Tuesday, September 24, 2013

3 Day Tour to Zhangjiajie National Forest

Last week was a pretty busy week. I had my first day of teaching, which was exhausting. Then, we celebrated the mid-Autumn festival (which goes all week it seems) with Richard and Lily last Wednesday. They showed us how to make dumplings, which is not too complicated, but there is a process with the folding of the dough that is a bit intricate. Once you fold the dough, you boil, cool, boil, cool, boil, cool and then they are ready to eat. They were delicious and I can't wait to show off my new skills when I get back to the U.S. Richard's mother was there as well as a family friend and her 16 year old daughter. She and Annie talked quite a bit and exchanged phone numbers so that they could hang out together. The whole meal was very casual and the food was delicious. The only somewhat awkward moment was when we all sat down for dinner. Chinese families are small and so the Tangs are used to only having themselves and their son, Joey, at dinner. The table was pretty big, though, and fit our family when we crowded around it, but there was clearly not room for anybody but the Steins. So, everyone graciously watched as we ate. The others ate standing up and then moved into the open spaces when the children were finished. Richard and Lily are so easygoing that it wasn't too bad of a situation. Apart from dumplings, there was a delicious cucumber dish, a seaweed salad with cilantro, a kind of stringy tofu dish, and bamboo shoots. I should add here that I always kind of liked tofu, but I wouldn't say I loved it. Now, however, I can't get enough of the stuff. I think my brother and sister-in-law (the Hansens) would be so proud of me.

After dinner, we went home and immediately started packing for our trip to Zhangjiajie. For those who aren't familiar with this park, it is the first area of China declared as a national park by the Chinese government. The terrain is very unique with tall, thin pillars of rock and trees everywhere. James Cameron was so struck by the beauty of this place that he used it as the backdrop for the flying scene in Avatar. He simply digitally removed the bottom parts of the pillars so that it would look like they were floating. The movie probably helped boost the tourism here because there are promotional materials for Avatar all over the place in the park.

We departed our apartment for Zhangjiajie at 6:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning. We were all pretty exhausted. We took a bus across the city just to get to the location of the tour bus, boarded our bus, and then staked out a place near the back for our family. Jay and Katie Sorensen were with us and we were all glad to be together on this adventure. Our guide, since no one should really go anywhere too far from home without a native Chinese speaker, was Sophia Sun. Even though Zhangjiajie is only a 4.5 hour drive from Changsha, she had never been there before and was excited to go. After we boarded, our tour guide immediately started talking on this really loud microphone. He talked and talked and talked. I realize it's a tour and that he was probably telling the tourists some really interesting information, but to me it just sounded like the "wah wah wah" from the Peanuts cartoons for like 3 hours. I started to get a headache and wished he would stop, but he never really did. Part way through the trip, the tour guide walked down the aisle of the bus to collect money for those extra sites that tourists could pay to see. Not everything was included in the tour fee and so we had to decide what we wanted to do. We all clearly wanted to go up the Bailong Elevator, which is the tallest outdoor elevator in the world. But, there was a cruise around Baofeng Lake that many reviewers on Tripadvisor.com said was a complete waste of time and a dance performance in the evening that we knew the little ones wouldn't sit through. These latter two activities were very expensive and so we decided beforehand that we would pass on them. The travel agency told us they were optional, so we figured it would be easy to say "no" to them. However, when Sophia explained that we wouldn't be attending these activities, the tour guide became a little irritated with us. He refused to take our money for the elevator (which we did want to do) and just walked away. I asked Sophia what was going on and she said that he was going to leave and then come back in a few minutes to persuade us to do these activities. When he came back, we refused to pay for the activities again and he told Sophia that he wouldn't take us anywhere unless we paid and that everyone else was paying for them. Then, he left again. That was all we heard that day.

The next day, Sophia called the travel agency to confirm the activities were optional and they told her that what this guy was doing was illegal. He apparently was getting a kickback for all the "extras" he sold and so that's why he was mad. They apologized and told Sophia to tell us not to let it ruin our trip and that they hope we have a good time. So, we just let it go. In the end, we didn't pay for anything we didn't want to. Well, we did have to pay some extra fees for Nicolas because Sophia accidentally booked him as a child and he is over the Chinese standard for "child height." That was no big deal, though. It's funny how the Chinese don't go by age when determining price. They go by height. All of my children, except for Jeanie and Lucy, are considered adults over here based on height. It's hard being in a short culture sometimes. Stacie loves it, though. She feels a kinship with all these short people everywhere. For me, I kind of enjoy being able to look over the top of everyone whenever we are in a crowd. It makes me feel less claustrophobic.

