Once we got home, she opened more presents from her brothers and sisters. They are so sweet and spent almost all of their allowance on her birthday. Lucy was cracking us up when she was opening these presents. Nicol gave her some popsicles that were orange and mango flavored. Lucy took the orange ones and gave the mango ones back to him saying, "You can keep these. I don't like them" Annie gave her some presents too and she told her "I like this one much better than this one."
We also had American birthday cake. We bought a cake mix and some frosting at the Metro (see last blog), but had no way to cook it. So, Stacie found a recipe online for making cake in a rice steamer. It turned out incredible and it was so moist from being in the steamer. We loved it! We also found candles and a lighter, so it felt like a real American birthday. The only Chinese touch was that Lucy wanted us to sing happy birthday in Chinese (which we do know the words now). For dinner, we went to McDonalds. We always, as a tradition, let the kids choose whatever they want for dinner on their birthdays. I'm surprised they don't yell out "steak and lobster" more often. They generally want fast food or french toast or something like that. At McDonalds, we all ordered hamburgers or chicken nuggets. I really don't like McDonalds much in America, but there is something comforting about it here in China. The Chinese keep telling me, "I hate American food." Then I say, "What American food have you had?" They then proceed to tell me they've had McDonalds and KFC. I try to explain that they shouldn't judge our entire food culture on these two restaurants, but they don't listen. I guess I'll have to hit that Hasty Generalization fallacy (making generalizations from too few examples) a bit harder in my classes.
For Nicol's birthday, we went back up Yuelu Mountain. It's so close to our house and the kids absolutely love it. It's quite a trek up to the top. At full speed (i.e. without children), we can get up there in about 45 minutes. With children, it takes about an hour and a half. The kids had already been on the slide/chute that goes down the mountain, but they had been eyeballing the cable cars for some time now. So, Nicol chose to have us hike to the top of the mountain and take the cable cars down. I must admit, I would have preferred to take the cable car up and then walk down, but he was pretty motivated to do it his way. The cable car ride was super relaxing and the cable cars moved very slowly. I think it took us 30 or 40 minutes to get down the mountain on the cable car. When we reached the bottom, a man took pictures of us and offered to sell them. We gladly purchased them since it was such a good deal (10 yuan each). You have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese. Anywhere there is an opportunity to make money, you'll see someone trying to use that avenue. And, they never have a "this task is beneath me" attitude. They do whatever is necessary to take care of their families. After we got down from the mountain, I had to teach all afternoon, so I was disappointed not to be able to spend more time with Nicol on his birthday. But, we gave him presents before I left and planned to have dinner together as a family when I was finished. For his birthday, Annie gave him some underwear with an American flag on it (pictures to come later on Stacie's blog), Ezra and Jeanie gave him candy, and Lucy got him a Chinese Checkers set. Stacie and I bought him a remote controlled helicopter (which has already been crashed and destroyed by the way) and a very nice wooden Chinese Chess set. Chinese chess is much different from American Chess and the kids have really taken to it. After I taught my classes, we decided to try this new restaurant called "Wow" that we had heard about from Jay Sorensen. It's kind of like a bar and grill, but doesn't really get that whole bar feel until much later in the evening. We went and ordered the most delicious pizzas and french fries. We also ordered Nicol his own piece of cake. It was chocolate and came with red and green maraschino cherries on top. On the side was a cherry tomato carved into the shape of a bunny rabbit. We thought it was kind of weird.
During that week, we also had the chance to visit our new friends we met through church. Manolo is from Spain and his wife Jackie is from Ecuador. They have two children. Jackeline is 5 and Manolo (also called Manolito) is 3. They wanted us to come down to Xiangtan on the bus to spend the weekend with them and to celebrate little Manolo's birthday. We were a bit nervous to take the bus by ourselves out of town. We had never been to the main bus station in Changsha and weren't sure about how to purchase our tickets. But, we took a leap of faith and just did it. When we got off the city bus near the bus station in Changsha, we were a little lost and someone pointed out where we should go to find the bus station. Then, when we arrived, we didn't know where the ticket counter was. Some nice young girls who spoke English helped us purchase our tickets, walked us over to the bus, showed us where to put our luggage, and waved goodbye. It was so nice getting so much help. We often feel helpless here because we can only communicate a little. When it comes to technical things like communicating exactly which bus you want and which time, it's very hard for us. We often need help. We rode the bus for about an hour south of Changsha and arrived safe and sound at Xiangtan. Manolo was not there when we arrived like he thought he would be and asked that we wait for him in front of the Pizza Hut. So, we put our luggage down and just stood there waiting. This drew a tremendous amount of attention. Xiangtan is a bit smaller than Changsha and they had never seen us before. I think the people near our apartment in Changsha are getting used to us, but the people in Xiangtan were immediately intrigued by this big American family. I would say we had at least 30 people surrounding us on the street asking us questions. They were friendly, but our language skills only get us so far. We can tell them we are Americans, that these are indeed our 5 children, and that I teach English at Hunan Normal University. That's about it. Some of them tried to speak a little English to us, which was nice. One guy (who got a little too close to my face) said to me: "Hey, friend, are you missing?" I explained that I wasn't lost and in broken Chinese said "My friend is coming here." He seemed to understand.
