Sunday, September 1, 2013

First Walk to Taozi Lake

We are starting to develop a bit of a routine here.  Sometimes our life seems a little complicated, though.  We certainly are not used to having to wash all of our food in boiled water before eating it, sterilizing all dishes before using them, brushing our teeth with boiled water, and having to plug in a water heater and wait 20 minutes every time we want to use hot water to bathe.  I also must admit that Stacie and I are not sleeping particularly well because we sleep on a box spring with a very thin pad covering it.  You know that stiffness you feel after a rough night of camping? We feel like that every morning.  I'm hopeful that I will eventually find someone who sells a real mattress so that we can start sleeping better.   We also have difficulty finding various household items that would normally just be a quick trip to the grocery store.  Stacie spent three days trying to find contact lens solution and I looked for several days trying to find a plunger for our toilet.  The toilet works, but it drains very slowly and I'm told the pipe is very small.  So, we need to pump it just to get water to go down.  Warning: too much information about to come so skip forward if you would like.  Going #2 in our master bedroom is absolutely out of the question due to the difficulty just getting water to go down the pipe.  We have banned the children from using the toilet in our room because we don't trust them to get into a habit of following the #1 is ok, #2 is not ok rule.  Alright, moving on to livelier topics...

Ezra has developed some kind of infection/inflammation in his throat.  He's been coughing since we got here.  Stacie's new friend, Lily, gave him some herbal lozenges to help soothe his throat, but they didn't seem to be minimizing the symptoms.  So Lily called her friend He Yisheng (Dr. He-pronounced Dr. and then the "e" sounds like the "u" in "put").  She met us at the international office with her medical equipment and looked Ezra over.  She said he needed antiobiotics, so we immediately put him on some pills that we were given by the travel clinic in Cedar City.  We have a dose of antibiotics for every kid and so Ezra is now using his up in the very first week.  Something in the physical environment here has really not jived with his system.  He's been on the pills for a day now and we hope it will continue to improve.  Personally, I think it's the "Beijing cough."  This term was coined to describe the health problems related to living in the pollution-rich environment of Beijing.  Politically, it has been a very controversial term as many Chinese diplomats believe it is a tool for foreigners to mislabel the health risks in China and to scare away potential foreign investors.  But, it is what it is.  It's clearly polluted here and it is likely affecting poor Ezra.  Stacie says that when she goes outside, her contact lenses immediately start reacting (in a bad way) to the particles in the air.  I should add that some days are better than others and I frequently check the pollution index to check and see how bad it is on a particular day (but I don't often tell Stacie this).  She has enough to worry about.

Yesterday, we finally had a chance to take a walk around Taozi (pronounced "tow" like tower and just a "dz" sound.  It was so close to our apartment and such a beautiful walk.  Sometimes the city can be a little overwhelming with all the honking horns and people with microphones trying to get us to buy things in their stores.  It's wonderful to have Taozi Lake, Yuelu Mountain, and other pretty parts of campus to go to in order to decompress.  You can see some of the pictures posted in this blog and how gorgeous this lake is.  It's hard to believe it's actually part of the Hunan Normal University campus.  We arrived on August 23rd and apparently have until the middle of September before I have to start teaching.  I was initially told that I would be teaching on September 2nd (which is tomorrow), but found out that I am teaching all Freshmen and since they have military training, I have to wait for that to conclude before I begin.  I'm not sure if we would have chosen to stay in the U.S. for an extra two weeks had we known that this would be the situation, but I'm glad that I have this time to help Stacie and the kids get settled.  To be honest, I'm getting a little nervous about the teaching simply because the Chinese provide me so little information about what I'm actually supposed to do.  I've had one person tell me that I need to use their textbook and another tell me I can use my own.  I had one person tell me I'm teaching 6 classes of 35 students and that this constitutes 12 individual class periods per week.  However, the Chinese classes are 1 1/2 hours long with a ten minute break in between.  Am I teaching for 12 separate 1 1/2 hour blocks or 12 of the 50 minutes periods? You can guess which one I'm hoping for!  Anyway, when the information is finally provided to me (likely one week AFTER I begin my classes), I will make whatever adjustments are needed.  I'm trying to be more adaptable and sort of "roll with the punches."  Those who know me well know that I am a very organized person and I don't like it when people don't provide me the information I need to do my job.  On the bright side, I will have no teaching evaluations.  If I bomb in the classroom, the only people that will know it are me, the students, and whoever is monitoring those video cameras at the back of my classroom. 