When seeing something as beautiful as Zhangjiajie, it's hard to really describe in a blog just how beautiful it really is. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. The children were such troopers and we walked so much over the course of those three days. We were all very tired. Lucy wanted to be carried most of the time and so Stacie and I would do that in shifts. The highlights of the trip for me were the visit to Yellow Dragon Cave, the top of "Avatar" mountain, and the walk through the bottom of the valley floors and looking up at the peaks. We also saw many museums with old relics from this area of China, which is apparently one of the earliest settled locations. We even got to see a preserved house from the Qing dynasty. It was pretty impressive! I think if I asked the children what parts they liked the best, they would probably say the cable car. We took the elevator to the top of the mountain, but we took a cable car to the bottom and it was absolutely frightening. We were so high up and it just seemed dangerous hanging off of a wire for about 10 minutes as we rode to the bottom. They weren't too impressed with the elevator ride on the way up because the Chinese people all pushed their way into it and the kids couldn't see well. I picked up Nicolas and Ezra for a few seconds for them to catch a glimpse, but they still didn't see much. I think we would all agree that the pushing and shoving here are starting to get on our nerves. There is absolutely no respect for lines. Every time we would get on the bus, we were always the last ones on because people would just shove us out of the way. In the line for the Bailong elevator, people kept cutting in front of us. When we neared the front, this old lady tried to get between me and Stacie. I had my big backpack on and so I strategically turned so that my backpack would knock her out of the way. Stacie said, "I can't believe you just hit that nice old lady with your bag." We kind of laughed because we were both frustrated. We absolutely HAD to have our family together when we stood in these lines because we didn't want to be put on separate elevators. In the end, we waited in that one line for 2 hours.

One fun moment at Zhangjiajie was when we reached the area on top of the mountain that has the world's tallest natural bridge. Along that path that leads up to this bridge is a collection of locks that people had put there to symbolize their love for each other. I saw them last year and the romantic in me wanted to prepare a lock for this trip. I had one all ready to go and placed it near the natural bridge. Annie was behind us with Sophia and didn't see me put the lock where I did. When she finally caught up to us, she said, "Hey, I was walking back there and I noticed one of the locks looked a lot newer than all the others. Then, I saw it said Kevin and Stacie on it. I was so surprised"

