Monday, March 31, 2008

Beautiful Spirit

One day last week, I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch and I happened to run into one of my former students who I don't see very often anymore. We said hi and talked about her classes for a few minutes. My student then complimented me and told me I looked good that day. I started laughing a little because I had just come from the gym and was still wearing my gym clothes and I couldn't have possibly looked (or smelled) so great. When I told my student that she said, "No, I mean I think you have a beautiful spirit." At first, I thought it was a slightly strange thing to say and kind of dismissed it as another second-language, lost-in-translation moment. But later I thought about it and decided that it's actually one of the nicest things someone could say to me. I'd much rather have someone comment on my attitude than my appearance. I hope my spirit is a beautiful reflection of the Spirit in me. I hope that that's what people notice about me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Picnic in the Park

Here's a picture of our Sunday morning group on Easter Sunday (well, most of them . . . a few people were missing).

Clark and Eden's adorable baby, Justin who is 5 months old now.

After our meeting we went out to the park next to the Yangtze river and had a picnic, sang songs, and played games. We had absolutely perfect weather.
Even Justin was loving being outside.

Aubree getting a guitar lesson from Sam.
We thought we were really cool throwing our Frisbee around until this kid showed up and put our Frisbee to shame.
Amy and Beth teach me a new card game.
Aubree and Mary Beth accidentally reenact the Charlie Brown/Lucy kick-the-football comic.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Eggs and Cookies

Happy Easter . . . a few days late. On Saturday we had some of Katie's freshmen students and Shinhong (a.k.a. Sam . . . our fun, new Korean friend) over to color eggs and decorate some cookies. We had a great time. Sam said they decorate eggs in Korea so we thought he'd like to try the American way of coloring eggs (in China, which I find funny). I realized that this is my fifth set of Easter egg coloring pictures in China. I have pictures from the last four Easters coloring eggs and sharing the Easter story with different groups of Chinese friends. Hard to believe I just had my fifth Easter in China.

Mom and Kara--I'm making the "ugly egg" in this picture. Our traditions live on even on the other side of the world.
These girls did a great job decorating cookies with frosting and sprinkles.

Here is Sam's "flower man" . . . a combination of a flower cookie and two sets of bunny ears, sprinkles for a face, and some frosting glue. I felt a little bad about giving the bunnies "ear-ectomies" but it was worth it to make the funny flower man. The earless bunnies still fulfilled their purpose in life (we ate them) and have gone on to a happier place.
We sent some of the cookies home with the girls but had all of these left to eat on Easter Sunday morning. Grandma, aren't you proud of me! :) Once again, our traditions are being passed on. Mom and Kara, the top yellow bunny on the white plate is my shout-out to Peeps.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Say What???

I got this email today from Christina who is our co-teacher in the Foreign Language College. This makes last semester's holiday explanation letter (which I thought, at the time, was humorously nonsensical) seem like nothing. Why, oh why, do they go through all of this hassle to pretend to have holidays!!!??? Katie and I spent half an hour with a calendar trying to "interpret" how this affects our schedules and our lessons. We're still not sure how this is going to all play out. Especially when I have 5 classes that all need to have the same lesson taught to them on 3 different days when some of those days are "holidays" that might/might not be made up. Good grief.


I am writing to inform you of three coming holidays for celebrating some traditional Chinese festivals. First, we will have a three-day holiday for celebrating Tomb-sweeping Day; that is , from April 4th to April 6th, among which April 4th is a lawful holiday, and April 5th and April 6th are Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Second, we will have a three-day holiday for celebrating the International Labor Day; that is from May 1st to May 3rd, among which May 1st is a lawful holiday. On May 3rd we will enjoy our Saturday as usual, but if you originally have class on May 4th, then you need to come to have that class on May 2nd; meanwhile, if you originally have class on May 2nd, then you need to come to have that class on May 4th. In other words, if normally you do not have class on Sundays, then you will be free on May 2nd; but on May 4th we will have Friday’s classes for substitution.

Third, we will have a three-day holiday for celebrating Chinese Dragon-boat Day; that is from June 7th to June 9th, among which June 8th is a lawful holiday, and June 7th is Saturday as usual. We will have the previous Sunday( June 8th) on June 9th( Monday); in other words, if originally you do not have class on June 8th, then you will be free on June 9th. I hope that you may give me a feedback to show that you have seen it, otherwise you will be disturbed by me on telephone. Anyway, may these special days bring you great fun!