When Manolo arrived, he took us back to his apartment and we were greeted warmly by Jackie and their children. It was so nice to have Lucy and Jeanie play with their children and we spent a lot of time just hanging out with them during the weekend, picking their brains about life in China, and eating Jackie's delicious cooking. Because they are members of our church, it was nice to be able to communicate openly with them about religious topics because we are not allowed to discuss our religion at all to Chinese nationals while we are in China. We kept thinking it must be hard for them to entertain all seven of us, but they were so kind and even suggested we come back every month to stay the weekend. They even said they hoped that on one of the weeks where students are given Monday off that we might stay for 3 days instead of two. They have been in China for 3 years now as Manolo is studying for his master's in Chinese philosophy. He speaks Chinese fairly fluently and has adapted to life in China pretty well. In addition to introducing us to the Metro, he taught me how to order things off of Chinese Amazon, what types of clothes should be purchased for the rough winters here, and how to purchase bus tickets. I've got this guy on speed dial, so things are looking up.
In my classes, things are going well even though they are working me like a dog. I've never taught so many students in my life, but they are sweet kids and I enjoy teaching them. They certainly don't laugh at all my jokes, but then again, American students don't either. However, Americans will give the courtesy laugh and the Chinese won't. When you bomb here with your material, you really bomb! I got sick the other day I think from sheer exhaustion and had to take one sick day. I emailed the 70 students to tell them we wouldn't have class on this day and why. I got 68 emails back saying they are so sad and they look forward to my class all week. Some gave me tips for getting healthy more quickly and others just expressed that they hope I feel better soon. From a few students, this would have seemed normal, but from nearly all of them it was a little overwhelming and humbling. I had a funny experience in class the other day. When one of my freshmen classes was over, a student came up to me, stood about 8 inches from my face, and just started to stare at me. At first, I just said "hi." She smiled and kept staring. Then I said, "Do you have a question about class?" She then said, "Your nose is so big and so beautiful. Can I touch it?" I said, "Um...ok." She then squeezed my nose, said thank you, and walked away. I told Stacie and she just laughed about it. After all, this girl wasn't telling her anything she didn't already know. I guess I do have a big nose, especially for around here. Plus, big schnozes run in my family anyway.
|At Manolo and Jackie's apartment in Xiangtan, I offered to take their trash out. Manolo told me I could try to throw the bag from their 6th floor window to the trash can down below. As a big basketball fan, I thought "What can be better than this?"|
|From the 6th floor window. Manolo is down below with my iPad trying to capture my amazing shot. Oh, that blue bucket closest to me is the trash can.|
|Yikes, I must have gone to the Shaquille O'Neal school for shooting free throws. My aim is a bit off.|
|Yet, I celebrate anyway. "A" for effort, right?|
|This path leads up to the cableway. The children hiked a long way to get to this spot.|
|Annie, Nicol, and Ezra rode in one cable car. Stacie and Jeanie in another. I got to ride with this beauty. I kept this death grip on her the entire 30 minutes down. Made me nervous.|
|It was quite green and beautiful.|
|At the Wow restaurant.|
|We got a nice care package from my colleague Jon Smith and his family. It was so thoughtful and the kids are pretty excited about it. If you have any doubts about their enthusiasm for this stuff, just check out Ezra's eyes.|
|This pizza was so good. In China, I would have expected to have hot dogs on it or something, but this was magnificent.|
|Nicol's birthday cake. We went out for ice cream too later, so he did get both. He looks so handsome in this picture. Growing up too fast.|
|Speaking of handsome...just kidding. I could go anywhere in the world as long as this girl's with me.|
|Lucy's birthday dinner at McDonalds.|
|An evil Chinese version of a friendly mouse you might be familiar with back in the United States.|
|People, motorcycles, and cars all jockeying for position in this narrow alleyway.|
|Sophia does such a good job teaching our family Chinese.|
|Here she is teaching the kids how to play Chinese chess.|
|One of those VERY rare times that the bus is practically empty.|
|This is before the crowd in Xiangtan got much bigger.|
|This is my Spanish friend Manolo on the right. We went to a small park for the birthday party. The kids had a blast.|
|More party fun. We filled some of the balloons up with little fun tasks that the kids had to perform, such as trying to break the balloon as quickly as possible using just your back side.|
|Little Manolo loves his birthday. This impressive kid is only 3 years old and speaks English, Spanish, and Chinese.|
|This is about as friendly as Lucy gets in China.|
|I have a 10 minute break in the middle of each hour and a half class and sometimes I just look out the window. I love that I can see this great view from my classroom and it's even better when the Chinese are outside dancing.|
|Is there any question why people are curious about us. I think the cuteness factor is high in this picture.|
|My friend Alexander teaching the older children how to play tennis.|
|The Chinese spend 90% of their time practicing and 10% playing. My kids were like, "What's up with all these practice swings? Let's get out there and play."|