Saturday, September 7, 2013

Stacie's First Day of Class and Important Family Decision About Food

So, today was Stacie's first day of teaching.  I'm sure she will blog about it in detail and give you her perspective.  From my perspective, she was wonderful, the children in her class were adorable, and Lucy was super demanding for me while I kept her occupied during this 2 hours of class time.  The class runs every Saturday from 9:20 a.m. to 11:20 a.m., so we had to get up about 7:30 to get everyone ready.  It was difficult because we only have one working shower (the boys shower at night and the girls in the morning).  It has something to do with hair and makeup or some other nonsense.  It works, though.  We adjusted our hours a little so that the kids would go to bed at 10 p.m. instead of their usual time of 9 for the little girls and 9:30 for the older ones.  We just had too many nice Chinese people wanting to do fun things with us in the evening and Lucy was falling asleep during these excursions.  However, our plan backfired and now the girls are staying up super late.  Those of you who are parents will recognize this pattern, but they are constantly getting up for drinks, to tell us it's too dark in their room, that it's too light in their room, that they are hungry, that the blanket is too warm, the bed is too squeaky, Nicol and Ezra are talking too much, and on and on.  I went to bed last night at just after midnight and Lucy was STILL awake.  So, when I nudged her this morning at 7:30 a.m. to get her breakfast and ready for Stacie's class, she was not pleasant.  We did manage to get there on time, but just barely.  The class is in the International Building, which is about a 15 minute walk from our house.

When we arrived at the classroom, we were told to wait a few minutes because Stacie's friend Lily was teaching another group during the hour before Stacie's class.  When we finally went in, the children were visibly very excited to see us "Meiguo Ren" (Americans).  In the back of the room were 7 mothers, presumably there to support the 7 young Chinese students I counted.  As you probably know, most parents just have one child and so the mothers are very involved in the education of their children.  I'm not implying that families with more children don't have dedicated parents, but the only child pressure (probably on the parents and on the child) is clearly evident here.  I did notice that there was only one boy (Lily's son Joey) and all the rest were girls.  Joey was clearly the class clown, which could be attributed to his mom being a teacher or him showing off for all the cute little Chinese girls in the class.  He is only 7 years old, so he probably isn't quite old enough to take notice yet, but he was certainly animated in class and really enjoyed being playful.

Lily asked Stacie to introduce herself.  Then, Annie, Nicolas and Ezra went up in front of the class and told the kids their names and their hobbies.  Jeanie and Lucy refused to participate in any way (although Jeanie said she plans to join the class next week).  Stacie began the class by showing the kids a few pictures of our family and some scenic spots in Utah that we like to visit.  We brought pictures of things that represent our family well, such as trips to Yellowstone, the movie theater, the Tiki Shack, camping, fishing, etc.  The kids were very interested in these pictures.  The mothers in the back were interested too, but they didn't want to interfere with the class much.  Instead, they stayed back about 10 or 15 feet and took pictures of their children with their new American teacher.  I told Stacie that these mothers would likely be in the back of the room when she taught, but not to be nervous because they are very supportive of the kids and the teacher and they are often there to refine their own English skills as well.  So, it's not a threatening environment at all.

After the pictures, Stacie did some phonics drills, sang a song, read a story, and some other things.  She was very natural with the children and they really enjoyed the class.  I think Stacie was nervous for the first day (as anyone who teaches knows this feeling).  There is always uncertainty regarding what the class dynamic will be like in terms of personality of the students and their starting proficiency in the subject matter.  It turns out that Stacie's first hour class could speak English well enough to at least interact with her.  The second class had slightly younger children and their English was a bit less advanced.  Stacie used the same material as in the first class, but she had to go much slower and providing instructions about what to do, such as "repeat after me" or "please read this part" were harder to communicate.  My favorite moment from the second hour class was when the kids were introducing themselves.  All of the kids in both classes had such unique and wonderful English names.  They often choose the names themselves or with the help of their parents.  So, you hear names that you might expect, such Ariel, Jerry, and Lucy.  But, we also learned some new names today, such as Music, Morning, and Happy.  Annie and I sort of chuckled (discreetly of course) when we discovered a couple of the boys were named Pearl and Betty.  To them, it did not matter if the names were fairly feminine sounding in Western culture.  They like the names and have chosen to run with them.  I actually really admire that.

One of the sadder moments from class was when this adorable little boy got stuck with a really hard phonics exercise.  Apparently, there were more people in the second class than Stacie was told there would be and so she ran out of the easier exercises.  She had to give this boy one from the first class.  He was receiving help on it, but he still felt frustrated and started to cry.  It was heartbreaking.  I just wanted to give him a hug, but his mom had it under control.  Also, they already look at me like I'm the strange foreigner.  I'm not about to start going around hugging their Chinese children.  I know I'm not creepy, but they don't.  Overall, it was a big success and I think the foundation is now set for Stacie to have a very good experience this year teaching these children.  I forgot to mention that another very positive aspect of this experience is that Annie, Nicol, and Ezra got to assist with the class.  They would all go around and help the kids sound out words or complete the written exercises.  It's a great way for them to feel like they are contributing to their own person growth, but also to the growth of these sweet little kids.  One more side note--these kids are studying English for hours on Saturday.  What are American kids doing on Saturday?  Stacie and I have talked about how we think one huge limitation of our culture is that we do very little to encourage bilingualism.  And, don't tell me having high school kids suffer through a year of Spanish in high school is encouraging the learning of a second language. I'm telling you.  We are going to get left in the dust and it won't be a surprise to me at all.