Another part of the trip that was very fun for the children was finally having an opportunity to barter. China is very much a bartering culture, but you don't really do it in the bigger stores. It has to be done with people on the street and we haven't dealt with too many street vendors in China (that aren't food vendors). In Zhangjiajie, there are people selling stuff everywhere. I told the boys to watch me bargain. I walked up to someone and said (in Chinese of course): "How much does this cost?" They responded, "30 yuan." I said, "How about 15?" They countered with 25. Then, I offered 20, which they took. I said to the boys, "Easy, right." So, Ezra goes up to a man and asks how much something costs. The man said, "20 yuan." Ezra said, "How about 50?" The man smiled and said, "No, twenty." Ezra then paid. I asked Ezra why he was trying to pay more than the man demanded, but he just looked puzzled and then laughed and said "Oops." Nicol wanted to buy a walking stick. I saw that the price listed on the stick was 40 yuan to begin with. Nicol walked up to the man and asked how much was the stick. The man told him 80 yuan. Apparently, they jack up the prices for the foreigners, so you have to be careful. Nicol negotiated him down to 40 and was really proud of himself. He did a good job of getting the price more reasonable, but he didn't save much because 40 was the normal price. Anyway, we really enjoyed trying to get things for as cheap as possible. I was prepared to step in if they were going to rip him off really badly, but I was fine with him just paying the list price since he was having fun. Now we are home and everyone is a little sick. Katie Sorensen was deathly ill for the whole last two days of our trip and Annie started to get something on the last day. When we got home, the rest of us started to show signs of sickness. We are exhausted and a little under the weather, but are proud of ourselves for surviving a 3 days jungle tour with our five children. I hope Beijing next year is easier. We will see, I guess.
Jeanie gets asked to take her picture with people all the time and she always is so accommodating. 
We are all born in the year of the rabbit, so we thought we would pose with him. 
We don't often get full family pics because we have to ask people to take them for us. 
Ezra is practicing his crane technique.
View from the Bailong elevator.
Personally, I think this stuff kind of ruins the park.  Zhangjiajie was already cool before Avatar came out.
View from the top.
Hey, American girl!  Can I take my picture with you?
Tallest natural bridge in the world.
Annie posing in front of the natural bridge.
Finally proved my love to Stacie.  It will be difficult to come back here and remove this thing if it doesn't work out between us.
Had a fun conversation with Annie (age 14) about this ancient chastity belt.
Old tea house from the distance.  Eventually, we would go up to it and climb to the top. 
Well, when you put it that way....Can I just add that don't is already a contraction.  You can't "contract" it anymore.
The kids' favorite part was this ride down from the top of the mountain in the cable car.
It was really high and pretty terrifying.
Making friends.  Annie is so cute with all the little Chinese kids.  She just loves them!
They made us get up at the crack of dawn for breakfast.  The kids pretty much hated most of the food they served on the tour.  Stacie and I thought most of it was good, but some of it was kind of like cafeteria food...if you can imagine a cafeteria version of tofu, seaweed soup, and other things.
Our hotel room.  Annie, Nicolas and Sophia stayed in the room with three beds.  Stacie and I stayed with Ezra and the two girls.  Jay and Katie took the third room.  I was hoping for a real mattress, but we got hard beds yet again.  Just can't catch a break.
This guy really wanted to take his picture with Annie.  I think he thought she was older.  Don't worry.  I was prepared to lay him out if need be, but he was a perfect gentlemen. 
Outside our hotel room in the city of Zhangjiajie.
Kids can't resist performing on any stage they can find.
The two hour line to the Bailong elevator.
Our tour guide held up a flag and we had to follow him around everywhere. It was kind of annoying to be on a tour because we were rushed through too many places where we wanted to spend more time.  It was sort of like that scene in Vacation where they get to the Grand Canyon, stop for two seconds and then head out.
Along the valley floor, which I thought was just as beautiful as up top.
We were told that if we were lucky, we might spot a monkey.  I felt like the father of the year when I yelled at the kids to come check this out.
We also spotted this baby monkey.  The mother from the previous picture started to get nervous and proceeded to come toward us (and a crowd of Chinese who had gathered around).  We snapped a few pictures and took off because we know monkeys bite and have rabies.  As I walked away, I looked over my shoulder and saw a Chinese man trying to feed the mother.  I should have stayed and recorded in case the dumb guy lost a finger, but I didn't. 
Ezra found this slug.  It was at least 6  inches long.  Big sucker. 
Here he is trying to touch it.  Gross.
Hey, American children.  Can I take your picture?
Beautiful mountains everywhere and all they want is a picture of us.
We really should start charging for this.
Katie was super sick the last day and she just chose to ignore all the attention.  I don't blame her.
I wish I could say Stacie took this romantic picture, but it was me.  I thought it was cool they came all the way into the park to take these lovely pictures. 
Let me guess, picture time?  This lady actually wanted Lucy's picture.  Lucy doesn't like to take pictures or talk to Chinese people.  She has successfully avoided it so far and honestly we don't make her do it.  Some people just smile and walk away when we tell them she is shy.  But, this woman was a little more pushy.  On a side note, that guy in the background is wearing a hat that says, "Daddy don't play" or something like that.  I also saw a shirt that says "Bananas help with cramps."  Not sure where they are getting these clothes. 
Our friend and guide, Sophia, with Nicol and Annie.  She is a very sweet girl.
Say cheese!  Well, in China they say, "Chee eh zi," which is the word for eggplant.  Anything to make the picture taker say the "ch" sound I guess.
Nicol and Ezra were nervous about eating these fried fish whole, but they ended up being their favorite food on the trip.
Grandma Marene sent a care package with Junior Mints.  If they weren't in a Junior Mints package, we would have not known what these were since they certainly didn't look like Junior Mints when they arrived.
Doritos!  Yes!!! We also got duct tape, oven pads, baking soda, baking powder, books, stickers, jerky, and crystal light packets. Thanks, Grandma!  It will probably be the only care package we receive all year since this is clearly not a financially viable option.  But, it certainly made our day!
Yes, you read that correctly.  It cost $77 to send an 11 pound package to China and it only took 13 days to get here. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sliding Down the Mountain and First Day with the Ph.D. Students

