Sometimes it also gives my imagination wings to fly freely. Every time I saw the delicious food’s pictures, I had a strong desire to taste them. They looked so different from China’s foods. And fashionable clothes and shoes caught my eyes so much, either.

Staying with the learned friend, I know the past history and the present news. I know the life of animals and the life of human beings. I remembered my childhood and dreamed my future. Staying with him, my reading speed rised.

My friend has a lot of Chinese friends and five foreign friends. Almost every day, he wait with a smile and welcome everyone visited him. All of his friend will speak only English in his home. Chatting with others is my favorite thing to do there. I like speak my mind out in English and share it with people. My oral English can be improved in this way. By the way, I made a new Chinese friend in his house. When I felt boring, I could just sit on sofa, eating some candies or fruits and listening to others talk. I find is helpful to my listening.

Sometimes I visit him just for fun. I will enjoy pictures on the wall and play letter game, or I will just look at the small plant there silently. In winter, I will visit him for warm. His home is like my home, I can enjoy myself freely.

Everybody like beauty, my friend, too. On every holiday, he will dress up by his foreign friends and some Chinese ones. He will be more beautiful. Sometimes, there will be some games at his home, his foreign friends always help him to organize it. I’m very glad to take part in it, not for presents, just for fun. They can make my college life colorful.

Foreign friends visit him to help our Chinese whatever problems we meet. They are so friendly and so patiently. They let us hear the real English speaking by foreigners. And let us know more about their culture, I think.

So, do you want to know the kind and helpful person’s name and to make friend with him. Every body call him Book Nook. Busiest man find the most time, go and visit him. Don’t say you have no time, I’m sure you’ll like him with your whole heart. Friendship is forever, I like him and I won’t let him alone. Although he can’t speak, he teaches me a lot and he is more than a friend for me.


1st Place Winning Essay

Enjoy Life in the Book Nook

By Jenny, Grade 3, Class 3

I was very excited when Mrs. Stenback said that Michelle and she had a dream, to build an English library for us. I like reading very much. Before the English material I could get was 21st century newspaper and it has little about exotic lifestyle. So I was longed for the opening of the Book Nook. Then I worked there as a librarian. Not only do I improve my English learning skills, but also it offers me an opportunity to make new friends.

One day I was on duty. A freshman came to borrow a book. She asked me to recommend some books for her. I gave her a not very difficult book. I thought the most important is to improve her confidence. Then she asked me for advice to pass CET-4. I encouraged her to read a lot. It is a good way to remember words by reading. This is also what I learned from reading. We talked in English for an hour. To my surprise, I could speak English correctly and fluently without many errors. She even admired me for my oral English. From then on, I became more confident in my oral English and always talk with others. Practice makes perfect. It’s truth.

In the Book Nook, I always spend much time on magazines, especially Country Living, my favorite magazine. I like the decorations of houses and the beautiful gardens. It always makes me feel comfortable, relaxed and cozy. At the sight of the beautiful pictures, I can’t resist the impulse to travel around the world to enjoy delicious western food, to share the mystery of culture. Every country has great things. There is no exception to the U.S. In America, there are many picturesque places. When you are sitting on the sofa with a Country Living book, you will soon be engrossed in the atmosphere. Sometimes wandering beside a blue sea to appreciate the splendid sunset, sometimes riding on a horse and galloping on a prairie. After a while, you are lying on the green soft lawn under a maple tree, listening to the singing of birds, or sitting beside a river, listening to the trickling of water. And then in a outdoor kitchen, cooking delicious pizza. You will find how nice the life is.

When I am traveling around the world in the Book Nook, I also can improve my reading skills. First of all, I can adjust my reading speed according to different materials. Reading magazines can also help my fast reading. I needn’t pay much attention to the details. Reading is a conversation with the author. So just scan for the main idea. Besides, I can’t recognize every word, so guessing is a good way. There are many illustrates can help me to guess its meaning. Thirdly, many magazines are about our daily life. It is a good chance to remember a lot of words that often used. For example, words of cooking, decorating, skin caring and so on.

Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man. The Book Nook is an exotic place in our campus. It has so many resources for English learning. It is the best choice. Enjoy it together.

Hiking and Books

Hiking and books. One of these falls in the “likes” category and the other lands firmly in the “dislikes” category, but both were major parts of this last week for me.

Last weekend Niffy, Ben and Kristen came down to visit. Friday was a traditional national holiday (Tomb Sweeping Day- similar to our Memorial Day) so they had the day off work and decided to make a long weekend of it with us. (Because our school is in the middle of inspection this term, Thad and I did not get the day off, but it was fine because we were done teaching before everyone arrived.) The weather had been beautiful and everyone was itching to get outside and do something outdoorsy, so after pondering our options, we decided to hike JiFeng Shan (Chicken Mountain.)

JiFeng is a local tourist attraction that sits just outside of town. There is a road that goes up and one can pay to see the temples, or, one can do as the students do. By climbing the mountain (about 2200 meters from bottom to top) we avoid the entry fee, but also get to “enjoy” a not-so-relaxing hike. To its credit, the hike is beautiful and worth the effort, but it is rough, especially on non-hikers like myself.

Thad and I climbed the mountain once before, our first term here, but we wanted our friends to have the experience, so up we headed again. (We have two more sets of visitors coming before we COS in July, both of whom have expressed interest in seeing the mountain. I may leave these extra trips to Thad!) We left here, with a group of my second-year students, at just after 8AM. The mountainside was beautiful, but I swear the students ran up that dang mountain! Now, my idea of strenuous activity is having to carry multiple shopping bags around the mall with me for hours as I sort through the latest fashion, so this was not my cup of tea, but I was also unwilling to be left behind on such a beautiful day, so I joined the group for the day. While the students and Ben and Kristen made quick time of the mountain, I lagged behind. Thad is a fast hiker too, but he and Niffy hung out at the tail of the group with me on the way up. We (meaning me really) took lots of breaks and pictures on our way up, finally reaching the top about four hours after starting.

At the top of the mountain are several temples and an amazing view of the valley in which we live. We met up with an 86 year old man who lives at the temple and after taking some pictures with him, he blessed us with a fortunate future. About fifteen minutes later as we were enjoying some noodles from a woman who also lives there, Thad got an eyeful of lajiao (red pepper) sauce. I guess “fortunate future” is further-looking than the next half an hour! Luckily Niffy had eye-drops in her bag (what a Girl Scout!) which saved the day!!

After wandering around at the top, the students headed off to look at another area where I guess there used to be monkeys, but knowing that there was nothing really there, the five of us foreigners headed back down to town and school. We got home and were all exhausted, but we had a wonderful day. Although I hate hiking, I love the reward of the view from the top and then the feeling of exhaustion but accomplishment at the end of the day.