Monday, March 24, 2008

More One-of-a-Kind Than Before

This is a newly opened business (maybe a restaurant, but I haven't looked closely) that I see from the bus window whenever I ride into town. For some reason it just cracked me up when I saw it. Uniquer!

As my dad says, I'm sure they're unique . . . just like everyone else.

Easter pictures coming soon!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

麻将 Mahjong

If you ever come to China, something you'll notice right away is that Chinese people love Mahjong (麻将 má jiàng in Chinese). People sit out on the sidewalks and play for hours. There are whole stores devoted entirely to Mahjong tables--ranging from merely functional to extravagantly ornate. The little retirement center next to my apartment has entire rooms set aside for people to play mahjong in (right next to the Ping-pong rooms). I come from a game playing family and have always been slightly intrigued by mahjong. Over the years, I've made a few halfhearted attempts to learn mahjong and even took a small set of mahjong tiles home with me, but I never really made much progress. Here's why:

1. I could never get the game fully explained to me in English and the English rule book that came with the set of tiles I bought was . . . unclear, to say the least.
2. Chinese people I'd play with were too eager to "help" me play (translation, play for me) so I never knew why I was playing what I was playing.
3. Chinese people are so good at the game, they play at warp-speed. By the time I got my tiles set up, they'd have all played and would be staring at me slightly impatiently while they munched sunflower seeds (also at warp speed). The intimidation was too much.
4. Honestly being able to say, "I don't know how to play." gave me an excuse not to get sucked into inescapable hours of playing for money before and after unexciting obligatory dinners.

But a few weeks ago, a friend invited Katie and me to play Mahjong. The friend speaks excellent English and she agreed to reexplain the game to us and go slowly, letting us pick up on the strategy for ourselves. It was quite enjoyable. Last week, we went to another friend's house and had dinner. After dinner, Katie and I played mahjong with the friend and her mom. I think I can finally say that I've reached a passable playing level.

Katie and I realized that while not knowing how to play mahjong can be a convenient "out" at times, knowing how to play mahjong has a number of benefits. It gives you an instantaneous rapport with all 1.4 billion Chinese people that live here. Just like knowing one or two words of Chinese in the local dialect makes you immediately likable to all locals, when people find out that you, a foreigner, understand and enjoy mahjong, they're ready to be your friend for life. It's also an entertaining way to pass time with Chinese friends who don't speak English since my Chinese chit-chat abilities expire after about 10 minutes. And, last but not least, you get to use fun and forceful Chinese words like "PENG!" and "GANG!" and descriptive phrases like "wash the tiles" (mix them up) and "eat a tile" (use the previous person's discard) and "build the Great Wall" (setting up the tiles before a round).

My goal is to understand Mahjong well enough to teach it to people when I go back to the States. Get ready (dad, mom, Kara, and John) to add Mahjong to our repertoire of family games.

"So, one more time, how do we play?"
"Ok, got it . . . I think. I hope I get to 'GANG!'"
"Let's wash the tiles! I can build a longer Great Wall than you!"
"Ummm, I'm confused. What do I do with this tile?"
"Yeah! Even Kim and Katie win once in a while."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cheesier Chips

A few days ago, Beth was shopping in one of the grocery stores near campus and she found Doritos! Lays, Pringles, and Bugles have always been available here, but Doritos are a nice new addition to our chip options. They have Nacho Cheesier and Taco flavor. I think I noticed that on the "taco" flavored bag, there was a picture of a taco and an explanation in Chinese about what it is. Last night we used the Doritos to make "tacos in a bag." Crunch up the chips in the bag. Add ground beef, lettuce, cheese, salsa, Ranch dressing. Eat with a fork right out of the bag. Instant taco salad and minimal dishes to wash.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


When you buy fresh vegetables or fruit at the grocery store, you have to have them weighed. There's a store worker who weighs them on a scale and then prints off a price sticker and puts it on your plastic bag. This sign was above the scale in the fruit section. Let's hope the Chinese makes a little more sense than the English does.
(Points to Katie for having her camera with her and for sharing pictures with me!)

Friday, March 14, 2008

I'm A Bad Teacher!

