Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chinese Spring Festival and Stacie's Birthday

It has been a great month here in China.  I posted a blog right after Christmas providing an update on everything that happened during the holiday season.  I should say American holiday season because nobody cares about Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas here in China.  Since that time, we've been right smack in the middle of Chinese holiday season.  The Spring Festival (known in the U.S. as Chinese New Year) went for an entire month and was pretty interesting.  The first thing we noticed was that everyone left.  Well...not everyone, but we noticed many fewer people on the sidewalks near our house, which was wonderful.  We didn't have to elbow our way through crowds of people to get where we wanted to go, so we went for many leisurely walks along the streets of Changsha near Hunan Normal University (which was especially empty with all the students gone).  Unfortunately, all the business owners left too, so practically nothing was open.  The big supermarkets were open most of the time, so we did not starve, but we did have to cook all our meals.  Because school was out and I was incredibly burned out from a busy fall semester, we tried to take advantage of the down time and rested quite a bit.  But, we also had the opportunity to do some fun things during the break.

One memorable activity was attending the Changsha city fireworks.  I have written about the fireworks before since they light them off from Orange Island (which divides the city) every Saturday during the warm months.  We have enjoyed this before since we live right by the river and can walk to the fireworks in less than 5 minutes.  But, this time was absolutely spectacular.  The city really put on quite a show for the Chinese New Year.  Wow were we impressed!  It's so interesting how the Chinese can design fireworks that look so much different from the ones we are used to in the U.S. They often explode into various shapes and designs and we find ourselves sort of mesmerized while we watch to see what might come next.  The ones in the U.S. sometimes look the same and I get bored after a while.  We also finally had a chance to buy some of the Chinese lanterns from a vendor on the street.  He sold them for 5 yuan each.  I bought one for everyone in the family.  The lanterns have some kind of wax square that you mount to the bottom of the lantern.  Then, you have to work pretty hard to get the wax to ignite (holding the lighter to it for a minute or two).  Once it's lit, you have to wait for the lantern to fill with hot air before gently pushing it skyward.  A couple of times, I didn't wait long enough for the air to fill the lantern and I pushed it up only to have to descend into a row of bushes and nearly ignite them.  A really kind Chinese man helped me rescue the bushes from burning by continually jumping into the them and grabbing the lantern.  He kept saying "bu dui" (not correct) and smiled.  The children really enjoyed watching the glowing lanterns get higher and higher and smaller and smaller.  I think it helped that they had seen these lanterns in Disney movies like Mulan and Tangled. Although we very much enjoyed the fireworks, we generally did not appreciate the constant barrage of firecrackers that were being lit off almost every day and during all hours of the night.  Seriously, people were lighting off firecrackers right outside our apartment all night long.  Plus, it's not just the sound of the firecrackers going off, it's also the car alarms that are triggered from the firecrackers.  It was really hard to sleep for many of days in early February.  But, we admired the enthusiasm that the Chinese exhibited during the New Year (the year of the horse apparently). 

We also had a chance to go to Orange Island for a picnic.  The children have always wanted to walk across the bridge to Orange Island since we pretty much see it every day across the river and have taken the bus over the river many times.  Even though it was during the colder months of the year, it was still quite beautiful.  We packed some sandwiches, laid out a blanket, and played some badminton with the children.  We also walked around parts of the island to see the fireworks square (where they light all the fireworks off), some ponds with big orange fish in them, and beautiful trees with flowers.  The only bad part of the trip was that we are always celebrities when we take the whole family out.  We don't get as much attention when we go out in smaller groups or if we stick close to campus where people are getting used to seeing us.  But, any time we go somewhere with the entire family and it's an area where people are not used to seeing us, we get an unbelievable amount of attention.  Some of it is very friendly as people will ask us questions or smile at us.  Other times, they will look at us with completely expressionless faces, with their mouths slightly agape.  It's a little uncomfortable, especially if they walk right up to us (within a few feet) and just stand there and look at us.  A couple of times, I would say "ni hao" (hello) just to break the awkward silence.  Many times, they will just say nothing in response to my greeting.  I'm not sure how it's my fault that the situation is awkward.  I'm trying to be friendly.  I joke with the children sometimes when I tell them the scene reminds me of a line from the fairly stupid movie Madagascar.  In it, these penguin characters say "Smile and wave, and wave."  That's how we feel here sometimes with our limited language skills or a lack of responsiveness from some of the Chinese people.  All we can do is smile and wave.  But, we always try to be friendly with others regardless of how much of that friendliness is reciprocated.  And, I must say it is often reciprocated in the most wonderful ways.  It's just those few awkward moments we have to laugh about sometimes.

