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Just like Bilbo Baggins, I have left my home town again, and just like Bilbo, I have returned. I didn’t go in search of riches masquerading as a thief like Bilbo did; nor did 13 dwarves show up on my doorstep unannounced to eat me out of house and home. I did, however, answer an e-mail from my previous boss, asking if I would come to China as a long term sub to cover classes for a teacher whose daughter was/might still be almost terminally ill (she has been doing better, but there were some close calls).

This e-mail came at a time in my life where I was looking for some short-term work at the end of a school year, and I was actually just approved to be a sub in Cherokee County, where I live, the day I got the e-mail from my boss. It seemed like a great opportunity to go back to China and see the people I didn’t think I was going to be able to see ever again. And the free airfare didn’t hurt, am I right?

If you didn’t know I was gone, don’t worry about it. If hobbits were American and didn’t talk to their neighbors I’m sure no one in Hobbiton would have missed Bilbo during his adventure.

My time here hasn’t been full of fights with dragons, or giant spiders, or even trolls, but it’s been a great time with friends, memories and seeing the city I lived in for 2 years continue to change (for the better it seems). I likened this to one of my typical birthdays, where my mom bakes me a cake, the whole family has a piece and then, unceremoniously, day by day (or hour by hour) the rest of the cake is left to be scavenged. Then there is just one row, then 2 pieces, then one piece (which in our house, at least in my mind, was sacred and belonged to the birthday person). So maybe I would go to a friends place on Saturday, hoping that that piece would be there when I got back, but not expecting it to be. I arrive home, craving chocolate cake and icing only to find someone ate my piece of cake. It is gone. Then I turn around and see my dad holding a plate and smiling “You didn’t think I would really eat this did you?” he would say. And then I would dig in. Although that never really happened (at least as dramatically as that), this trip to China is like someone tapping me on my shoulder with that last piece of cake. I wasn’t expecting it, but you can bet that I’m going to accept it. And since it’s the last piece, you have to savor each bite, right? And although the experience isn’t for long, it’s still an experience worth having.

So, even though I’ve only been here like a month and a half, it’s been a month and a half where I got to see about a hundred or more people I never thought I would see again. The students and teachers had no idea that I was coming; my journey was a need to know basis, and most people didn’t need to know. So when I showed up people were super pumped and I got a lot of hugs. It was like a family reunion should be. I’ve been to dinner at friend’s places, been out to dinner, had friends for dinner, ordered pizza with friends. Basically my experience here has been: eat, teach, friends. And that’s a good thing.

Without boring you with a daily itinerary of what I did I’ll tell you what I’m going to be doing in the future. One question a ton of teachers and students asked while I was here was: “Are you going to come back next year?”, which is a good question. And after the first person asked me this I half thought the school didn’t get me out here to try to lure me back to teach, those crafty teachers! But, alas, I was able to tell them that I do have a job commitment when I return to the US. It’s been something that’s been in the works for several months now, so I’ll just come out and say it.

I’m joining the U.S. Coast Guard.

“You’re what?!”

Ok, I can’t hear you through my screen, that’s not how computers work. Yes, it’s true. The Coast Guard appealed to me because it’s a branch of the military that focuses on helping people. Part of the Coast Guard Ethos states that I will be “their shield”, which is pretty cool. I’ve never really wanted to be a sword, but, if the situation calls for it, shields can be a very nifty offensive tools. With that said, what also appeals to me is the fact that it’s a job that’s regimented and organized with clear goals and standards (something that was lacking at my previous teaching job). I’m a very, very goal oriented person who can be extrinsically motivated by the sheer fact that there is a goal to accomplish. Remove that goal and I find myself floundering around, trying my best to do the least amount of work possible to achieve some goal I wrote myself because no one gave one to me. Does that make sense?

I’m pretty sure this is the right choice for my life right now, and I prayed about it and talked with friends and family, all of which have been really encouraging. But, you never know, so I’ll be checking in with you guys.

I leave on August 19th for basic training, and from then I’ll be stationed somewhere in the US, or US territories, or on a ship. I don’t know where yet. If you want to hear more about that you can comment here, or give me a phone call, or buy me lunch (or we can go halfsies). I want to hang out with people before I go. I want my time in the US to be just like my time in China. Full of friends and food; and since I wont be teaching, add another half dose of friends and food to the mix with a dash of board games.

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I wanted to post a mini-series of blog posts after I returned from China to enlighten people to what I call “The Real China”. I have a couple of them written and a couple ideas without bodies. I want to get something straight–every culture has things horribly wrong with it. While I share my opinion, it is not the only lens with which to see a culture, so while some of these topics might look at the “bad side” of China, it’s mostly just real, like I said. I don’t regret my two years I spent in China and I love all the people I met there and I fell in love with the culture, but, like any relationship, at some point you lay down the cards and you have to be transparent, and for me, today, that starts with me sharing about the night I saw a dead body on the sidewalk.

What you will read was written the night of and lightly edited later. I should also mention that, outside of the people present, I have never shared this with anyone. After the fact it was just too difficult.

Welcome to the real China.