This week I've been teaching my students a few slang words and phrases. When I asked for suggestions at the end of last semester, a lot of them said they wanted to learn more idiomatic, conversational phrases and words. So in an attempt to do that we've been practicing phrases like "I'm beat" and "bent out of shape" and "blow all your money" and funny expressions like calling someone an "airhead." At one point, I told the students that the word "bad" can sometimes mean "cool" depending on who says it and the context. No one had ever heard the word "bad" used to mean "cool" so we kind of laughed about it. After my classes were over today, I packed up and walked outside and waited for Katie to finish her classes. Today was a bright sunny day so I put on my sunglasses as I was standing there waiting. A few of my students walked by and one of them said, "Kim, you look so bad!"

Related to that discussion: try explaining the word "cheesy" to someone. I defined it as "cheap, silly or ridiculous" but that doesn't quite encompass the whole idea of the slang phrase and there's no good Chinese translation for it that I can find. It's hard to explain because things I would describe as "cheesy" are not at all "cheesy" to my students.

And last, Happy Pi Day . . . 3.14 today. I just found out about Pi Day. I'm kind of sad that I went all through geometry in high school and didn't know about Pi Day. I really want to make a French Silk Pie in honor of Pi Day so I just might "go and do it, please."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Got Milk?

On Saturday, I was at Sandra's house with Beth and Amy. We were talking about how prices have gone up considerably for some things since the winter weather storms (and other factors - China's really battling inflation right now). Fresh vegetables are a lot more expensive. Milk is also something that's gotten noticeably more expensive. Sandra pointed out that since we buy liter boxes of milk and they're 7 yuan a box, we're paying more than $4/gallon for our milk! We're paying as much or more for milk as people in the States, yet it's for Chinese milk that we only barely tolerate!! :-( What a sad realization. If I have to pay American prices, I want American taste! Oh for a cold glass of real milk and a monster cookie right now . . .

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Happy Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day so take a moment to appreciate your femininity (that is, of course, if you are female) . . . go shopping, take a half day off work, go to the spa, go see a movie, tell your husband to buy you a gift. At least, that seems to be what most of our Chinese friends do on Women's Day. Or else they get drunk at lunch (which I do not recommend . . . having seen our friends ruin their holidays that way).

This morning I had a quick Women's Day breakfast at Sandra's with Beth and Amy - a nice time to girl chat. Then I chatted with my parents and my sister. So happy to finally get to talk to Kara! In the afternoon I cleaned the apartment which is actually something I like to do and find rather therapeutic. Tonight for supper Katie and I met three of our good friends from Yichang Foreign Language School and their daughters and a had a fun dinner a Korean Restaurant (which included a game of freeze tag on the roof). Tonight I baked a cake. Not a bad way to spend this gender-biased day, I guess. Plus, the weather was beautiful.

Sorry for my blog slacking this week. I was down for several days with some kind of cold/flu and am just today feeling back up to par. Hopefully I can get back in the bloggy swing of things now. Actually the main reason for this post is so that the Indian train baby story isn't the first thing on my blog anymore. My mom told me it made her cringe when she looked at my blog. And, now that I think about it, I guess it's fitting to move that story out of the way on Women's Day.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Tell me this isn't true . . .

Not trying to go overboard on the electronic "clippings" (a reference my grandmother will appreciate), but I have another news article to share.

Having just spent 80+ hours on Indian trains, I read this article and was flabbergasted, stunned, shocked, dumbfounded, _______ (insert any other synonym here).

"Pregnant Woman Uses Train Toilet, Baby Slips Out"

First, how can this woman possibly not realize she's having a baby, even if it is premature? Can babies really just "fall out"?? Second, how in the world did the baby not get run over by the train? I'm glad the baby survived, but wow . . .

I'm sure it's a blessing for all of us that we can't remember our own births, but for this poor baby even more so. As if birth isn't painful and messy enough, then she gets "flushed" down a train toilet and ends up on the railroad tracks under a moving train! Can you imagine what she's going to have to endure later in life? . . . "Hey well, at least my mom didn't drop me down a train toilet when I was born." At least she'll never have to worry about the obligatory "Say one interesting fact about yourself" first-day-of-class icebreakers . . . "Well, when I was born, I fell down a squatty potty on a moving train . . . " Ugghhhh, train toilets are so filthy! The thought of it makes me cringe!