when you last met your hero, school had started. and laura was here with me.
you'll forgive me if this post is a little disjointed. that's what happens when one is trying to write about 4 months in one go ;)
i took her to the banana temple.
and made her eat pickled garlic.
and then, with graham, we went to chengdu.
in chengdu, we saw the biggest buddha in the world. and OMFG pandas.
i also tried eating snails. survey says? yuk.
but i liked watching the chefs in action in the open kitchen.
we had a good time in chengdu.
then laura and i went to beijing.
we promised not to blow up any cars.
we went to tsqaure
and we went to the great wall. where i became a man. again. laura got her knit on.
having laura around was wonderful. starting school again was stressful. my current students are the most apathetic creatures ever. yes, it's even worse than last year. last year we had superstars. we have some nice kids this year, it's true--they are nicer than last year's crew--but they are not self-directed or even inspired. doesnt seem to matter what i do... and, as always, i have a mandate to pass them all. some of them are getting a 60. the lowest score i can possible give that is still "passing." pisses me off. plagiarising, lazy sods. muttermuttermuttermutter. at least i know when they get to the US, they'll understand. and they'll finally GET it. i hear from my former students, the ones who have now graduated from HSU, and they said, "wow, we GET it now." i am no longer evil incarnate.
however, this is how the new kids see me:
remember these kids? yeh. they've gradated from HSU and a great lot of them have returned to China. it's a trip seeing them. they've grown so much.... the US has changed them. One of last year 's students came into the classroom a few weeks ago to scare the bejesus out of the new batch we have. at lunch we asked him how he's readjusting to china and he said, and i think this is precious, "i had to learn how to cross the street again!"
but i digress.
laura went home. and i went spelunking.it was a lovely, crisp spring day. it was the day that laura had flown home, so when she called to let me know she was safe, i was in the caves.
only in china would there be neon and pan pipe music underground. it was china-riffic. and not cold at all. too much juice pumping through the caves. not a nice discovery for the foreigner who put on layers and layers expecting, er, cave coolness.
in the village where the caves are, in souther shaanxi, we saw some men painting a wall:
school continued and more adventures followed. andrew is an archeologist specializing in chinese stuff thus i thought he would be the perfect fella lead a tour at banpo, a neolothic village (he also gave us a tour of xi'an's hisotry museum where he also works part time as a guide).
andrew sniffing the flowers:
and, suddenly, spring surfaced. and it was april.
i went to see the cherry blossoms
tomb sweeping day, this year on april 5, is the chinese day of the dead. i did a ritual for my father. i wrote about that in what was going to be my new china journal (which has since been blocked).
and then it was easter:
and we had a toga party.
the school then took us on a trip to tianshui (heaven water). we spent the majority of the trip on the bus stuck in traffic. the road was more or less being built as we drove along.
there were lots of accidents. so there was lots of time to sit and talk and think. i doodled. and shared my ipod with christian. and looked at the scenery.
what was incredible about all the traffic was watching dozens of people try and figure out the situation. with china's copious amounts of critical thinking skills, this was rather amusing.
traffic jam number 2, wherein i took this photo as this truck came speeding towards my window, once he decided he could no longer wait, when we were straddled across the road. thankfully, he stopped.
maijishan was incredible. there are three main buddhist grottoes in china. i have now seen two.
mary bought an awesome talisman.
mao on one side...
and on the back....
and i got on a camel. because, in china, at tourist sites, there are always camels. always. so, i had to be dorky and acutally pose with the darn thing. it tried to bite me.
in tianshui, reto demonstrated to us the proper way to eat chicken feet, a common snack. and easily bought at a rest stop, as graham discovered.
graham and chicken feet:
while im talking about chicken, even though i dont eat it, it's interesting to see how it is served. the whole thing is chopped to bits. and, if you get the head, it's special (and, reto tells me, the feet are also tasty):
christian and i watched our fellow teachers (reto, germany; puii, india; jose, brazil) and our bus driver do tai chi at the Fuxi Temple, where tai chi was born.
i was entranced by these figures:
christian said they reminded him of Miyazaki's spirited away. we never got an explanation as to their significance/purpose.
we also visited the yang family home. the yangs were a wealthy family once upon a time.
it was a short trip and the majority of it we spent on the bus. but still. enjoyable. and lots of laughs were had.
on the way home, we got stopped again. more traffic. we were stopped for hours. i watched the beekeepers.