It wasn’t all a week of braving “dislike” though. After everyone headed back to their sites after a weekend of playing, it was time to get ready for our Book Nook Awards Night. Rachel and I put together an essay contest this term in the Book Nook to try to encourage more students to come and use the room. (It is already popular, but like many teachers, we are always trying to get more students involved in school activities.) The topic of the contest was “How was the Book Nook helped you improve your English?” After choosing winners (we actually had a tie for first-place), Rachel and I put together a special evening for them.

Our goal for the evening was not only to recognize the students who entered the contest, but also to invite the English department teachers (many of whom have never gone to the room themselves) and school leaders so that others are aware of what the students are doing in their free time. Thanks to the urging of our dean, we had many teachers come. The school leader turnout was much less spectacular, but I can’t say that I am surprised by that.

For the event, Rachel and I made certificates and bought cute notebooks and pencils for all of the students who participated. (We had 23 entries.) We also had cash prizes for the winning papers. Also, Rachel went and had some photographs printed at a local shop and we made a collage to hang on the wall. We went to town on Tuesday and got a frame (which is a whole different story involving braving a swarm of bees) and that evening we spent two hours putting it together. When we were done we were both so proud of how it looked until Rachel turned to me and said, “Michelle, it is upside down!!” She was right! As we worked on it (and talked a little too much I guess!) we didn’t notice that it was not the right way. Luckily, Tomas was able to find a tool and take the hooks off the frame and put them on the other way. Oooops! We are creative, but not always logical I guess.

Anyway, last night was the awards ceremony and I think it was a success. We had 730 books, as well as many magazines to show the teachers when they came. The students enjoyed their prizes and I think everyone left feeling like the Book Nook was a good addition to our school. (Several of the teachers also left with a book in-hand! They wanted to borrow books as well, so we just make a check-out paper for staff as well. I am glad to see they like the room!)

Climbing and books. They are not two things that normally go together in my world. One I avoid whenever possible while the other is a daily part of my life, but this week they came together to make a busy and tiring, but rewarding and satisfying week.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Here a Blurb, There a Blurb...

This week has been full of random events and information, so this post is going to be a series of update blurbs and a few pictures to go along with them.


Last Wednesday we attended our first Chinese wedding. (Why it has taken so long I have no idea. There was a wedding soon after we came to Chengxian, but it was on a holiday week and we were out of town, but otherwise, no other weddings.) The wedding was much more fun than the baby luncheon we attended the week before. At the wedding, the bride wore a traditional Western white wedding dress to greet the guests outside the restaurant and then there was a very short ceremony that involved three kowtows and a few words and then they were hitched! The bride then skittered off to change into a red dress for the rest of the reception. The wedding was mainly a giant meal. Thad was in heaven with plate after plate of fish, mutton, ribs, etc. coming out of the backroom. He definitely ate his fill that day!

We took money as a gift, which is what my students told me would be expected. There was a man sitting at the door and he would write down your name and how much you gave. It seems awkward by our American sensibilities in which money isn’t openly discussed, so we felt strange going about it that way, but it is the standard here and along with it we went.

Last Wednesday was beautiful and sunny outside- the perfect day for wedding. The bride was radiant and as happy as I have ever seen her. Best wishes to the new couple! (Now the expectation will be for her to be pregnant by their first anniversary. I guess Thad and I failed miserably in that regard!)

Student Numbers

This is just a short note, but one that I learned today and thought was interesting. My students all have student numbers. I realized that there was significance to them in that by looking at it I could tell you which year and of which class they were a member. What I learned today was that the last two numbers tell me their class ranking on the gaokao (Chinese SAT.) If a class has the final numbers of 42-88, the student with the 42 had the best score while the 88 had the lowest. Wow! So they all know just where they fall. Interesting…

Inspection Week

This week is a mini-inspection, which leads up to the big school inspection in May. To prepare, the school has done a lot of grounds work, including planting flowers and trees and campus now looks great! The students have been given various regulations to follow this week including wearing their school pins (Thad and I now also have these and are wearing them), their dorms have to be spotless in case of inspection, if an adult enters their classroom they have to stand and clap, they have longer morning exercises, etc. Everything is a bit tense around here. I was in the office today on the break and the inspector-dudes (official title!) were in there going over paperwork. The teachers all sat at the table and didn’t say a word. It was strange. Usually they are all running around laughing and joking, but today it was so solemn. I felt odd just sitting there like a mouse! Also, the students told me they had to be prepared to answer questions about our school if the inspectors asked them. Naturally, I wanted to know what kind of questions and they said things like how many students go to school here. Again, I couldn’t help but ask the answer to that one and in unison I received this reply, “3903!! When I was done laughing I told them that was a very exact number and that in America we would probably just say “About 4000.”

I can’t imagine what it is going to be like when the big-wigs come next month!!!

Book Nook

The Book Nook is going strong. Rachel and I (ie: The Book Nook) sponsored an essay contest which just ended yesterday. We will read the papers today and choose winners and we are hoping to have a small ceremony for the participants and teachers next week. Also, Rachel received eleven new books in the mail today from a young woman in her hometown. Rachel has never met the woman, but there was an article published in the local paper and this lady decided to send some books our way! Thank you!! We are at 715 books in the library right now, but I am keeping the hope of 1000 alive! Melissa and her team of teachers/students at Caldwell’s Syringa Middle School have purchased 88 more (yeah! and thank you!) that will hopefully be in the mail in the next few weeks. That will put our total at about 800.

(Warning: Here comes the plea!) So, if you have any young adult books sitting around your house that you no longer want, please throw them in a padded envelope and ship them my way! I have less than 100 days left in China (I haven’t done the math, but a fellow PCV said that April 1 was the start of the 100 countdown) and really want to hit the goal of 1000. But, shipping takes several weeks, so really I am down to less than that. Check your shelves for me and skip on down to your local post office! (When you go to drop off those taxes, throw a couple of books in the mail. It will make you feel good after giving away your hard-earned cash!)

(And of course, a big thank you to Uncle Owen and family, student-Brian and family, Melissa and team, author Jenine, and everyone else who has shipped a few this way already!)

Broken Nose?

This morning, I could hear the students still out at morning exercises when I got up. It seemed late for that, so I wandered over to the window to look, but somehow (Thad???) the glass door got closed and in my half-awake state I didn’t notice. The result? I nearly knocked myself out at 7AM! I hit the door so hard I have no idea how I didn’t break my nose or end up with black eyes. Thank goodness there is no visible damage, but my head and my nose and my teeth have been achy ever since. Sadly though, this isn’t the first glass door that has ever taken me down... dumb doors anyway!

Coming Home?

And finally, it is looking pretty official that we will be home on July 11th. We got an email from Peace Corps today listing leave-dates for everyone. I guess "trunkiness" will soon set in, eh Matt? See you soon!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Egg Hunt- Not the Kind You are Thinking!