December 29, 2012: 

   I was walking with my friends, Andy and Cartoon, tonight. We had been trying to find a taxi for some time. It was snowing all day so we were having fun slipping and sliding around on the ice and throwing snow at each other. We came to the corner when I saw what looked like some kind of bundle of cloth next to a cement divider that they put on the side of the sidewalks so cars can’t park on the sidewalk.

Surely that’s not what I think it is, I thought. I didn’t say that out loud, but Cartoon (who is a girl) said what I was thinking. “Is that a person?” she asked. When we were within arms length of the bundle I saw the familiar form of a homeless person huddled up under a blanket. The blanket had a couple hours worth of snow on it and it wasn’t moving at all.

“No, it’s not. Keep moving,” Andy said, turning Cartoon around and walking past. I looked closely and saw what looked like hair, matted with snow and ice, sticking out the top of the blanket. Now, I am about 99% sure it was a person, but save for touching or rolling the bundle over, I can’t know for sure. But based on the reaction of both of the people I was with I was then certain that we had just walked by a dead homeless person on the sidewalk.

What was once a cheery night, took an instant somber turn. I wasn’t, and am still not sure how I feel about this, which is one of the reasons I’m writing it. It only happened about an hour ago, so it’s fresh in my mind.

I’ve seen a dead person only once in my life, and that was in a funeral, and there it’s kind of expected. This, however, is much different. I wanted to know what happened to that person that their only choice left in life was to lay on the freezing sidewalk while sleet rained from the sky for eight hours.

I wondered where that person went to school when they were a kid. Who were their teachers? Were they a good student? Did they even go to school? What about their parents?

There are so many questions that I’ll never know the answers to.

Should I have called someone? I don’t know. I wanted to, but my Chinese still sucks and I wouldn’t even have known what to say. If I was in America I’m sure I would have handled the situation differently. I think I would have called someone, or stopped to investigate. Why is that?

I’m super having a hard time putting my feelings into words. I’m sad. I’m disappointed. I feel helpless. I’m a little angry. I feel like I just got initiated into the real world. Yes, that real world, the one where people die every day, and where death isn’t just a figure, it’s a person.

And this person was on the sidewalk, right by my feet, motionless.

We got on the bus, which was taking us back by that corner. I looked out the window at the snowy bundle of cloth and looked around the bus. Everyone was oblivious. Only I knew. Only I knew what was under that blanket—who was under that blanket. I imagined what it would feel like to freeze to death—me who was wearing “smart wool” socks, hiking boots, jeans, a t-shirt, hoodie, winter jacket, gloves and a hat. Yeah, me. I imagined the life being sucked out of me through the ground, through the blanket, the wind wicking my life away. It made me a little sick, and even now I don’t feel like eating anything. I don’t even feel like brushing my teeth.

This experience has made me grateful, though. Grateful for what I do have. Grateful for the heater in my room that doesn’t keep things “that hot”. Grateful for the space heater I bought for my office because I think it’s too cold.

I tell you what though, I’m not going to complain about the cold anymore—at least not for a while. I’m sure, like everything, I’ll eventually forget about the bundle, forget about the person dead beneath the blanket, and I’ll go back to complaining that the office isn’t quite warm enough until I’m sweating. Then I will remember, and God will shove I gigantic piece of humble pie down my throat with a big flashing sign that says “ungrateful”.

I know I won’t always remember what I saw tonight, but I will never forget.

First thing is first, I’ve been a horrible friend. A horrible, neglecting friend. It’s been pretty much forever since my last post and remember when I said I was going to post about Hawaii? Well I lied, I don’t think I’m going to, there is just too much other, more important stuff to talk about today than an awesome vacation I took 3 months ago.

Once again, I am a horrible person. And I apologize for the extensive use of paragraphs in my post, but you’re worth it. And I apologize, but this format won’t let me indent. Sorry 😦

Now that I’ve got that out of the way I can get to the real message of this post: I’m coming home. And not just to visit.
“Wait does that mean…”
That’s right, friend, I’m returning to the US of A at the end of June, without plans to return to China to teach another year of school.

“Wow, what made you decide to do that?” you thought.
I’m glad you asked. And the answer is a lot of things. A lot of things factored in my decision to return to America.

“Man, I bet you hated China. Did you hate China?”
No, I didn’t hate China. And I don’t hate China. Hey, have you ever been here? You should come. One of my fellow teachers went on a conference in Japan and met a guy who was experiencing Asian culture for the first time in his life. The things she told me were hilarious, like, he didn’t know that you could play charades to communicate using body language. That is something I’ve become pretty good at over here, but am losing my touch because my spoken Chinese is getting better! Yippee!