It has been difficult to keep up with the blog because we went from doing nothing except adjusting to just being in China to actually having to work in China.  Both Stacie and I are very busy all of a sudden preparing our classes and trying to keep Lucy happy.  I believe that latter job is much harder than our teaching.  We can tell that Lucy doesn't like being in China.  She hates the attention from the Chinese people, she hates the food, and she probably hates us for bringing her here.  But, does she tell us that in a rational manner so that we can all talk it out and figure out what we can do to help her transition?  No, she's only 4.  She communicates her frustration by refusing to eat anything except rice and oatmeal and by fighting with her sister all day.  It's become a pattern that we can expect on a daily basis.  She does have some nice moments during the day, but it's usually right after we have given her whatever she wants.  Believe me, we are trying to be good parents, but the chapter in the parenting manual on helping your 4 year old adjust to life in a foreign country where everyone wants to touch your hair and take your picture doesn't seem to exist.  Side note, they even want to touch my hair and I don't have any.  You just have to get used to some extra uncomfortable touching here.  The other day, we were at our favorite restaurant and Liu Jie (one of our favorite people here and a wonderfully sweet person) started rubbing my head and then my back.  I looked over at Stacie with that deer in the headlights look, but she just said "oh, she's just being friendly."  Even so, I don't think I have permission yet to visit the "friendly" massage parlors.

The kids' Grandma Brenda asked over the phone the other day what everyone liked the most about China.  I gave them time to think about it and here are their replies:

Me: Taking the family up Yuelu Mountain for the first time
Stacie: New friends she has made here
Annie: Anything with the little Chinese kids, particularly helping Stacie in the classroom.
Nicolas: The slide at Yuelu Mountain
Ezra: He can't decide.  He likes so many things.  I would guess he loves the snacks, though.
Jeanie:Slide at Yuelu Mountain
Lucy: Slide at Yuelu Mountain

Hmm.  I guess the slide at Yuelu has been pretty popular with the kids so far.  I supposed I better describe it a little.  About two-thirds of the way up the mountain (about a 45 minute walk uphill for our family), there is a metallic chute that winds down to the base of the mountain.  It costs 35 yuan per person (they even charge for the little ones), so it can be quite expensive.  Just to give you some perspective on price, it cost me 500 yuan for one all expense paid ticket to Zhangjiajie for 3 days.  The chute cost our whole family 235 yuan.  So, we won't be doing it often, but it was a big hit.  You sit on a sled-like car and you have a brake that you need to pull just a little when you go around corners.  You could fly off the track if you don't use the brake. If you brake too much, though, the ride isn't quite as fun.  You have to strike a balance between recklessness and caution to get the most out of the experience.  I've posted a video below of Nicolas coming down the last part of the track.  They are really excited to go back up there and use their own allowance for a whole week just to ride this thing for 2 minutes.

We are starting to get a little bored with the food because we are sometimes afraid to go into new restaurants that we haven't been in before and to try to make out the items on the menu.  It's necessary that we expand the number of places that we feel comfortable frequenting, but it's easier said than done.  Many times, we have walked by a restaurant that looks promising only to just keep going and end up somewhere we have been before.  We have been to Liu Jie's restaurant every day this week for dinner.  She has an extensive menu, but it still feels like we could be stretching ourselves more.  Liu Jie is always so sweet and patient with us and the kids really like her food.  It's also cheap too.  We usually pay about 50 yuan for our whole family.  This is about $8 in American money, but we are trying to live on about 100 yuan per day on food.  Remember that we have about 1500 yuan per week for all of our expenses.  So, 50 yuan is pretty good, but not quite as outrageous as $8 sounds to people back home in the U.S.  Liu Jie photocopied her menu for us and Stacie and I have been gradually translating it over the last month.  We now understand about 3/4 of the menu and have learned so many new characters related to food.  In fact, Stacie and I went on a date to a new restaurant near our home just the other day.  We walked in, Stacie grabbed the menu and said "Oh, here are the characters for chicken and noodles.  We ordered and were very happy with what we got.  So, we are making progress. 