Easter weekend was filled with fun and food for us, even if there was no early Sunday morning visit from the Easter Bunny. (Luckily, the Easter Bunny planned ahead and our “basket” arrived last Monday, filled with jelly beans, Cadbury Eggs, beef jerky and more!)

But, I am getting ahead of myself.

On Saturday of Easter weekend we invited several of my second-year students over to dye eggs. (Many of Thad’s students are out of town this week taking exams to continue their education. Basically, they are trying to get into bigger and better schools so that they can earn a bachelor’s degree instead of just a teaching certificate.) Erin, Hannah, Ronia and Rose all came over to enjoy their first-ever egg-coloring experience. (Again, the Easter Bunny’s box that arrived last week made this possible as it included the necessary PAAS dye kit and cute little cups for the coloring to go inside.)

First though, to color eggs, it is best to start with white eggs. (It’s hard to make brown blue, just ask the 80’s group Roxette- “What in the world can make a brown-eyed girl turn blue?”) The problem here is that where we live, we rarely see white eggs. I don’t care either way, so I have never really thought about it, but it became an issue on Friday. I needed a good two dozen white, or at least light, eggs and all there was to be found was dark brown. (Why are all of our eggs white in America???) Thad and I started by going to the small veggie market that is close to campus where they had eggs in abundance, but all of the wrong hue. Then it was into town to the Wuzhou and round-about grocery stores, again with no luck. Our last resort was the big market in town. As we headed up the street to get there we came upon what can only be described as an Easter miracle. (Okay, that may be pushing it a bit, but hey, it was almost Easter and eggs are what I was in need of!) On the corner we see not one, not two, but at least five different women selling eggs from baskets (that looked curiously like Easter egg baskets to me!) and most of their eggs were VERY light in color! What more could I ask?!? (This was a whole new kind of "Easter egg hunt!")

After quickly scurrying over to the woman who looked like she had the most light eggs, I told her that I needed twenty-four of them. She looked at me like I was crazy, but little did she know it was going to get crazier. I not only needed two dozen, but then I proceeded to pick through her wares to find the lightest of the group. She held the bag while I sorted. I knew what I was doing but I am pretty sure she had no clue and I didn’t figure it would make much of a difference if I told her I was going to make them funny colors. Once I had my eggs securely in plastic bags, (secure maybe isn’t the right word as more than one egg has met its demise coming home crammed next to other eggs in a little plastic baggy) I then wanted to buy an egg carton from her. She had these cardboard egg carriers stacked near her basket, so I asked Thad to grab one and I asked her how much it was to buy. Again I got the crazy look! She rushed over to the other women selling and after a minute of pointing and talking she came back and said three mao. That is roughly four cents in USD. Haha! Four cents! I don’t think I have ever bought anything for four cents. I spent the ride home bragging about my great bargain to Thad. Hey, I may never again have the opportunity to purchase something for a mere four cents!

Thad and I got ready early by making all 14 colors (did we have 14 as kids?!?!), boiling water for the clingy things and moving the coffee table to make enough room for everyone to dye.

The girls showed up at 1PM and the coloring commenced! At first they just looked at us like we were weird, but after we each started dunking eggs, the girls really got into the action. They were doing multi-colored eggs, using the wax crayon, adding stickers, etc. I think they had a great time. Erin planned to take one egg that came out neon pink to her mom and try to convince her it came from a funny looking chicken she saw in town! I can’t wait to hear how that story goes over.

When the eggs were dyed and in the (4-cent!) egg carton the girls were ready to head home. Now, Thad and I have NO use for two dozen funnily colored eggs, so we made the girls take the eggs with them. As they walked out the door with their eggs they were laughing about how odd people were going to think they were! Thad and I watched out the window as they made their way from campus to the dorms, getting stopped ever few steps for someone new to admire their egg artwork.

Dying eggs with the girls was a great way to celebrate the weekend. It was no cute springy new dress and purse or ham dinner with the family, but it was fun to share a bit of our holiday culture with the students. We can tell them constantly about things in America, but to actually let them play along was a lot of fun! (Which means a big shout-out goes to the Easter Bunny on your side of the ocean!!!)

I hope you all had a “Hoppy” Easter!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Puh-ar" vs. "Pear"

Last weekend (okay, I guess it has been two weekends ago now…my lazy blog writing is getting worse as the semester wears on…) was International Women’s Day. As far as I know, this isn’t really recognized in the US, but it s celebrated in China. In the days leading up to it, students asked me what I was going to do (“Nothing,” was my reply) and asked Thad what he was going to do for me (again, a reply of “Nothing.”).

The official holiday was on a Saturday and on Wednesday Rachel and I were invited to a dinner hosted by the college. We were told it was for all the women professors on campus, but before they told us about it, we overheard them discussing in Chinese about whether or not they should invite the foreign women. I think they sometimes forget we have been here for two years and understand enough of the language to have a clue what is going on around us. I guess it was lucky for them they decided to fill us in officially since we now knew it was going on!

Anyway, the point of the story take place at dinner. We all went to hotpot for the evening and took up the entire restaurant. Most departments had their own table(s). Rachel and I sat with the English department women, one of whom brought her niece with her. This teacher lives here in Chengxian, her husband lives in a different city and their baby lives with the husband’s parents. While here though, she has had her niece living with her so that she can attend kindergarten. The little girl came with her and so after eating I started asking the girl about English.

Students begin to learn English very early in China, so I asked the girl, who is five years old, what words she knew. (I asked in Chinese, as she would only know random English words and my Chinese is about the level for a kindergartener! Hehe! We were totally on the same level.) She started listing fruits, “Apple, banana…” and then she got to “puh-ar.” I was lost for a second until I realized she meant “pear.” I giggled and then had the following conversation with her:

“We say ‘pear.’”

“No, it is ‘puh-ar.”

“No, say ‘pear.’”

“My teacher says it is ‘puh-ar.’”

“I’ve spoken English for many years and it is “pear.’”

“My teacher says it is ‘puh-ar’ and she is right!”

“Nope, ‘pear.’”

“I will ask my teacher tomorrow and she will say you are wrong!”

At this point I gave up. I think for most five-year olds, their teacher is the epitome of knowledge. At that age, teachers know better than parents, scholars and even God himself. Don’t question a kindergarten teacher! (Right Candace and Cori?)

I don’t know if she ever asked her teacher or not or what answer she got. I saw her across campus a few more times after that, but then I found out yesterday that she went back to live with different relatives in a different town. I am bummed that I will never know how the conversation with her teacher went! I do know that I had a really hard time keeping a straight face as I had this argument with the little girl and that it provided entertainment for all of the other English department teachers at our table who were following it closely.