“Wait, you can speak Chinese?”
Yeah, I can.
“Great, say something.”
Uhhhh, ok. 你要我说什么? (Ni yao wo shuo shenme?) And yes I know how to write all of those characters.
“Haha ohmygosh I don’t understand any of that, what did you say?”
Ok, I think you’re getting off topic.
“Isn’t it called Mandarin though? There are two dialects, don’t you know that?”
Yeah, but they only speak Cantonese in one province, Guang Zhou, so much so that other Chinese people call it Guang Zhou hua(language). So more people in China speak Mandarin than Americans speak English.
“Ok, what were you saying about why you’re leaving?”
Well there are a lot of reasons, like I said, so I guess I’ll start with the most prevalent: I’m not really sure I want to be a teacher.
“What, I’m sure you are a great teacher!”
That’s not what I said though. I’m also great at mowing the lawn, but I don’t think I want to do that for a career.
“Wow, that’s kind of an extreme example.”
But, it works. Being over here for 2 years, and teaching ESL to 8th graders, 9th graders and 10th graders and teaching English literature to 10th graders and 11th graders and teaching creative writing and personal finance to 12th graders I have come to a realization.
“That you taught a bunch of different classes?”
That’s one of them, and the second is that I just don’t love it as much as I thought I would.
You make an audible gasp.
Yeah, I know. It sucks being the one to make that realization, trust me. I love when I’m in my classes, like when I’m in front of the students and in the zone, but many times I lack the motivation to prepare really great lessons or go the extra mile that great teachers will be remembered for. I don’t think I’ve done a bad job, especially for my first two years of teaching. I just don’t really look forward to my mornings or Mondays.
“I mean, neither do I.”
But, do you like your job? It’s a hard thing to come to terms with, that maybe what you’ve been striving to be for a long time hasn’t turned out to be what you thought it would be. But, I think the sooner I tell myself that, and tell other people that, and they can support me then my life can be greater sooner.
“Ok, I can see how that makes sense, but is that the only reason you’re leaving?”
Nope, besides that reason, which is probably the biggest reason, the second reason is that life over here, for me, has been tough. In my school I’m the only single guy foreign teacher, and I might even be the only single male teacher in the whole school. I live in a dorm on campus with 6 single women from 3 different countries and of varying ages.
“Dang son, 6 to 1 odds. Not bad, not bad.”
Just no. That’s not it at all. It’s more to do with normal, friendly relationships. I’m friends with all of our teachers, I was even talking with one of them, who is a couple years older than me, and she was telling me that I have a gift of being able to relate well to all people. And that’s something that I’ve known about myself for a while. I can have a conversation with 14 year olds and in the same hour have a conversation with their parents and totally feel comfortable in both areas. Making friends hasn’t really been that big of a problem.
“So what’s the deal?”
Well, it’s hard to have a deep, caring relationship with people like that. What I think I really need is a guy or guys my age that I can just hang out with, have things in common and be able to spiritually and emotionally pour into one another. And I don’t mean that in the weird way, but in the way where you can have deep conversations about things and not feel uncomfortable. I’ve literally not had that in about 2 years and I super miss that.
“There aren’t any single guys in your city?”
Well I went to singleguysinQingdao.com and…just kidding. There are some at the international school that’s on our same campus, but our relationships never got that deep, even though I did share a room with one of them in a hostel in Beijing, but that’s beside the point. I just haven’t found a community that I could really dig into. If I were a girl though, I’d be set, because there are like a bajillion women teachers who are single, married, married with kids, married with grown kids, the whole nine yard, take your pick. And I think some of that has to do with there just being less guy teachers in general.
I have made some great friends, but they’re all married and have kids and there is just a level our friendship hasn’t breached, and I don’t know why that is, but it just is.
“Ok, so you don’t like teaching and it’s been hard for you to find community. What else?”
I hate missing things. My first month in Qingdao I missed my oldest brother’s wedding. I was there on Skype (thanks again, Uncle Steve, for carrying me around), but I’m sad that I wasn’t in there in person for it. And I know he understands, which is awesome of him, but it still stinks. I’ve also missed weddings of like 5 or 6 of my friends, which also stinks. The world still revolves, even if I’m not in America, and part of that realization makes me sad. I don’t want to split my life between two countries, not be able to commit myself to either and then end up stranded in the middle (unless it’s Hawaii).
“Anything else?”
Yeah, I miss having a car. I miss American food. I miss being able to talk to almost everyone. I miss not being stared at. I miss my family. I miss my dogs. I miss my friends. I miss playing ultimate every week. I miss the air. It’s hard being away for so long. It’s easy for you guys because all you have to do is miss me.
“Wait a second…”
I’m kidding. I miss those things, but it has been tolerable. I told you earlier that I don’t hate China. I don’t hate Chinese food, or Chinese busses (sometimes I do) or Chinese people who speak only Chinese to me or take pictures of me. I don’t hate that, but sometimes I get a bit sick of it. It’s a lot to handle, especially without someone to handle it with.
I also will not miss these things creeping around.
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____________________________
A brief anecdote about the bus
“Dude, this is getting long enough already. I only skim Yahoo articles and Facebook Statuses, you can’t expect me to read something for more than five minutes.”