I had my first day of teaching on Monday.  In many ways, it was wonderful.  But, in many ways it was extremely frustrating.  The students were generally very warm and receptive.  They seemed to respond to my easy-going nature in the way that I hoped they would.  They answered my questions when I asked and were very respectful.  One of the activities I did on the first day was to have them fill out cards with their names in Chinese characters and Pinyin (the standard Romanized spelling for Chinese).  The roll sheets the university gave me are all Chinese characters and I simply can't read them.  So, they need to write their names in Pinyin (with the tone marks so I know how to pronounce them).  That way, I know the name is Luo Hui instead of just a character.  I also asked them on these cards to do a self assessment of how well they understand spoken English and how well they feel like they speak English.  Some didn't fill this part out, so I guess that answers my question (0 out of 10 on the scale). The last thing I asked them to write was anything they wanted me to know before the semester begins.  Some said things like, "I'm really looking forward to improving my English" or "I can tell this is going to be a fun class."  Others wrote, "I can't understand a word you are saying."  Sigh.  When the students would hand me their name cards, they would do it in a very traditional nonverbal style by bowing their heads slightly (Japanese do full bow, but Chinese just a slight nod) and then handing me their name cards with two hands (they do the same thing with business cards).  I discussed aspects of the syllabus and then did my own small assessment of their English.  I'm sure the structure of my class is probably different from what they are used to, but I have the freedom to do what I want and that level of autonomy is always dangerous with someone like me.  The only people I know who are probably crazier than me are my colleagues in the English department at SUU.

One aspect of the first day that really threw me off was that I had 55-60 PhD students in each of my three classes.  I was told that there would be 35 in each class.  I'm due to pick up 4 more classes of freshmen in 3 weeks and those classes are also supposed to be 35 students each.  With 7 total classes and potentially 50 kids in each class, this should get pretty interesting.  I have to be out of my mind trying to remember all of these kids' names.  But, I'm going to give it a shot.  Stacie had a great suggestion to have them all write their names on the chalkboard and then take their picture with them standing next to the name.  So, I have pictures of all my students already and am starting the process of trying to memorize the names.  One girl wrote me an email after class, though, and said that my decision to have them take their pictures made her feel like a prisoner and that I could have just as easily given them the assignment to take their own pictures and email them to me.  Ha.  I wasn't counting on my students who couldn't understand a word I was saying to get this done on their own.  I was taking matters into my own hands.  This same girl also told me that I once referred to their English names as "American" names.  Oops.  I guess my ethnocentric tendencies are starting to emerge already.  However, in my defense, some names strike me as more "English," such as Richard or George.  But, if you name yourself Steve, I feel like I have every right to call it an American name.  One kid's name was B-Z.  He said, "I like it because it sounds like I'm really "busy."  This very same girl also was upset that I said I would provide them the materials they needed and that they wouldn't need to buy a textbook.  She said that I didn't need to say that.  She said, "Teachers providing material to the students just goes without saying."  It's interesting that she used that expression.  I was thinking she could say a whole lot less to me in the future and we'll get along swimmingly.  Other things were difficult as well.  One is the fact that my classes were in a big lecture hall and many students sat in the back. Then they squinted at my powerpoint because that couldn't see it very well. There was also no air conditioning and I probably looked like that really sweaty American with the hairy arms. 

The bright spot of the day was right after the second class.  It ended at 11:40 a.m. and my next class didn't begin until 2:30 that afternoon.  A student came up to me and said: "It would be our great privilege if you would joint me and some of my friends for lunch today."  I told him I would be honored.  He smiled and I watched him walk back to his desk and then give his classmate a high five.  It was kind of an amusing moment that they were so excited that I accepted their invitation.  They took me to a restaurant and we all lined up around a big table.  There were 8 of us I think.  They pointed to a chair and suggested I sit down.  Once I sat, they all sat down around me.  The two kids that extended the invitation sat to my left and right.  I think this was a formality rather than a coincidence.  The dishes were all about 60 yuan each and they ordered about 12 dishes.  I generally eat for about 7-9 yuan per dish, so this was very nice.  We had a wonderful conversation and they were very kind people.  They offered to help me with anything I might need during the semester, particularly with questions about China or the university.  I offered to pay even though I didn't have nearly enough money in my wallet to cover it.  I knew they wouldn't let pay anyway, but I suppose it was a risk acting like a big shot when you don't have any money.

When the whole day was over, I was completely spent and my feet were throbbing.  I had spent 4 1/2 hours on my feet teaching, then I had an hour and half meeting with Martin Tang (Directing of International Office), and then spent 2 more hours at the English corner conversing with Chinese students wanting to practice their English.  For now, though, I only teach on this one day.  After October 9th, it will be long days on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, plus research and American Studies Center responsibilities.  It's starting to get very busy.