I guess my nearly thirty years of English doesn’t count for much against a kindergarten teacher…

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Oh The Places You'll Go"

From my niece:

I dressed up like that because it was Cat in Hat week.
I dressed like a China girl. It was the day to dress like a place you have been to or a place you want to go. Dr. Suess wrote a book called “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. I wore my blouse that my aunt gave me. It had flowers all over it and it was pink. My hair was in a Japanese style called “odenga”. It means rice buns. Keegan, my brother, wanted to wear his China shirt too.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Who Am I?

This last week in class I was doing an activity called “Who Am I?” I put students into small groups (3-4 students) and they had to think of a person that everyone would know. I told them it could be a classmate, teacher, historical figure, famous singer or actor, etc. Once they had chosen their person, as a group they had to come up with ten sentences to describe him or her. The whole idea was that I would then read the sentences to the class and we would all try to guess who the person was. With that in mind, I would like to share some of the sentences so that you can see what I learned about various people.


*She has beautiful fingers.
*Her oral English is especially good.
*She wears pink clothes.


*He often wears jeans.
*He always carries a big school bag.
* His girlfriend is tall and beautiful. (WHAT?!?!?)
*He is boyish.

Various Chinese teachers:

*Her hair is curly like instant noodles.
*He is like a kindly panda.
*He walks like a turtle. (Another group said the same teacher walks like a penguin.)
*He is very lonely. No women like him.

Various students:

*She is a little fat, but beautiful.
*He has lovely lips. All of the girls want to kiss him.
*His is like Mr. White. (When asked about this, it took a bit of prying, but I discovered they meant a knight in shining armor. They didn’t know how to describe this idea in English and went with white because he is always pictured on a white horse!)

I did this activity with each class throughout the week and it turned out to be a hit even if I ended up with information that I didn’t really need to have!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Last Term: Ready, Set, Go!

Week one of our final term is just about done. How crazy is that? Although time is flying by, it is also nice to kind of have a clue what it is I am doing around the department. (The teaching wasn’t ever an issue since Thad and I both taught before coming to China, but department workings were, as still are at times, a mystery.)

Our first week back has been a busy one. This term I have eight classes. Two that are new ones (third-year students that up until this point Thad has taught) and all six of my second-year classes. In class, after talking about what it means to be “rusty” at something, we spent the time cleaning the rust off of our English brains. It took some doing, but it was fun to be back with the students again.

I told the students all about our trip to Cambodia and Indonesia. They especially liked the stories of Monkey Forest, the giant bat I held and Thad’s Hamburgerler incident (see his blog for more on that one!)

This week in class we did a fun dialog activity where the students were to imagine that a pig (last year’s animal) and a mouse (this year’s animal) met. They had to come up with what that conversation was like. While many students had fairly tame conversations, I was surprised in one class when the student playing the “mouse” got very angry with the “pig” about the winter weather in China. She was upset that the pig had ruined the Spring Festival that ushered in her year for so many people! It was actually a really good extension on the activity, but it was also amusing to watch. I made the student who was the "mouse" wear the mouse-ears we picked up to celebrate the New Year in Guangzhou. They were a hit, of course!

One thing we did to clean the rust and get English flowing again could not have happened without the Caldwell Rotary Club. Many of the members generously donated subscriptions to various magazines to go in our Book Nook. It took some work to get them here, but they have finally started to arrive at the college. Over the break I had 20+ magazines arrive! We now get everything from ESPN Magazine to Seventeen to Ranger Rick. I brought them to class and introduced the different magazines and then gave students time to look through them and chat about them. After class on Friday I will take them to the Book Nook, which will reopen on Monday.

Speaking of the Book Nook, I have been working on trying to get more books for it. Currently we are at just over 700, but my goal is 1000 before we leave China in July. To that end, I spent time looking for organizations that donate books overseas. While I found many, the majority of them donate the books, but require me to cover the shipping. I was disappointed to not be able to find any other places that were willing to send books for free. With that said, if you have a few young adult books lying around your house that you no longer want, please contact me and I will give you shipping information! It is pretty easy to just throw a few books in a padded envelope and ship them over. I am grateful to everyone who has already done this!

Overall, it has been a great week. It is nice to be back at work and busy again. I am meeting with the president of the Oral English association this afternoon to try and establish a functioning English Corner for this term, we are ready to roll on weekly films starting this Saturday, we are taking students out to hotpot before the film and I had a group of girls over last night to visit and watch Hitch. On top of that the Book Nook is organized and ready to open on Monday and starting on Tuesday Thad and I will have our office hours in the evening. It’s a lot to do, but I am enjoying having a schedule and work to do!

As we start this last term, we are excited not only about the activities we have planned with students, but also that many friends from home are coming to visit. In May, Josh, Jeremy and Justin will come to visit, meeting us in Chengdu and traveling for a week before coming back here to hang out for a few more. Then, in June, once the school year is finished in Idaho, Shannon will come for three weeks and we will try to get as much of China seen as possible on the weekends.

So, enjoy the coming of spring and we will see everyone in just a few short months!

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Alright, this was sent to me by a former (and fabulous) student, Nicole, so I thought I would join in the fun.

TAG! You're it. Here's how you play: once you've been tagged you have to write a blog with 10 weird, random facts, habits or goals about yourself. At the end, choose 10 people to be tagged.

Fact 1- Things in costumes freak me out. One time I went to a Trekkie bar in Las Vegas (don’t ask why, it wasn’t my first choice of activities!) and I was totally weirded out by the people in costumes. I swear one of them was following Shannon (Miss L) and I around! Totally creepy!!!

Fact 2- At work I am the most organized and clean person there is, but at home I let my true colors shine. When we first bought our house, I didn’t know where we kept our vacuum cleaner for a good 2 years!

Fact 3- I hate tardiness. I hate to be late. I hate when other people are late. I show up to everything WAY too early, just to be sure I am not late. It’s an issue…

Fact 4- In the 6th grade I got a detention (my one and only!) for throwing my show across the room during music class. The thing is, I didn’t throw it. Jake did! And to this day, no one believes me! I didn’t do it!!! I got the detention on a Friday and was freaked out about it all weekend because I had to have my parents sign the slip and I didn’t want to tell them. I didn’t show them the slip until Sunday night.

Fact 5- The first concert I ever went to was New Kids on the Block. Enough said.

Fact 6- I love office supplies! I find new pens and notebooks and markers and organizing cubbies irresistible!! It is one of the best things about the start of the new school year- new supplies!!!!

Fact 7- Someday I want to have a house with a library with one of those tall ladders that roll around the built in bookshelves. I REALLY want a library with a ladder-thingy!

Fact 8- Out of all the Disney princesses, Sleeping Beauty is my favorite for her story, but Cinderella has the best outfits.