Haha, okay. Anyway, before I tell you about the bus, I must tell you about fresh air. Fresh air is the reason all the windows in our office are wide open on a stark sub freezing morning in January. ‘We need fresh air,’ the teachers in the office tell me. Okay, whatever, I’ll just keep my coat on (which I do all day anyway during the winter) and turn on my space heater while cold air freezes my ankles.
Now, fast forward to a 75 degree day in April. I’m on the bus, having already shed my long sleeve shirt and cursing myself for wearing jeans as I stand near the middle of the bus. The inside of the bus has got to be at least 80-85 degrees and as I look around, none of the windows are open. The air is so stinky hot and balmy. I reached forward and opened one of the windows and as I leaned back and breathed the fresh air in through my nostrils I saw a hand shoot forward from behind a partition and slide the window shut.
I looked back and saw a woman with her six year old daughter on her lap and she said “It’s too cold”
Really? Really?
___________________________________________
“Okay, that was written better than most Yahoo articles, please forgive me.”
No problem, friend, I got you.
“So, have you lined up a job for when you get back?”
Yeah, about that.
“You have a teaching degree, right? I bet you could get a job teaching. Two years in China, that’s great on a resume.”
Did you read the part up top?
“Oh yeah, what’s up with that? You don’t want to teach or something?”
It’s not that I don’t want to teach, or necessarily deprive kids of being taught by me, but there are some other things I’d like to pursue, things that excite me.
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
Well, for one, one of my dreams that I’ve been thinking about for a while is to be a voice actor.
“What, is that like and actor who uses their voice? Like, what is that?”
It’s the people who use their voices in acting, like on commercials, movie trailers and animated cartoons or movies.
“Ohhhhhhhh, so you want to, like, do that?”
Yup. I already bought some recording equipment so I could do some recording at home and hopefully get some odd recording jobs through a couple of websites I found on the internet.
“But, you don’t have a real job planned out?”
Nope. I don’t know that any human has to live with their life timeline stacking job to job to job. It’s kind of like that guy or girl in high school who was always dating someone. I mean allllways dating someone. Take a break.
“But what about the money?!”
I have some of that.
“But, more money?”
I can be cheap too. Really cheap. Insultingly cheap. If I want to pursue my dream, and that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll be. And if I find that I need supplementary income, I’m sure I can find something without much hassle.
“But you don’t know that.”
I don’t know a lot of things, but one thing I do know is that leaving myself open to anything has been one of the best feelings of my life. I like the not knowing and how that leaves open any and every possibility. And if any of you know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who can get me an in for any kind of voice work, then I would appreciate that very much.
“Well, that was a shameless plug.”
I can be cheap and shameless. If that’s what it takes.
“I guess… what else have you thought about doing?”
Well, I have a couple novels sitting around, I could dust those off, finish them and see what comes out of that. Probably not much, but who knows. I’ve also been talking with a friend back in the States about hiking the Appalachian Trail, but that conversation and idea is just in it’s infancy. It’s something that I don’t really think I can do, but would love to have a go at it, kind of like when I didn’t think I could write a novel.
“So, you want to come back, not teach, be a voice actor and hike 2200 miles? That’s….an interesting combo. Where are you going to stay? Freerentville, Oregon?
Well, the plan now, Sarcasmo, is to stay with my older brother in Canton, GA. I’ll see where things go from there.
“Okay, enough about the future—”
Thank goodness.
“What have you been up to these past few months?”
Well, besides that epic bus story, I’ve been doing a lot of things. I read The Hobbit and loved it, but am struggling through Fellowship of the Ring. I wanted to read the trilogy before I left, but I don’t know anymore. I played ultimate on the beach with some other foreigners and it was a blast. It was hot and sunny and amazing.
I climbed Fu Shan (Mt. Fu) with the other two guy foreign teachers from my school, Scott and Ben. There are like 6 peaks that separate the beach side of the city and the inner part of the city. We started at one end of the ridge and climbed from peak to peak, sometimes doing some pretty dangerous bouldering in order to get there. We also found an underground bunker under one of the mountains that leads to two lookout turrets in the sides of the mountain. It was pretty sweet and a little scary.
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Fu Shan peak to peak.
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Cherry blossoms doing their thing.
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Behind the mountain.
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Me, Raj (Scott’s friend), Scott, and Ben
I also climbed a mountain behind our school. I didn’t know where the path was so I just climbed straight up the front, which was an awesome adventure and a bit dangerous. At the top I had a 360 degree view and it was really cool! I talked to Father up there about my city and we had a good talk.
I went on a field trip with my middle school students where I just got to hang out with them. We climbed Mao Gong Shan (Mt. Mao something). It’s a mountain where there is an outcrop that looks like Chairman Mao, which it does.
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The path to the mountain.
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Stoneman Mao.
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8th grade class 2 with their homeroom teacher.
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8th grade class 1.