Stacie is feeling a bit more comfortable every day that we are here.  She is orienting herself to the immediate environment, knows her way around the grocery store, and even went to get her hair cut at a Chinese hair salon while the rest of us stayed home.  It was a big step for her.  She had been growing her hair out for months trying to get it to the point where she could put it in a pony tail.  And, this process was so aggravating for her since she felt her hair was in that "in-between" stage.  Well,  today she decided to chop it all off.  The rest of all are calling it the "Anne Hathaway" haircut because that's what it looks like.  We all love it and she is so happy not to have all that sweaty hair hitting against her neck. Stacie is also making so many friends here and making them more quickly than I thought she would.  They are just gravitating to her and want to help her with whatever she needs.  She has felt very warmly received by the Chinese people.  Her friend, Lily, and our personal assistant, Sophia, have been absolutely wonderful to us.  Lily asked Stacie if she would like to teach English to her son and some of his Chinese classmates.  Stacie, who has homeschooled our children for 2 years now and taught a U.S. liberty and constitution class to other kids is very comfortable in this environment and I think it would be very good for her.  I thought this opportunity might come her way eventually, but I didn't think it would be this soon.  She is ecstatic to start doing this and I'm happy that she will have something fulfilling to do while I'm busy at the university.  Then, on the weekends and during holidays, we can hit those places we want to see like Xi'an, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Ziangjiajie National Park. 

Today, we did a monthly budget for our Chinese salary.  As many of you know, the Stein master plan for the next year is to live humbly on our Chinese salary and to sock away my SUU salary (well 80% of it since this is the policy on year-long sabbaticals).  Then, we can buy a house when we get home.  We looked at our financial situation in great detail today and what our potential expenses might be.  I was told by Amy not to disclose the amount of my salary since it is likely higher than some of the other foreign faculty salaries.  Apparently, the Chinese Foreign Expert bureau felt that my credentials warranted more money than some of the others.  Not sure how that happened, but I'm certainly not complaining.  We have allotted a certain amount for food, fun, allowances for the kids, and household expenses.  Luckily, the university is paying for our apartment and our utilities so we should be fine.  We spent a ton of money this week getting little things we needed for house and are now ready to stop buying every little thing we see. 

Ezra being examined by the Yisheng (doctor).
It seemed a little inappropriate to be taking pictures of my son while he was being examined, but I really wanted to capture the experience.  It probably seemed like I was more concerned about the photo op than the health of my son.

Along the road to Taozi lake.  Just around the corner from our apartment.

My favorite place for fried rice (chou fan) and fried noodles (chou mein).  I went here a million times last summer and was excited to show Stacie and the kids.  That mop of blonde on the left is Lucy watching intently.

The counter of the fried rice place.  It's basically just a small room with a rolling door (kind of like a storage unit).  Many of the businesses are run out of these types of places. 

We couldn't possibly come to Hunan Normal University without taking a picture in front of the main entrance. 

Beautiful bridge running along Taozi Lake.

View across the whole lake. 

Someone tell me what are these awesome plants.  I still don't know. 

I guess the Stein family is good luck.  He just caught a fish right when we walked up. 

This girl just started talking to Stacie and then decided to walk with us a ways. 

Annie looking cute in front of the lotus plants. 

Jeanie just loves everything we do.  No culture shock for her. 

Another fisherman showed us these small fish, which are the size you are most likely to catch if you fished at Taozi Lake. That other guy just got lucky.

It looks like this walkway goes all the way around.  It's a perfect place to go for a walk. 

I tried to get a closeup of this because the head of this plant looks like a shower head to me. Apparently, there are seeds inside that taste a little like pine nuts and they sell them on the street here. 

The vegetation here is just amazing. 

This sign clearly says no fishing or swimming allowed. To the left, you can see yet another group of fisherman ignoring the sign. 

Dinner time.  Oh wait...the CDC (Center for Disease Control in the U.S.) recommends we don't go anywhere near live poultry due to risks of Avian flu.  A picture never hurts, though. 

Nicolas and Ezra playing with their new friend Joey. 

Lily is talking to Stacie about the new class Stacie will be teaching.  Starting in one week, she'll be teaching Chinese kids English for 200 yuan class ($32).

Every time I post something even remotely friendly about the environment, someone jumps on me for being a tree hugger.  But, I was really happy to see that the government chose to build an enclosure around this giant tree rather than chop it down because it blocks most of the sidewalk. 

On our walk, we saw these pools behind some of the HNU buildings.  We weren't quite sure what they were for, but possibly irrigation or maybe even the university water supply comes from here.  We'll try to find out.  Also, see that tower in the background.  We were just up there (see Yuelu Mountain blog post)!

Stacie's new cut.

So, the air quality index measures the--yes, you guessed it--air quality in various cities across the world.  The index below shows you where Changsha's number of 125 falls on their scale of potential health risks.  It could be worse of course.  Beijing's number (at least as of today) was 155 and Los Angeles is 135.  So, when you're thinking about our level of pollution here, think about L.A. 


  1. Stacie is going to be teaching too? That's wonderful. We miss you guys. Glad the kids are adjusting well. How's Ezra doing?

    1. He is doing much better now. He's been on antibiotics for three days (3 more to go) and he only coughs periodically now.

  2. Hunan normal university where I visited last year! Very beautiful

  3. Your joking about the lotus flower right you are in china

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