Fact 9- My klutziness seems to show more when I am living in other countries. When I lived in the Dominican Republic I nearly broke my ankle and couldn’t walk on it forever. In China, I swear I fall down more than I ever do in America. This past summer, in Xi’An, I tripped over a barrier between the sidewalk and the road and totally face planted in the middle of the road! The worst part was not my scraped and bleeding ankle, but my leftover pizza that went flying! Hello! Pizza is a major commodity here!

Fact 10- I’ve always wanted, but never had, a car with a sunroof. Maybe after China


Because Mom doesn't have a blog, she did her 10-things in an email, but I thought it would be fun to share with everyone who knows her! So here are Mom's:

#1. I attended a Kenny Rogers and the First Edition pillow concert for $1!!!!!

#2. I love to go to lumber stores and sniff the boards- pine and cedar. MMMMMMMMMM.

#3. I love buttons- of all sizes and shapes. I used to collect them and just sort them and look at them. Hmmm I think I might start that collection up again.

#4. When I was in high school, a friend Jeanne and I went to Boise with her parents and we went to the capital building and went to the governors office and went in and introduced ourselves to the Gov. and sat down in his office and had a chat with him!!!!

#5. I love children's picture books!

#6. I really dislike - hate - being in the spotlight or up front and speaking to people! I would rather just blend in.

#7. I love pumpkins, sunflowers, and fall leaves. (on the trees or on the ground!)

#8. When I was 15 and 16 I use to drive myself from Council (2 1/2 hours) to Boise to the dentist. Something I would never let my kids do today!!!! Or when they were growing up!

#9. I am computer disabled and technologically disabled!

#10. I would someday like to write a book, probably a children's book. I actually have a manuscript of one I wrote 38 years ago in my file cabinet. About a tumbleweed that is really a troll.

Okay- TAG you are it!!!!!

Kristina's 10 Things...

#1. I can wiggle my ears...

#2. I LOVE school supplies - a new, empty notebook gives me a rush! I always wanted to go school supply shopping way more than I wanted to go school clothes shopping (though I do love getting new clothes!)

#3. Sometimes I like animals (mostly dogs) over people...

#4. Even though I have flown before, I am terrified of flying, so my trip to Paris this month will hopefully get me over that.

#5. I would love to get a tattoo, but I probably won't ever...

#6. I love to write poetry. I have a notebook of poems I have written, if you ever want to see it (though most of them are pretty dark and depressing because I am most creative when I'm depressed...)

#7. I love kids!

#8. I only ever got one detention in school, and that was when I pulled down a kid's pants at school (in the 3rd grade) because he had a crush on me and wouldn't leave me alone. I cried my way out of it and only had to write him a letter of apology. The funny thing is, we are friends to this day!

#9. I accidentally "hot-boxed" once....I was at my brother's band practice, and one of the band members pulled out a bong and started passing it around. The room we were in was tiny, and the smoke filled it up fast. I was only in there about 10 minutes once they pulled the weed out, but not only was I really nervous and scared about being around drugs, I got a horrid headache from the smell, so I left. Ack!

#10. I like to talk to people about mental illness - it seems like too many people are ashamed or embarrassed about it, and I used to be. But I realize that there is nothing shameful or embarrassing about it, so I try to be open and answer any questions people have. People need to talk about it more rather than keep it inside.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Winter updates...Section I- IST

So, I’ve been staring at the computer screen all afternoon, daunted by four weeks of adventure to catch up on. I promised Mom there would be an update when she got up in the morning, so I’ve got to get to it. I think the best way to tackle this is in sections. So here is the breakdown:

Section I- IST in Chengdu

Section II- Cambodia

Section III- Bali

Section IV- Guangzhou

Are you excited yet?

Section I- IST

January rolled around and it was time for IST again. This is our second, and final, IST. It was held in Chengdu at the Kehuayuan, which is the same hotel we stayed at when we first came to the country, so it was fun to relive that experience a bit. J

Getting out of Chengxian proved to be more difficult than we had anticipated. We do not usually get a lot of snow, but this year we had several days of snow at night and melting in the daytime, which led to a nice packed bed of ice on the roads. Most of the buses out of town stopped running, and because the mountain passes from here to Tianshui (where we get the train) were in pretty bad shape, we decided it would be wise to hire a car to take us. After getting told no by several drivers, we finally got one to say he would go, but then he called the morning of to say he would only go for double the price! Ack! At this point Thad called our waiban, who after some wrangling got the schools driver to take us in, which was fabulous! It took a long time to get there, but it was luxury to ride there in a nice comfy car!

Thad and I went down to Chengdu a few days early: him to go play poker in Nanchong and me to eat some Pete’s and Pizza Hut with Kristen. I was surprised in Chengdu by waking up to snow the first morning we were there! It is the first snow they’ve had in 15 years and I was by no means prepared for it! Since we were headed to Cambodia and Indonesia after IST, my cold-weather clothing choices were quite limited. Kristen and I stayed at a hostel not far from PCHQ, where we spent our days reading and drinking hot chocolate at Pete’s. Not a bad way to spend a few days.

IST itself went off without a hitch. I think it wasn’t as good as last year’s, but a lot of that is due to the fact that with only six months to go, people weren’t really into sessions on how to teach since they’ve got it all figured out by now. Most of us were there for the socializing anyway, so it was good! One night we had a talent show and PC bought pizza, so that was great. Thad made a slideshow for it of everyone’s pictures from the last year, which is posted on his blog. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out! It is awesome and was a hit at the talent show.

Oh yeah, I did one other thing during IST- see pictures for details. (Yes Mom, it’s real and yes, it hurt!)


Section II- Cambodia

After a few days of snow (the first in 15 years) and a lot of meals at Pete’s, IST was over and time had come to travel! This year the it

inerary included about a week in Siem Reap, Cambodia, almost a week in Bali, Inodesia and then back to the mainland, Guangzhou for the New Year itself.

We left Chengdu in a light snow, with layers of clothes on to keep warm. We had a layover in Shenzhen (not long enough to go anywhere) and then another (all night!) in Kuala Lumpur. It was a great feeling to get off the plane in KL to a blast of warm air and the knowledge that the long underwear would be shoved into the bottom of my backpack for a few weeks. We had the night to kill in the KL airport but we thought there was a VIP lounge we could stay in for a small
price. It was late when we got there though and after looking around we couldn’t find anything along those lines, so we circled the wagons (or dropped the bags at it may be) and settled in for some sleep on the floor. I think Thad is the only one who got much sleep since he was exhausted after staying up late for one last night of poker in Chengdu. I read and watched people for most of the night.

Our flight was at 7AM, which put us into Siem Reap a little after 8AM. Once we were settled at the Gol

den Banana (our guest house) we opted for some food and then a nap! We were beat! Our driver told us that we could get our tickets into the Angkor Wat complex for the next day that evening and essentially get to see the sunset over the temples for free. Figuring that was the best plan, we took a xiuxi and then headed out to get a three day pass for the complexes.