After that we went to Olympic Park where there are all these awesome statues of Chinese Olympians holding their sports paraphernalia. I think my favorite was either the ping pong players or this other guy holding up a #1 with his finger in victory. We also played charades and rode around in paddleboats on a big pond. I enjoyed ramming into my students boats even though the Chinese attendant yelled at us for it.
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Ping pong baby!
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Some teachers getting photobombed by a statue. Classic.
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8th graders in a paddleboat.
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During our game of charades.

We just had some kind of day at school today, I’m not quite sure what to call it. Basically all the students brought in stuff from their house that would be sold at a massive yard sale type thing, attended by parents and students. It kind of looked like a flea market. There were also games where you could win prizes, and I tried almost all of them to support my high school students who were running the games. It seemed like a success and was a lot of fun!
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Buy something!
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Here is a student who is pushing a cup of water to try and get it as close to the edge without falling off. I got wet a few times with some overzealous students
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Or you can try and wrangle some fish with a ladle. One of my students, Hannah, was deathly afraid of handling the goldfish, it was super amusing.

I also started doing pull ups again. I haven’t seen how many I can do straight, but the most I’ve done while finishing off a set is 10! So I could probably do more than that, but I’m way better than I was a month ago when I could only do like 4. Yikes!
I’ve also been busy not writing blog posts. I know, I know. It’s not because I haven’t had time, but because I was just too tired to put in all this effort in updating you guys on my life and pouring out my soul for you to see and all the things like that. And because it takes forever to upload pictures, which I wasn’t originally going to put in, but I will anyway because I don’t want you guys to miss out on what I’ve been seeing.

And lastly, this is my friend, whom I call Ershiba (二十八or 28 in Chinese).

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I don’t know his real name, but he works in the cafeteria and has a red 28 sewn on his uniform. He always yells “Hello!” when I come in line and speaks to me in Chinese and sometimes English. He always makes me happy and I love seeing him. I’m really going to miss his shenanigans and how he says “Buyongkeqi” which means “You’re welcome” and the way he says it his hilarious. I really wanted a picture with him and today was a great opportunity for that. He even asked me to print it out and to give him a copy, which I intend to do.

So, if you read this all the way through then we are friends, or family, or I’m your son. So thanks for reading. I hope we can all talk about things when I get back, but hopefully this covers the basics.

Tomorrow I’m going to climb Tai Shan (Mt. Tai) which apparently has like 6000 something steps to the top, where we will be camping. I decided to go on a whim, and I’m excited to conquer another Chinese mountain.

 

(if you want to see pictures from Hawaii, check out my photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/caburnett10/ there are a few there that I had the good intention of including in a blog post, but didn’t)

I’ve been neglecting you, and for that I’m sorry. This post is probably going to be one of my classic super long, only five people make it to the end, posts. So sit back, relax, and let me tell you what’s been going on in my life over the past two months.

I wrapped up NaNoWriMo in November by completing an additional 50k words in my novel I started in November of 2011. I was feeling particularly inspired and continued to write even after November was over, in an attempt to finish the story. I was doing really well. I was. And then, and this hasn’t happened to me before, I started writing and hating every stinking minute of it. It all happened when I killed one of my characters. Not a main character, but an important one. At the time, I was convinced that he had to die to give my protagonists that extra umph they needed to put the PRO in protagonist.

I hated every part about the scene where he died. My main character, telling it from his perspective, was unbelievable. I didn’t believe anything that I wrote, it was all coming from somewhere hollow and false, and my inner writer called me on it almost immediately. The only problem was that I kept going, continuing the story, every grueling line of it. I put my foot down (actually, I put my laptop down) took a deep breath and decided I would go back and unkill that character and continue the story from there). And that’s where I stopped.

Part of me knows that the character needs to die, but I lack the requisite knowledge and experience to realistically portray that event. The other half knows that not killing the character is the easy way out. And the third half knows that neither of the first halves know where the story is going, so I’m stuck. I haven’t gone back to it, and I should. Have you ever just felt stuck and knew it would take too much effort to get unstuck, but that you probably should? That’s where I’m at, stuck at 159,000 words.

Christmas rolled by with a great care package from my parents that arrived complete and in once piece. No huge blog about that this year ☺ Experiencing Western holidays in China is kind of strange, and only people who have done the same or similar would understand. For me, Christmas is about waking up in the morning, eating cinnamon rolls and opening gifts with my family and changing out of my pajamas at like 4pm. There are Christmas decorations everywhere, stores play music, radio stations play music. It’s the Christmas spirit.

In China, there is some of that. Some of the stores play wordless versions of Silent Night, and some other songs, and you can buy a paper Santa face to hang up. But, it’s not the same, not even close; so Christmas kind of never feels like Christmas and just cruises by, and I’m left saying “Was that Christmas?” Not to mention our school doesn’t have a month off surrounding Christmas, and only us, the foreign teachers, got to have 2 days off, because our school is awesome. Not having it feel like Christmas isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or even a sad thing, it’s just a different thing. Another thing to remind me that I’m not somewhere like my home.

China does, however, have a month long holiday for the Chinese New Year, which this year is the year of the snake. We halted our first semester (August 21ish-January 25—that’s a long semester!) to begin the New Year holiday break, which most, if not all of China, spends with their families. I mean that almost literally. During the actual New Year day and days after, all people traditionally go to a certain relatives house on each day, and then return home. So, during those few days, I’d say 90% of everything is closed to the public. The streets look deserted, there are barely any cars on the road. Everyone is with their family, which is kind of awesome.