and once we got around to the scene, we knew why. a truck had gone into the river ravine the night before and there was a crane retrieving what was left. it was a somber scene, complete with the wailing wife of the driver. the bus was quiet after that.
for may day, i went to the botanical gardens with brit and andrew.
in the back, there's a photo set for brides and grooms. we snuck in and had some fun before running off as we saw the photo crew return from another shoot.
andrew is a kentucky native, and so we had a kentucky derby party, complete with mint juleps (a feat here!)
may was B U S Y.
the following weekend, christian and i went with his close friend, antoine (who was a teacher here for the last few years... and the reason why christian decided to take his sabbatical here), and antoine's girlfriend, charlene (who is moving to paris to study and be closer to antoine who has returned to switzerland), to qingdao. qingdao is where i got the HORRIBLE food poisoning 2 years ago. even though i was miserably sick there, i loved the city and was thrilled to go back. joining us was a pair of antoine's friends from home touring across asia for 6 months. it was a french-filled weekend for me. but that's ok. living here, ive gotten used to figuring out what's what when folks are not speaking my literal language.
we tried to follow the rules we saw posted on the public bus (and since antoine speaks chinese and his girlfriend is a native, we did just fine):
charlene really wanted to go to the aquarium, so that's where we started.
we saw polar bears. and penguins. and whales. and dolphins. and sea turtles.
oh. and santa claus.
then, we went to the seaside
had some sushi.
and then had some beer.
like some buildings in the US dont have a 13th floor, in china, some places dont have a 4th floor. because the word for 4 resembles the word for death. i took a photo in our hotel's elevator:
the next day, christian and i took the ferry out to huangdao (golden island) to hang out on the beach.
we returned to qingdao that evening and had more beer and did some people watching.
it was a beautiful night out.
a garbage truck came along and attempted to empty a can into the truck. and failed. a bunch of glass spilled out. the worker swept up some of the broken glass, but failed to pick it all up. so in the street was a huge mound of glass. then taxi's would speed through it. or try and avoid driving through one pile of glass only to hit another. it was a mad glass-crunching adventure. christian and i were discussing philosophy and life to the tunes of broken glass and drunken people on the street.
the next morning, we did some more sight seaing (sic) and then had a fabulous lunch. fish jaozi is quite possibly the best jaozi ive ever had.
it was wonderful to breath ocean air....
the next weekend, christian and i went to chengdu to see MOAR OMFG PANDAS.
red pandas too!
we also hung out at a lot of tea houses.
and christian is a total ham
chengdu was awesome for people watching.
this guy is, i think, having his chi realligned. with metal sticks poking out of his ear that the guy would hit and it would make a ring sound. chi-realligners were pretty popular at the tea houses but we never went for it.
at the tea houses, there were snacks set out for the birds:
note the american flag on the backpack. also, the red scarf worn around the boy's neck shows loyalty to the Party.
an outdoor barber shop at the market we wandered through:
around the corner from one of the tea houses was an art market by the river
one could buy "old" communist propaganda posters, porn, and traditonal art.
before going to a taoist temple, to find a vegetarian restaurant on site, we walked through a public park...
this kid was getting a music lesson. note the lady in the background:
this woman was enthusiastically playing whack-a-mole:
and hung out with MAO! the best part about the mao statue was that he's waving at a mcdonalds and starbucks. AND the fact that there was a huge water fountain going off in front of him at regular intervals. how bourgeois!
here's mao with monks!
the next weekend, i just wanted to stay home. i was exhausted. but i relented when antoine called and said he wanted to go to the banana temple (seriously, half the school calls it thusly because of my mistake* three years ago...haha) as his final outing before he returned to switzerland, so christian and i joined him and a dozen of their french students.
as we approached the temple, we happened upon a scene that is the quintessential China:
in fact, we saw a LOT of cool things on our walk to the temple.
ive been snapping so many pictures lately because i want to make sure i get All The Photos From China I Could Ever Possibly Want.
there's a group of folks who gather on our campus to do traditional music (shaanxi opera). i finally had my camera with me when Christian and i stopped to listen on our way home from DimSum.
another week flew by, and POW! HOLIDAY!
for the dragon boat fesitival, graham, andrew, christian, and i went to nanjing. i was excited to see dragon boats. but there were snaffos and racing boats i saw none. still, a good time was had. we climbed a mountain, wandered around, and enjoyed our holiday weekend.
we went to a confucius temple. inside was this strange... well, i dont know what to call it. rooster house? you put in some coins and a rooster lay ping pong balls. for some reason, this tickled graham's fancy like nothing else and a smile of pure joy spread across his face.
also at the temple was this:
im sure there is a story. there must be a story. but i dont know the story.
and speaking of confucius, one of my students has written an interesting paper blaming confucius for all sexism in china. fascinating work. and speaking of my students, my friend steve has done an awesome project with my students. however, only folks across the pond can see. while i cannot show the finished project to my students, which was supposed to be an exercise in publication and making their writing "real," ya'll can enjoy: http://yerenbigfoot.blogspot.com/
at the temple, we saw the man himself:
and also some cool musicians, playing with bells.