The first evening we climbed a short trail to the top of a hill where we were able to explore and the

n watch the sunset over the valley below. It was amazing! (The pictures with the blue shirt are from that night.)

The next morning (brown shirt pictures) we got up at 4AM so that we could watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat itself. We got there is the pitch black and wandered into the temple until we found a good place to see it. It was cloudy that morning, so while brilliant colors were not to be seen, it was still beautiful. Thad got some great shots of the sky turning from dark to gray to blue. While Erin and I were sitting and watching (Thad and John had wandered off with the cameras) we suddenly heard commotion in the trees behind us. It was if they had come alive with the sunrise. When we turned to look they were filled with monkeys! I guess the sunrise is their wakeup call. They were fun to watch from a distance (unlike our experience at Monkey Forest, of

which you will read


We spent that whole day visiting different temples in the area. My favorite was Bayon, which has huge faces carved into tall columns. Everywhere you go, they are watching you. This part of the complex was thought to have been built in the 12th century and the four faces on each of the tower are images of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and that they signify the omnipresence of the king. It was amazing to see and my favorite of the day. (Yes, I am doing the robot in front of the temple..I have no idea why...)

The next day was filled with more temples and sites (gray tank top pictures). On the second full day my favorite temple had to be Ta Prohm. This one is famous because it is where part of Tomb Raider was filmed, but I loved it because it was beautiful to see the giant trees that have overtaken the stone walls of the complex. We went to this one in the afternoon and were exhausted, but I enjoyed the huge trees and beautiful stone walls. Of course, we had our picture taken with the tree from Tomb Raider while we were there. I also really enjoyed the elephant carvings at one of the other smaller areas where we stopped. The sun was glaring down by the middle of the afternoon, but the elephant created a nice shady spot to sit and take in the views.

On our last day of our three day pass (black shirt pictures) we went to see a complex that is a bit away from the others. Called Banteay Srei, it is known for being a different color (more pink than gray) than the other sites and has carvings that have withstood the test of time in intricate detail. This area is much smaller than some of the others we visited, but as we sat and looked at it from the edge of a pond that surrounds the site, I couldn’t imagine the number of hours it would take to create something so detailed and precise.

Later that same day we went out to a floating village on Tonle Sap Lake. The land in the area is so expensive that many people can’t afford it so they live on their boats. There is even a boat for the school (in the picture you can see the enclosed area for PE classes) and a church on a boat. I think we all felt a bit torn about visiting there because we were tourists in their poverty, but on the other hand our tourist dollars help them. I am glad I saw it, but feel guilty about it at the same time.

The last full day we were in Siem Reap we ran into some other Volunteers (2 of the other married couples) who were also there on vacation, so we all made plans to go to a Cambodian dinner and dance show. The show was fun, but a bit like what I would expect on a cruise ship. We had a nice evening hanging out with the others though.

As I have been typing this I have had my picture file open, trying to figure out which ones to post. I feel like there is so much to talk about and share, but my fingers aren’t typing well. (We got home to an apartment that hasn’t had heat it two weeks and it is just a little above freezing in here! The space heater is all of six inches away from me!) I will put up a bunch with this and then some of you are just in for the longest slide show ever when I get home in July!

Stay tuned for Section III- Bali!

Section III- Bali

Bali didn’t start off well for me. On our way from Cambodia to Indonesia we had another layover in Kuala Lumpur. (That is where I am being the luggage guard while everyone else is on potty break!) We had a few hours to kill, so we got some McDonald’s and played cards on the floor of the airport. A few hours later, on the plane, something started feeling not so good in my belly. I’ve had food poisoning before (thank you Argentina) and knew what was coming. Needless to say, I had a miserable flight, but kept everything in until we landed, at which point I made a mad dash for the airport bathroom and was sicker than a dog! Not pleasant! My first night and day in Bali were spent either hugging the toilet or curled up in the fetal position in bed. Not paradise at all…

By the middle of the first full day I ventured out to the hotel pool, which was beautiful. Everyone else had been down to the beach and shopping, but they came back to keep me company as I healed.

Bali was pretty low-key for us. We spent the time relaxing (our hotel had a HUGE tub!), swimming and hanging out. One day we went jet-skiing, snorkeling, banana-boat riding and on a visit to Turtle Island. That was my favorite day of the trip. The snorkeling wasn’t all that great. My terrible swimming skills freak me out in the ocean and I end up hyperventilating in the mask. I am a champion floater, which is all that is really needed, but knowing that I can’t touch the bottom if necessary totally freaks me out and then I am a mess. So, after a few minutes of miserable snorkeling, I went back and hung out at the boat while the others enjoyed the fish. I didn’t mind though…sitting in the sun like a lizard is always fine by me!

Turtle Island, now that was cool!! We got there and were instantly handed a baby sea turtle. They are super cute, but man are their little flippers strong. If you don’t hold them just right they beat you with the flippers, which in my case just made me laugh hysterically and almost drop the little guy. After playing with lots of sea turtle of all sizes, we were then handed a giant fruit bat to hold. They are surprisingly soft and fuzzy! Then it was on to different birds and a snake scarf rounded out the trip for me. It was so much fun to play with all the little critters.

Our second critter experience was less fun. We went to Monkey Forest, which recalling the run-in with a monkey last year, I should have passed on, but it sounded too good to not go. Monkey Forest surrounds a temple, and the monkeys are protected. (It should have been me that was protected.) We bought bananas at the door, but the monkeys knew we had them and swarmed. I handed the entire bundle over to Thad because I didn’t want to encourage the creatures to get near me. One climbed his back to get a banana. While cute from a distance, I was terrified of them up close. I spent the entire time spinning in circles trying to figure out where they were all at. There was one super cute little baby though. It was small enough that it still clung to its mom, but every once in a while it would venture a few feet away until it realized the mom was not nearby, at which point it would scramble back to her protection. The little guy reminded me of a kitten when they are learning to pounce and attack, but are so terribly uncoordinated! Super cute! I wanted to take that one home.

Overall Bali was good, but I liked Cambodia better. Bali was nice and relaxing, but there wasn’t much to see as far as cultural sites go. I did find a KrispyKreme and have more than my share of donuts for a few days though! And of course, it had to happen somewhere, I got my requisite sunburn…


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

People often ask Thad and me about how Chinese culture is different from American culture. It’s a hard question to answer because I want to just say, “Everything!”

Sometimes our students will say to us, “Tell us about American culture.” We never know where to start with such a broad topic. The problem lies in that culture includes so many different things: manners, religion, habits, family, rites, eating habits, etc.