I asked a Chinese friend of mine if she travelled anywhere during the holiday break, she replied to me “I went to my family. We don’t travel. Don’t Americans do this during Christmas?” I was first of all taken aback a bit at the revelation that most Chinese people do visit family during the New Year, and I couldn’t help but to think that I couldn’t say the same thing for America, which is okay. China has it’s roots in the family. They take care of each other—for real. Chinese college graduates live with their parents until they get married. A parent or two usually lives with their older kids. There’s often three generations in one home. Some of you are thinking: “Oh…my…there’s no way I could live with _________________” and that’s fine. It’s a different culture, and there’s positives and negatives for each. But you’ve got to love a family that sticks together and has deep love for one another, not letting little things get in the way of what’s truly important. It shows their kids that family is important—that relationships are important, and I like that.

I’m not Chinese though, so I travelled the heck out of my time off, you better believe it. I first went on a, spur of the moment trip to Beijing with my friend Warren, who works at the international school near our school, and some other teachers. Since I went to the Great Wall, Tiananmen, Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven last year, I decided to go to some of the less “mainstream” places this trip. What was cool about this trip is we all kind of did what we wanted. “Oh, you don’t want to go to the Great Wall, well we are, and you can meet us for dinner.” And so I went to China, and Asia’s largest indoor water park: The Happy Magic Water Park, located inside the famous Water Cube, in which Michael Phelps won a bunch of gold medals or something. Also, special shout out to Lindsay Kline, to informing me such a place existed.

Beijing Water Cube
This is the inside of the Water Cube where people did swimming!

Happy Magic Water Park
Here is the water park from the top of one of the slides.

As I walked to the Water Cube, wearing my long johns, wool socks, jeans, hiking boots, undershirt, flannel shirt, sweatshirt and coat, it was hard to imagine that I would soon be scurrying around a waterpark in my red bathing suit nested in my backpack. After fending off scalpers and navigating the inside of the water cube, entrance which cost about $50, I was distracted by a place where you could feed koi milk from baby bottles and the Olympic diving and swimming pools from 2008. I don’t know which one was more awe inspiring, the place where people from all over the world came to swim in an international fellowship of athletes, or koi who drank milk like babies.

I made my way to the locker I was assigned, depositing some of my belongings, and went to the bathroom to change clothes. I came out as a proud, pale foreigner, ready to tackle some of China’s best waterslides, with outside temperatures that skirted around freezing. I stepped through a weird shower thing and was in the park, I looked around and thought: “This place is kind of small.” Then, as I walked around, realized that half the rides were closed. This was going downhill fast. Did I mention it was like 11am? Well, it was 11am, and I guess some of the rides don’t open till 1pm, so I had fun riding some of them a bunch of times, and floating in the wave pool, which shouted “Warning, incoming tsunami” or something like that. I couldn’t help but think if that was in an American park it would certainly be a Yahoo story worthy of thousands of comments by people who should be working.

Since I went there alone I couldn’t ride some of the rides which required two or more people. So, I made some friends and dominated those rides. I know most people wouldn’t go somewhere like this alone, and it would have been fun with a companion, but I was a-ok with having this experience by myself, because I can just make stuff up and you have to believe me. Just kidding, I wouldn’t do that…

(Here is a great article about the park with some cool pictures: http://inhabitat.com/beijing-water-cube-reopens-as-happy-magic-water-park/ )

Some other notable stops on my trip were the famous Pearl Market and IKEA, both of which are full of cheap goodies. I bought a laser pointer the color of a black light, a black light flashlight (which is so totally awesome) and an office chair from IKEA. I bought the chair for my butt, like I do with all other chairs. The one I bought in China has a cushion that basically deflates down to the wood underneath and makes me feel like I have a blood disease in my legs if I sit in it for too long. So I lugged the 25kilogram chair all the way from Beijing to Qingdao, through taxis and trains. I wondered, as the straps around the box were cutting into my hands, if it was going to be worth it. It was.

We made it back to Qingdao just in time for me to relax for a few days before I would go to Hawaii with my family. And since this post is long enough, I’m going to save that for the next one, which, hopefully will come up soon.

Here are some pictures:

Water Cube and Birds Nest
This is all four of us who went on the trip: Me, Warren, Amy, and Laural from left to right. Warren took this with his super cool fisheye lens and you can see both the Water Cube and the Birds Nest(which I found out, most Chinese people think is ugly)!

Happy Dragon Hostel
This is the “bar” at the Happy Dragon Courtyard Hostel. The rest of the place was really cold, but this place was nice and cozy inside. You could order a drink or get some food, which was a really cool feature I hadn’t seen in a hostel before, outside of ordering a bottle of Coke or a bag of chips. If you go to Beijing in the summer you should stay here!

Birthday and Aging

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So my birthday happened on December 7th, making me 25 years old. A quarter century. Woah!  I was messing around with my camera the other day and was trying to take a reeeeally close-up picture of my eye. Why? Because eyes are B A. Have you ever looked closely at one? I mean, you almost can’t look close enough, and you can look so close that you are either a.) kissing the person you’re looking at, or b.) banging your head against the mirror. 