Moving on...we started a new tradition today of going out to lunch as a family each Saturday after Stacie teaches.  We decided to go to one of our two favorite restaurants.  It's the one down the narrow (and and not so slightly dirty) alleyway near the university.  We went there are on first day to get Gua Ba Rou (sweet and sour pork) and Tu Dou Shao Ji (potatoes and chicken) and the kids absolutely beg us to go there every time there is even a hint that we might go out to eat.  It's owned by Liu Jie (means Miss Leo) and her husband (I just call him Shifu or Master since I don't remember his name).  He laughs when I call him this, so he's clearly not offended that I don't know his name. The other favorite family spot is the place we went for Annie's birthday where you put skewers of whatever meats or vegetables you want on to a tray and take it to a man who grills it on the barbecue for you.  I'm fairly certain that both these restaurants are going to be frequented often by our family.

As alluded to in the title of this blog, we are starting to come to grips with a certain reality here about food.  It's incredibly difficult to cook three meals a day in this apartment and to clean up after each meal.  It's certainly much more complicated than at home and we found ourselves cooking for one hour and then cleaning for another hour.  Multiply that by 3 meals and you see the problem.  We discovered that if we can find the right restaurants, i.e. establishments that have food that isn't ALL fried and that are relatively affordable, we can eat out for about the same amount of money than we could going to the grocery store and buying our food.  However, our health is super important to us.  Stacie has always been a healthy girl, but I have struggled at times.  I'm doing really well right now resisting the foods that aren't good for me and taking in a lot of fruits and vegetables.  I don't weigh in regularly here (who knows kilograms anyway?), but I'm certain I've dropped a few pounds from the way my clothes are fitting.  I would say I'm probably only eating about 10% animal products right now.  It's progress for me even though some might not think it's such a big deal.  Anyway, we are going to eat out once a day (probably for dinner most nights).  We'll have oatmeal, bread, or fruit for breakfast, something simple for lunch (liked steamed rice or steamed vegetables, and then dinner out at an affordable restaurant.  I think that will be our pattern and will allow us more time to do fun things and to work on the things we came to China to work on.  The kids were understandably thrilled when we told them we would probably go out to eat every single day.  I personally tried to play it cool, but I can't believe it either.  I LOVE eating out.  I always have.  I think it comes from traveling with my dad when I was a kid and it was just a special thing to go to a diner or to go out as a large Jewish family and eat and talk for 3 hours while the waitresses tried to clear us out for more customers.  For Stacie, the pleasure of food lies in a good home cooked meal.  I agree that this is very nice too, but that ain't happening very often here in China with our one rice steamer, hot plate, and now a couple of small tupperware bowls.

I thought these younger kids were crackups.  The kid in the blue shirt up close is "Betty."  The one girl in the group, Lucy, was really excited after I told them my name and that I love movies.  She just went off at a million miles an hour in Chinese.  I have no idea what she said, but she was probably running off a list of all her favorite movies. 

Here Ezra is helping these kids with their assignment.  He's usually so quiet and mild mannered.  It was nice to see him asserting himself a bit and helping out.

These are the moms in the back of the room watching.

This is the kid that was really sad that he got such a hard question.  Annie is also trying to cheer him up, but it's not working very well. 

Can you tell this is a super fancy restaurant?  You never know where you will find the most delicious food.  Those things in the background that look like straw dispensers are actually chopstick dispensers.

Stacie with Liu Jie.

Liu Jie's husband is the master chef.  Check out that SUU T-shirt he is wearing!  Chance and Brenna (two SUU exchange students) gave it to him last year as a gift.

The road back to campus from the restaurant.

This guy grills every night starting at 7 p.m.  We absolutely love it and the prices are reasonable.  The kids (the older ones anyway) would eat here every single day if we would let them. 

This is how it works.  You grab one of those trays at the top of the display.  Then, you grab whatever you want and take it to the grill.  Then, wait about 20 minutes.  In the front is a wide variety of meat sticks.  Toward the center just below the corn on the cob are chicken hands.  I think I'll try that next time.  I didn't get them before because they look kind of fatty.  My personal favorite is the eggplant (top right) and Stacie loves the Man Tou (marshmallow looking things at the top left), which is a type of bread.  It's all good, though.  We even got the octopus once and it was delicious.  I guess you can barbecue anything and it will taste good.

The children are really interested in going to McDonalds.  This gives you an idea of the prices.  Twenty yuan is about $3.25, but we are not going by American money anymore.  We are paid in Chinese money and are living on Chinese prices, so this is much more expensive than the other local places. Plus, who wants to eat at McDonalds anyway.  It pretty much sucks in every country.  Anyway, the kids are saving their allowance, which right now is 40 yuan a week for the older kids and 20 yuan for the little girls.  I guess if they wanted to blow it all in one shot, they are more than welcome to. 

I walked in on this scene and just had to ask what they are doing.  They said they were trying to solve a mystery.  Someone stole a pink flower and they were identifying suspects.  I asked if they were Chinese police or American police and they answered "American."  Then, I asked if the bad guys were American or Chinese and they said "Chinese."  Hmm, they've seen too many of my movies about Chinese Opium smuggling.  Then, I asked them to make their best police face and this is what I got.

Last summer, I was able to find the Asian equivalent of my father-in-law, Mark Huish.  This time, I find the Chinese version of my sister-in-law, Summyr Stein.  I'm still on the look out for the Chinese Shannon Stoddart (by request), but that's going to be tough.  Irish-looking doesn't always translate well to Asian. 

I couldn't get a good picture out the back of our apartment, but here are those bars I was telling you about and the wall with the glass shards on top embedded in concrete. 

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