In terms of how Stacie and I are doing emotionally, we have our struggles.  I don't feel like we should just put the good moments in the blog and not describe the hard times.  We have been here almost a month and the honeymoon period is certainly over.  We both want to come home at times, but other times are so grateful to have this opportunity. Our language skills are still very poor after a month, but we are doing the best we can.  Stacie and I went to the mall the other day to try to find her a new shirt or some pants.  Shopping is always stressful because the workers try to talk to us and ask us questions about what we are looking for (makes sense, of course).  One time, Stacie was looking at a shirt and I told her "You're looking too long.  They are going to come over here and talk to you."  We had a good laugh over that.  It was like a covert mission to look at a shirt without attracting too much attention.  Most of the time, we just pass people on the street and they say things to us and we respond with simple expressions.

I did have an interesting experience the other day when Jay and Katie Sorensen came over to the apartment with their daughter Eva.  We had a nice visit and then the kids' friend Joey came over to teach them some Chinese.  Usually, Joey's mom Lily (Stacie's new friend) would come over, but she was busy and sent her in-laws with Joey. Well, these in-laws spoke zero English.  Her mother-in-law sat at our kitchen table across from Stacie and her father-in-law sat on the couch next to Jay.  Jay and I both looked at each other with an expression of "Uh oh, we are all SITTING down and will have to try to converse."  Jay started to say, "We better get going" and I basically sent him an evil glare that said, "You are gonna sit there for at least a few minutes and not leave me alone here."  So, Jay and I started to quickly use up whatever Chinese we knew.  Lily's parents were incredibly nice and we were able to communicate with them that we were happy to meet them and make basic introductions.  We always worry that we will come off as rude simply for not understanding, but a smile, a shrug, and a hello seem to go a long way.

Anyway,  it's such a roller coaster being here.  We leave for Zhangjiajie National Park tomorrow and will be gone for 3 solid days.  We will be completely off the grid, but don't worry about us.  We will update you on everything about this trip when we return. 

Stacie loves the trees and flowers in China.  She is always stopping to take a picture of plants so that she can go home and look them up on the internet.

This week is the mid-Autumn festival in China.  It's a really big deal and Lily and Amy both gave us big boxes of moon cakes to celebrate the festivities.  I think Stacie will write about the holiday in her blog, but she and the kids are reading about the holiday on the internet before we taste the cakes.

The cakes come individually boxed and the whole package is very ornate.

Here is one of the moon cakes.  Some of them were delicious and some were not very good.  It was kind of a variety pack, so it was luck of the draw.

Ready for football and basketball seasons even in China.  I may have to set my alarm and get up at 4 a.m. to watch the games.

Lucy's favorite thing so far.  It's not easy to make her happy, but this did the trick.

Her happiness was fleeting as she cried after it was over because she only got to go once and it was too short.

I haven't looked up what the characters mean yet, but it kind of scares me.  It's our neighbor's car. 

We bought this at the bakery.  It sort of tastes like a pizza, but not really. The boys liked it, but I thought it was just ok.

We found a giant book store down town.  It was at least the size of a very large Barnes and Noble here and they had many books with Chinese characters on the front, but English printed inside.

Some of the students who took me to lunch on Day 1 of class.  The dishes come out gradually, so I never really knew how many were coming.  It ended up being 12 I think. 

These guys from class invited me to play tennis at 7 a.m.  It's a little early for me, but I needed to burn off some stress.  The guy in the orange (American...er...English name is Alexander) was pretty good.  The others were not so good.

We practiced for about 50 minutes and then played for about 20.  I would rather have just played the whole time.  Americans are so competitive.

I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to take this picture since it involves the Chinese military, but this is a training exercise for the freshmen class.  I'm glad they are doing this because it means more time off for me from teaching them.

We always have the kids buy their own stuff.  They have plenty of opportunities to use the Chinese they are learning.  This guy's shirt says "Uniquely in us, nature opens her eyes and sees that she exists."  Um...ok.

Good stuff.  This is true Chinese style right here.  Not rude at all.

We laughed that this bowl was bigger than Stacie's head.  And, they don't give you a spoon.  You eat with chopsticks and then polish it off the way she is doing it here.

When we bought these, we thought they were lifesavers the way they were packaged.  They were small discs of fruit leather.  Weird.

Class number two completing the grammar and pronunciation assessment I gave them.

The view from my classroom.  Wow!

This is an older picture, but I just found it and it's one of my favorite.  We just flew into China the day before and the kids couldn't keep their eyes open during the day.  This was at about 6 p.m. the second day.  Lucy is out cold in her mom's arms and Jeanie found a good spot to doze off too.