Well, my camera doesn’t have a flip out screen so I was doing shenanigans with my mirror and focusing to see if I could actually get a good shot. I took a bunch and got some cool ones. The one you see in the center was with an LED flashlight, the one on the right was with this sweet setup I made involving scissors, a paper bag, my lamp, and magnets.

I want to bring your attention to the picture on the right, though. I bet you’ve figured out by now that I took that picture in 2005. I really hope you figured that out. I took that picture with my dad’s old (Canon?) camera that boasted a grand 3 megapixels or so, which was awesome back then. I took the picture for the same reason.

But look closely at it. Really closely. Despite there being about seven years and two months between the pictures you can see that the patterning in my iris is almost the same. And actually, it’s almost identical. The bummer about the center picture is that I have a different pupil dilation than the older picture, which stretches out the iris a bit, making it not look too identical. That’s why I included the other picture, which is a little darker, but similar to the left picture.

Despite the infinite things I’ve seen in those seven years, the eyes that have seen them have remained unchanged. And I bet, seven years previous of the first picture, they still looked the same. I think that’s cool, and there’s no other way to describe it. It’s like a thumbprint in my eye. No one has the same one as me, and in fact, my right eye is totally different from my left eye, go figure.

Leave it to God to make one of the most beautiful parts of the human body to be the only part that is impossible to see for yourself…that is, until mirrors were invented. If you’ve never looked at your eyes before then you should! Really.

I’ll hit you guys up with more later. Right now I am actually procrastinating on writing more of my novel that I was “finishing” during NaNoWriMo.

Also…if you haven’t read my short story yet, you should. And if you’ve read it already and haven’t written a review (it takes 5 minutes or less) you should!

http://tinyurl.com/b9aoste

So here is what my schedule today looked like.

• Before 1st period: Make a to do list for: Grading homework for 8th grade and 10th grade. Grade 10th grade’s tests. Grade 8th grade’s tests. Enter test grades in. And like 5 other things.
• 1st period: Teach 8th grade
• 2nd period: Grade papers and try to track down a birthday package that was sent to me by my mom. You might remember the fiasco that happened last year
• 3rd period: Direct a student-written play. This is a lot harder than it sounds
• 4th period: Teach 8th grade again
• 5th period: Eat lunch and go to Chinese class (I’m now on the second book! Wahoo!)
• 6th period: Teach 10th grade
• 7th period: Finish like 2 things on my list
• 8th period: Go to the English Talent show
• 4:45: Go home and think about writing this blog for 2 hours.

Yeah, that was my Monday. I’ve been busy. And when I haven’t been busy, I’ve been busy not being busy. And actually, during the entire month of November I sat down at my computer each night and wrote like 1700 words and became a National Novel Writing Month winner for the second year in a row. Go me.

So, it isn’t for lack of love of you folks, or lack of things to write about, or even lack of time. Sometimes writing this blog is the last thing on my mind. It’s kind of like a luxury for people back home, and a cool way to stay in touch, but it’s hard sometimes.

I lied to you last post…where I said I was going to write a short post more often. Ha! What I meant was that I would write one short post because that’s all I wanted to do at that time.

Instead of going into mega detail about every event that has happened to me over the past 2 months or so, I’m just going to show you a bunch of pictures, and then I’ll write a little about that picture. If pictures are worth a thousand words you’re about to read a small novel. These should be in chronological order, so if you’re wondering why people are in T-shirts, then you can infer that the picture was taken a while ago, oops! I’ve also edited all the photos to make them artsy and cool, if you’re into that. So, without further ado, here are 25 pictures that can let you know what’s been up with me.

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Here is my 8th grade class A. I won’t tell you all of their names, but you should know, none of the students in my previous post are in this picture! They will be later, though. This class has been really great, 100x better than last year’s 8th graders in their English levels, attitudes and personalities. I like these kids!

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This is Paul. Paul is silly. He always likes to raise his hand, even if he doesn’t know the answer.

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This was the day formally known as color day, where the school is divided into different colors for team building. The administration wanted to make it “Career Day”, and with good intention. It was actually Halloween without the candy. After this disorganized mess we were all better teammates…I think. This boy is in full US (Marine?) military garb, complete with the Camelbak. I have know idea where he got it from.

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More students on Halloween Career day. Oh yeah, it was totally fine to bring toy guns—especially ones that looked real. There were about 50 kids with guns. If you didn’t know, China has mega-strict gun control laws, which is one reason why this is okay. The chances of a student bringing a gun to school is probably next to 0. There was also a kid with a real cigarette and an airsoft pistol. I thought how, if we were in America, that kid would have gotten suspended…twice, and there would have been an article or two on Yahoo! news.

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More kids who want to grow up to shoot people.

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This is a trip I took with our school during the October Holiday. It was all expense paid, so that was good. I ate a meal worm type thing at lunch one day. Oh yeah, we had that lunch at like 10am because we would beat the lunch rush at 1pm. Huge facepalm.