Another special experience we had during the break was the chance to help the Parrenos in Xiangtan.  Jackie was expecting their third baby in January and needed Stacie and Annie to come down to help with the children when they needed to go to the hospital and when they returned home after the delivery.  Two days past Jackie's due date, Stacie and Annie headed down to Xiangtan thinking the baby would be coming very soon.  It ended up being kind of a nice break for them as they waited for a whole week with no sign of the baby.  They didn't want to return home because they were worried the baby would come right after they left.  So, they just waited.  Meanwhile, I was home with the younger four children cooking, doing laundry, and keeping everyone entertained.  I consider myself a pretty capable dad, but everything is more complicated in China and the laundry situation is a little tricky without a real dryer.  After that first week away from Stacie, I was very confident I had figured it out and had mastered the art of parenthood (joking by the way).  I told Stacie I was doing fine, but she didn't believe me and told me to bring the kids to Xiangtan.  So, we went down and were there for another week helping the Parrenos with their new baby.  It was such a neat experience staying in their house with them as they awaited their new arrival, being able to show them our friendship, and seeing them show their other small children their new little brother for the very first time.  I think they were worried they were inconveniencing us by having us there for so long, but we were so happy to do it. 

Anyway, school has started up again (2 weeks now).  They cut my class load from 7 classes and 320 students to 3 classes and 120 students.  Much improved!  Plus, I've pretty much decided to do whatever the heck I want in my classes.  I don't think the university really cares.  They seem to just want a foreigner to go in there every day and speak English to them.  So, I'm going to teach them some stuff they'll never learn over here, like public speaking, critical thinking, debate, intercultural communication, and listening skills. Should be much more fun for me and hopefully for them too.  I noticed when I did pronunciation drills with them last semester that they had this "We have been doing this since kindergarten" attitude.  So, maybe I should let them more "naturally" pick up on the right pronunciation as I teach them other things.  Who knows.  I'm also excited to have more of a chance to continue my own research projects.  I've been working on two projects simultaneously right now, preparing to submit them to an upcoming academic conference. It feels good to be a communication scholar again.  I really feel more like my previous self professionally than I did last semester when I was just buried with things to do.  Apart from teaching and research, we are also getting the American Studies Center underway for this semester.  We had our grand opening in January and then closed the office for the holiday.  My new student assistant, Karisa (a delightful person who speaks Chinese from serving an LDS mission in Taiwan), just arrived and will be helping me get activities planned for this semester.  We will also have more regular office hours in the ASC, with English tutoring and walk in visits for people wanting to learn more about American culture.

Things continue to be interesting around here.  Every day is something new and exciting.  Nicolas, Ezra and I witnessed a fight at the local supermarket between two of the employees.  One employee screamed at the top of his lungs at another female employee as he swung a mop handle at her head.  Then, he tried to stomp on her foot and when that didn't work, he spat on her shoes.  Same store where the incident occurred with the "nut" lady if you recall that story.  There was also another incident where we were walking toward this man on the street.  I was holding Evelynn's hand and I saw him walking toward us.  As he walked by, he unscrewed the cap on his thermos and threw the water on Evelynn's leg.  It was clearly intentional.  I yelled "hey" really loudly, but he just kept walking by.  Someone needs to teach me some Chinese profanity and soon!  I don't know a single word to be honest.  Anyway, there is a mix of good and bad experiences here, but most are very pleasant.  

The next big things happening for the Stein family (to be reported in the next blog) is that my brother Garrett and his wife Bethany will be coming in two and half weeks to visit us in China.  They will be staying with us a few days in Changsha and we will also be going up to Beijing, where we will visit the Forbidden City, the emperor's Summer Palace, the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, and the famous Wufangjing Snack Street, where you can buy and eat scorpions, cicadas, starfish, seahorses, and a variety of other delicacies.  Also, Nicolas and Ezra have been invited to join a 14 week Kung Fu class starting this Saturday.  Of course they couldn't be more excited. 