After being in China for a year and a half, I have come to greatly respect a lot of things about the culture here while I don’t like others. Their view of families is a wonderful example of both sides of the coin. Families here are super important and elders are respected and treated well. Children take care of their parents as they age; grandparents babysit grandchildren while the parents work; it is common to see three generations of women together in the market. This closeness is wonderful and to be admired. But, such closeness also brings about a heavy burden for the younger generation. I have students who study English because their parents have told them to, even though they are really passionate about art or music. Because their parents said English would be the best major, that is what they go to school to learn. Students who want to travel and see more of the world are pulled back to their small villages by ties to family members. So, while the respect of the elderly and closeness of family can be a good thing, it is hard to watch students let their parents make all of their important life decisions and dictate what they will do with their lives. There has to be a middle ground.

This entry is not about families, even though it veered that way. Getting back to the idea of culture and how I love so much that is here, there is one thing that really drives me batty and it has to do with eating habits.

Those who know me well know that I have a few “food issues.” I’ve always been a picky eater and my “issues” include such things as not eating condiments (other than Miracle Whip), not eating meat with a bone, not eating tater-tots because they look like trashcans and the list goes on and on.

When we accepted the invitation to China (or even began to apply to Peace Corps) I realized that I would have to learn to be more flexible with my eating habits. I was willing to try, but I will always be me! I figured as long as I was in control of the food on my plate, I could survive. Yes, I might have to sample some strange things, but I could sample and be done.

It was a nice idea…

There is where eating habits and culture come into play. In China, it is common that when you go out to dinner with a group of friends or co-workers, that whoever is sitting next to you will add food to your bowl. It is polite to make sure the person next to you has enough food and to serve them more when things are running low. Well, for most people, that probably works out well, but for issue-laden folk like me, not good!!!

Tonight we went to hotpot with the entire English department. It was a combined end-of-term party and going away party for one of the teachers. I smartly sat myself between two people who I knew would not put food in my bowl. (Planning ahead, or so I though!) Not long into the meal, the man sitting two people away from me decided it was time to make sure the foreigner bowl never emptied, so he proceeded to fill my bowl with all sorts of things from the pot in the middle of the table. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! At first I tried to wave him off and say no, but that didn’t work, so I resigned myself to a bowl full of food I wouldn’t eat and spending the rest of the evening pretending like I was enjoying it, while simultaneously hiding it! Haha! I didn’t want to offend him, so this was my best course of action. That was the end of my actual eating for the evening, but it was still nice to sit and chat with everyone.

Thad was at the neighboring table and when he looked over I mouthed that my bowl was being filled with undesirable food. (Okay, maybe I used a word a bit harsher than “undesirable,” but you get the idea! My mom reads this after all...) Knowing that this is the thing that probably drives me the most nuts in China, he giggled and went back to his meal. Thanks!

So that was the end of another term. Three are done, one to go during our Peace Corps service. We will leave here on Friday to head to Chengdu for our winter training (which I helped plan) and then it is off for a vacation for a few weeks. We will go to Cambodia, Indonesia and then southern China and be back here by the middle of February.

Stay tuned for travel updates in a month!!

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Introducing my newest shopping buddy.
Look for her in stores mid-May!

ZHUHE Ferro family!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas #2- Check!

Another Christmas has come and gone. I am still having a hard time believing that we will be home for the next one. This second round of holidays did seem to be a little easier than the first. I think last year during Christmas the idea of not only being away from home for the festivities, but also of doing it all again made things seem awfully daunting. This year, knowing that next year we’d be eating turkey for Thanksgiving, putting up a regular Christmas tree and spending time with friends and family next year made the time a little less lonely. (That isn’t to say that we didn’t still miss family a ton, but it wasn’t as rough as the first go-round!)

My Christmas eve afternoon was spent doing some last minute shopping for Thad. At home I never wait until the last minute, but when there isn’t much of a selection, there is no hurry to get it done! I got him a volleyball and some hand-weights, which combined are not an easy thing to haul home! I think my cab driver thought I was insane and some students saw me hauling it onto campus and came running and carried them to my front door. (Because I was in town, I also picked up some groceries, so I had bags of stuff to haul up my stairs!) Students are always wonderful about helping and yesterday it was needed!!

On Christmas Eve I went caroling with Sarah and a herd of students. We did this last year and it was a hit, so we headed out again on Monday night. We all bundled up in our winter coats and lit our candles and sang at the dormitories and teacher housing areas. I was a little worried through the night because the kids huddled super close together as they sang with their lit candles- I wondered at times if my hair was in danger of going up in flames! Luckily I made it home with no singed ends!

Christmas day found us up way too early in the morning for no good reason. We had chocolate cake for breakfast and then called home to open gifts with my family. Since we are looking at the downhill run of our service in China, instead of clothes and that type of gift (things that I would use for a few months but don’t want to haul home in the summer) we asked for fun food items. That means I now have a stack of healthy snacks: Poptarts, beef jerky, Jello pudding, Fruit by the Foot, etc. You know, all the main food groups!

After making a round of calls to the rest of the family on both sides, the plan for the rest of the day was to relax, not answer our phone and have a quiet day just to ourselves. We were then going to go to dinner with the other two foreign teachers in town. Of course, things like that never go as planned! At about 5PM the secretary of the foreign affairs office showed up at our door telling us there would be a dinner and we should meet the leaders at the school gate at 5:30. As much as we wanted an evening to ourselves, it is really hard to turn down the leaders, so we got ready and headed out to meet them. Dinner was a little chaotic. ALL of the school officials and bigwigs were there, so it is good that we went even though it wasn’t our first choice of activities. There was round after round of toasts made, the leaders drinking pretty potent “baijiu” and the foreigners sticking to tea! After several hours we were finally able to excuse ourselves and head home. It was a nice gesture to take us out for the holidays, but it is also a bit of a cultural misunderstanding. They take us out because we are so far from home on such an important family day, which is exactly why we don’t want to go out. It is the thought that counts though…

As the holiday season wraps up we are looking ahead to a busy month. Final exams for speaking classes started today, which will be followed by regular final exams. Then it is off the Chengdu for IST 2 and then, the part we are all looking forward to, a couple of weeks in Cambodia and Indonesia!

Shengdan kuaile!

!Feliz Navidad! and

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shengdan kauile!

Christmas is coming;

The goose is getting fat…

Yup, even on the other side of the world, we try to make life in December as Christmas-y as possible. This entails the “borrowing” of a Christmas tree, ornaments sent from home and Christmas parties for both the English department and the Book Nook librarians.

Friday night was the department party. Rachel and Tomas (Amity) hosted it in their new apartment. (They have moved into the apartment right above ours and the one to the left also. It is a confusing arrangement…) They had a “borrowed” tree decorated, lights up and lots of candles, which made everything feel warm and snuggly for the holiday. On the table was an array of food from the West, including Swedish rolls, Christmas cookies, ranch dip and chips and salsa. (The chips and salsa were from Thad and I; the rest they put together.)