This is a picture of us in “Rainbow Valley”. I put this in quotes because the concept is that you walk through a valley surrounded by huge sprinklers that douse everything with water (hence the umbrellas). The reason for this is because a lot of people have never seen a real rainbow, since a lot of places in China are so polluted that it just doesn’t happen. I was glad I wore my hiking boots, because everyone else in my group had soggy feet for the rest of the day. This was probably the most anticlimactic thing we did (we waited in line for like 1 hour to walk through the valley)

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Enjoy the read. This was for a grass slide type thing, kind of like a burlap sack on a slide, except the burlap is on the slide and you ride a snow-sled type thing down it.

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This sign made me feel wheel happy.

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A cool waterwheel outside of a cave we went into: The Underground Gallery.

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Even though this part was 100% man made it was still cool.

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This picture is stalac-tight!

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These stalactites seemed to be growing a kind of moss, which was cool.

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This was at the base of Mt. Meng, where we went hiking that day. Hiking in China, I have learned, really means walking up steps that laborers have no doubt painstakingly hiked up a mountain. The steps are standardly wide and people are going up and down them in droves. It wasn’t really “hiking” like I’m used to, but it was good exercise. I talked to one of our Chinese teachers that I had previously not met. Her name is Shanna and she gave me a Snickers bar. She’s apparently really sick now and had to leave our school, so if you feel led, you can ‘remember’ her.

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This was part of a really long trail (like 3 miles) made completely of chopped up wood. It was the most annoying thing to walk on. Splinterville 2.0! Was interesting though.

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We took our students on a day trip to a mountain and a beach. Unfortunately it was rainy and cold—two great combinations for an outdoor activity. We climbed the mountain (once again, more steps) and came to a cave with shady ladders and steps carved into the stone. Some parts were even pitch black. Of course we all went in.

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At the top I took a photo of two students I was walking with. Jane is on the left and Susie is on the right. Can you guess which one is afraid of heights?

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Here is one of the 8th grade classes at the bottom of the mountain. Melanie, of the squatty 8th graders, is in the center, crouching and wearing the white coat. I call her honest Melanie because sometimes in class she starts doing squats and when I look over at her she says: “Sorry, I spoke Chinese.” Nice!

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This is a walrus-sized spider in our laundry room, much like one that had terrorized me in our office previously this year. The worst part about these guys is how fast they are. I took a video in which you can hear me squealing like a girl. But, I bet you would too!

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This is Walt. Walt reminds me to think about my friend, Chad. Chad and Walt look alike, but Chad has a better job.

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I walked outside one day to take some pictures of leaves and such. This is what I found!

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And one of these!

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And this cool spirally guy.

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And some fallen fall leaves.

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I hope you just judged me when you saw this picture. This is something you might see a masculine grown man would try to capture, right? Well, I was walking into our dorm one day when I saw these little guys sun bathing. Something you need to know about our campus is that there’s like 50 cats. Okay, maybe not 50, but there are several litters. I snuck up on them with my telephoto lens and snapped these candid shots. As soon as I crouched down to get a cool picture they all freaked out and ran away. They’re all super scared of humans.

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And this is the obligatory long exposure shot. I got some LED Christmas lights (orange and white, I know) and took some cool shots.

Well, that seems to be all my pictures. I hope you enjoyed them. I’ll try to keep posting things in the near future. Speaking of the near future, here’s what it looks like. In 4 days is my birthday. I will be a quarter of a century old. On December 21 is our high school talent show, where my 12th grade students will be performing a play that they have written by themselves (with guidance from me). They’re really excited about it and proud of it and I look forward to seeing it. Then there’s Christmas. I’ll have 2 days off, plus the weekend and am still not sure exactly what I’ll do.

I really like reading comments you read, and when you leave comments it lets me know you’ve actually read this—which might motivate me to write more often in the future.

Until we meet again.

Squatty 8th Graders

So, instead of making a huge long post rarely, I instead wanted to give you a short story, perhaps more frequently.

In my 8th grade class I came up with an easy 6 rules, one of them being that students are not allowed to speak any Chinese unless they ask permission. In each of my 2 classes I had students come up with their own consequences to this rule. In my B class they decided that they would have to do 20 squats in the isle between desks for each time they spoke Chinese out of turn. I also told them that I’m the only one allowed to bust people for breaking the rule. This is to avoid all the students tattling and yelling “Teacher! Chinese!” So I told them that if anyone does that that they also have to do 20 squats.

Jerry: “Says something in Chinese”
Paul: “Teacher! Chinese!”
Me: “Jerry, did you speak Chinese?”
Jerry: “Yes, teacher.”
Me: “Okay, you an Paul do 20 squats”
Lisa: “Blurts out something in Chinese”
Me: Sweeping my head around I hear…
Melanie: “Chinese!”
Me: “Lisa! Melanie!” I point to the isle.

Within 5 seconds I had 4 students squatting up and down as I tried to continue my lesson. When Jerry was almost done, he asked a student, who was still sitting, “How many left?” Buuuuut, he asked it in Chinese. 20 more to Jerry. Then I asked Jerry if he learned his lesson. He said: “What?” But in Chinese. 20 more to Jerry.

I think Jerry did 100 squats in my class on Wednesday. Needless to say, Jerry is going to be a beast by the end of the year. But I hope not.