When we went to Martyr's Park (while Stacie and Annie were in Xiangtan), I paid this guy 50 yuan to draw a portrait of me.  The sign said it would take 15 minutes, but it took him one hour.  I think he had trouble drawing a foreign face and his big bizi (nose).  We eventually drew a crowd of over a hundred people (I had Nicolas count) who wanted to watch the giant foreigner.  After he was finished with his drawing, I said "Wo yao toufa" (I want hair).  The artist laughed and took off his hat to reveal he had the same haircut I did.

Our favorite restaurant Liu Jie's.  The back room has a window looking into the kitchen.

When Stacie and Annie were in Xiangtan, I was trying to find things to feed the children.  I had this bag of frozen tuna, but how on earth do you defrost this?  I tried this method, which worked surprisingly well.  Stacie told me later that I could just run water over it for a few minutes. Duh!!

More pictures from when Stacie and Annie abandoned me in Xiangtan.  The girls wanted me to try to braid their hair since that's what Stacie and Annie always do for them.  They absolutely LOVE having cute hair.  This was the best I could do unfortunately.

And Lucy was NOT ok with the result!

Stacie insisted I bring the children down to Xiangtan since she had already been gone a week, but I really did not want to face the bus station during the crowded holiday time.  See what I mean?

The Parreno's new baby, Victor.

We tried a new fruit.  Starfruit.  Looks interesting, tastes not so great.

The wonderful street we live on during the Spring Festival.  Where did everyone go?

Family walk around Taozi lake near our house.  We come here often since it's so close by.

We are trying to figure out how to light this Chinese lantern and fill it with the hot air.

Same Ezra he always was.  Loves to be outside and collect bugs and other creatures.  Here, he found a frog.

Chinese New Year fireworks.

We wanted to ride the Changsha ferris wheel, but it was closed during the holiday.  Bummer!  Apparently, it's tied for 5th tallest in the world.

At the local Saibaiwei.  Tasted just about as good as back home.  Hard to find sandwiches in China in general.  Even had that distinct Subway smell inside.

Our picnic at Orange Island. 

Good looking kids.  Keep in mind that like 5 other people are taking pictures of my children at the same time I am.

Year of the Horse.

The little girls having fun in the apartment. 

Stacie on our 16th anniversary (February 7th).  We went out for Ch...Japanese food.  Yum!

Still freezing here all the time.  Everyone is ready to go outside.

Can you believe how nice this Pizza Hut is?  In China, it's like fine dining.

The blog probably makes it seem like we eat fast food all the time.  Maybe like once a month is all, but it's always fun when we do.

I baked Stacie a chocolate cake from scratch for her birthday.  It turned out really  great.  In fact, she said it was too chocolatey.  First time I have ever heard her say that since we've been married.  Also, see that sweatshirt she's wearing.  I went back and bought the funny sweatshirt from a previous blog.  It says "New York Massachunats" on it.  Yes, spelling is a problem here in China.  We got such a kick out of it, I decided she had to have it!

Ok, my Chinese is bad so I'm not sure what those first two characters say, but the last two I do know.  They are the characters for "dog" and "meat."  What kind of restaurant is this?

This is more what I'm used to eating.  These chickens are always here just roaming around whenever we walk up this street.  Apparently, when they first get a new chicken, they tie it's legs so it can't leave the vicinity.  After the chicken is used to his/her surrounding, they take the string off and the chicken knows to stay home.

Second video of people staring at us in China as they drive by.  

I love this video!  This guy has a big wooden top and he whips it to spin it.  I SO want to get one of these before I come home.  The video doesn't do it justice, but it makes this really loud cracking noise when he whips it.


  1. Excellent updates and photos, Kevin. Glad to see that your teaching load has been reduced to a more reasonable level. Take care.

    1. Thanks, Earl. Yes, things are much better now. Hope you are doing well.

  2. You seem to be have a great time with you family in China! Their culture is very different from the American and the European cultures that we're used to, but that's what makes everything even more exotic and unconventional. Hope you have a good time in the future, as well.

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