This party has been planned and advertised for several weeks in the English department office and after asking around, there were no conflicts. (It is not uncommon for there to be Friday night department meetings and work assignments.) Everyone we talked to said that they were coming, so we expected a full house.

Friday morning, while we were hanging out in the department office between classes, we heard that there was a Party (as in Communist Party) meeting that had been scheduled for Friday night! Arg!! But, not everyone is a member and it was a bit late to reschedule, so we decided to go ahead with the Christmas party anyway.

As it turns out, not only did some people (mostly the men in the department) have to attend the Party meeting, but many of the teachers also had night lessons. The thing is, when we asked, EVERYONE said they were coming. This goes back to the idea of “saving face.” It is better to say you are coming, even if you aren’t, so that the person hosting the party doesn’t feel bad and you don’t let them down. The ones who couldn’t come then sent word with a colleague that they were not able to make it. Hmmm…it is frustrating from our standpoint because if you can’t come, that is fine, just tell the truth about it. We’ll chalk this one up to cultural differences! J

It wasn’t bad though. Sure, a lot of people from the department were not able to come, but the ones who did come had a great time. We had a buffet with all the goodies and just sat around and chatted. Rachel had three door prizes ready, but the idea of a door prize is a foreign and I think we didn’t explain it well enough. (I explained once as they put their names into the bag, but I guess I didn’t mention that only SOME people get these small gifts. She also left out this crucial bit of information when explaining.) So when it came time to draw names, she chose one teacher to pick a name and gave a gift to that person. Then, the person who won chose the next name. It was supposed to happen three times, but before anyone realized what was going on, all the names had been picked! But, there were only three prizes! Luckily, she had a stash of small scented candles from home that she handed out to the other “winners!” Again, a learning experience! J

The conversations for the night ranged from our Chinese names’ meanings (everyone knows the meaning of their name here) to our English names’ meanings (maybe a bit more elusive.) When Thad said that his name meant “courage,” Greta, a teacher known for her random questions, wanted to know, even if he was courageous, what animal was he afraid of! It was such an out of the blue question. I think he went with “tiger.” Good choice!

We also talked about families, as several of the female teachers have small children (under the age of two) that live with their in-laws in other towns. This is fairly common- for in-laws and parents to take care of children while the parents go to other towns to work. Needless to say, they are looking forward to the end of the term when they can be with their families again. When I said that Melissa (my older sister) was pregnant with her third child, they loved the idea of having as many children as they want. (China has a one-child policy, but it has different loop holes in it, so some people can have more than one child, but it is still not unlimited.) Of course, that led to all of us being grilled on how many we would have and why we don’t already have them! (Thad and I have been married over nine years and Rachel and Tomas eight, so there is curiosity about the topic.)

Finally, at the end of the night we had a gift exchange. Each person brought a small gift, wrapped, which was placed under the tree. (Gifts were to be under 10 kuai- a little over $1.) Everyone got to choose a different gift and open it for all to see. (It is common that when you are given a gift here, you don’t open it until you go home. We thought since it was a Western party, we would do things our way!) Thad got a giant bag of oranges and I got a wall clock with Snoopy on it.

Overall I think the evening was a success. I wish that more people from the department could have attended, but everyone has other things going on all of the time. It was fun to chat with our colleagues outside of the smoky English office and to learn more about them and their families!

Only a week until our second Christmas in China- it is odd to think that we’ll be home for the next one because the last one doesn’t seem so far in the past…

Shengdan kauile!!! (Merry Christmas from China!!!)

Friday, December 07, 2007

To: Mrs. Ferro's students

Dear Book Nook Librarians,

We are from
Syringa Middle School and we would love to send a lot of books to you guys. We like to read a lot of books.

Well, what we want to know is how is life in China? We are glad to send every one this email, we hope you guys will enjoy the books we are going to send you after our Christmas break.

Katie and Larissa

Dear Katie and Larissa,

I gave your letter to some of my Book Nook librarians, asking each to talk about a different part of life in China. Here are the responses I have received so far, along with pictures of the librarians. Enjoy! (I will send you more as I get them.)

-Mrs. Ross

**In China, when the children become 18 or 19 years old, even get married, they still stay with their parents. S o it is convenient to look after the elders. In the past, a family can have many children, but now it is required that one family can only have one child. In addition, the parents make so much money that their children can have a good life. They don’t enjoy it themselves. So this is a big disadvantage. Without parents, many children can’t live by themselves, so it is necessary to improve the Chinese people’s ability in independence.

-Chai Rui (Holly) and Wang XiaoLi (Nicole)

**Chinese students, when they are in middle school (from the age of 12-15) receive compulsory education for free, expect paying a little money for their books. Most of them are too young to live an independent life; they depend on their parents. Such things as washing clothes, washing dishes, cleaning and almost everything else, their parents help them out. Especially now, as for every parents, their children are precious. Parents provide the best conditions for them, fashionable clothes and all kinds of food.

However, many parents pay more attention to their children’s study. They spend a lot of time and let the children take part in all kinds of training. There is a saying that the earlier the kids study, the better they will do. So parents make use of the right time and nope the kids gain a lot of knowledge. The training lessons, including English, math, music, art and so on are added outside of school. Many girls like English and music and art. Most of the time girls are the best students in class because they are diligent and intelligent. Sometimes, though, they lack freedom and independence; they can’t do anything except study and obey their parents’ demands and seldom have a social life.

Middle school students’ private lives are more interesting. If a girl has a crush on a boy, she never betrays her feelings until the boy writes a few letters to her and offers her an invite to go out to dinner. When both of them know that, they will begin their “love.” (Not real love, just like.) But at the same time, they must be careful in case their parents know that, because a parents opinion, making male friends not only affects girls’ study, but also damages their reputation at this time of life. They think it is too early. So some of them even think girls will become bad if they do this.

In spite of all of that, they are still innocent, simple and sincere. They like imagining a happy life, freedom, romance and a beautiful future!

-Ma QianLan (Doris)

Blog of a Peace Corps China volunteer serving as a TEFL teacher in Cheng Xian, Gansu, China.

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Name: Michelle Ross
Location: Chengxian, Gansu, China

In America, I teach 8th grade English and reading and really enjoy spending time with middle school students. Some people think I am crazy for it, but Marsing has a great group of kids and I love being a part of their lives as they grow up! Right now I live in China and teach English and teaching methods to students who want to be teachers. I am here through Peace Corps, which I think is a fabulous experience and something that more people should look into doing! The application process can be a bit of a pain, but it is well worth the time and effort. Check out Peace Corps and give something back to the world that has given you so much!! Teaching runs in the family, as just about everyone is involved in education in one way or another. My dad is retired, but he was a teacher, counselor and principal for 30+ years, my mom is an elementary counselor, my sister and husband are both teachers and my brother will finish his teaching degree this next spring! "Those who can, do; those who can do magic, teach!"


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