...for a moment, we thought we were in canada, eh?
that evening, we saw boats. and pretty lights.
and the next day, we climbed a mountain! purple mountain, it's called. which made me have america the beautiful stuck in my head half the day. the other half it was "she'll be coming round the mountain" which christian started humming. he had it on a record when he was a kid but never really knew the words. i tried to get the boys to join in on a sing-along but no dice.
i loved being in the forest. even if the trees were really tiny.
the next day, christian and graham went to the nanjing massacre memorial. i went to a buddhist temple.
and i also checked out the city wall... where someone was doing their laundry
that night we hung out, drank beer, and watched hordes of people
and i enjoyed lanterns
before we left nanjing, we wanted to see the yangtze (sadly dolphin free). we asked andrew's friend about it. he said "why do you want to see that? it's a big, dirty, brown river." and we went anyway. it was a big, dirty, brown river.
from the bridge we could see lots of things.
kids playing in the clover, chasing butterflies:
people living their lives:
and i cant believe im leaving china in a few months. i knew once i got back, i'd be fine. and i am. i do love it here.
im taking louie back to the US.
this is going to be insane.
i dont know how he's going to be. and i havta take the public bus with him to beijing because there's no air for him on the plane (they told me he "might survive") and no pets are allowed on the trains. once he and i are in beijing, i can fly with him back to the states. once i'm home, there's so much to figure out. but i cannot imagine leaving the lil guy here to be passed from nomadic teacher to nomadic teacher. if it doesnt work out with me in the states, i feel better i knowing have other options for him (read: people who are permanent). and that by taking him to the US, i am providing him with a good home. which is what i really want for louiebird. andrew says he's the luckiest cat in the world, getting a free ride to the US.
it's funny--ive gotten used to the inconveniences that come free with living in china. everything here has gotten "normal." sure, i still notice oddities or differences in cultures, but ive just come to accept these things. It's How It Is. but sometimes, these inconveniences are more than just inconvenient. poor christian has had a heaping serving of this ma fan (trouble). we went to chengdu to see the pandas, sure, but really, it was because we had already planned on going on a trip to nanjing. he was invited to present a paper at a conference. they didnt tell him what topic they wanted him to present, so he spent a great lot of his week preparing two topics, just in case (this is typical china inconvenience. just like when you are invited somewhere and before you know it, you're giving an impromptu speech to a stadium of people [this happened to a guy i met]). i was going to go with him just to see nanjing again because i had enjoyed it last time, but had only seen a small section of the city and wanted to explore more. we were in the middle of arranging our plane tickets (non refundable tickets) when the organizer of the conference called. and cancelled. thankfully, we had not yet crossed the point of no return. so we changed our tickets, said screw it, let's go see pandas! and had an awesome weekend. the conference was rescheduled for the weekend of the dragon boat festival. andrew was already planning a trip to nanjing that weekend to visit a buddy of his who lives there, and it seemed just ducky. we could all go! graham too! and then i'd have someone to hang out and explore with while christian was off doing frenchy things at the conference. we bought the tickets, christian revisited his notes and prepped again..... and..... the night before we left, they cancelled because it was dragon boat festival weekend. how did a group of chinese folks not realise it was dragon boat festival?!? and then not cancel it until 9pm the night before departure?! and THEN they had the gall to expect christian to go to the conference on a different weekend. he told them he hadnt the money. they said they'd buy him his train tickets. he seriously considered it only because he was interested in keeping the doors open between nanjing university and his university in switzerland and didnt want to cause political waves, but how infuriating! he decided not to go. this week he's prepping his finals and is in the middle of dead week. he's also writing three different articles for publication. one of these articles is for a XISU review. he's been working on it a while but decided to just push through it last night. so he stayed up until 4am writing. this morning he got an email from one of his contacts here. "oh yeh," they said, "thanks for sending the article. sorry to be a bother but we cannot publish your article because it is written in French and we can only publish in Chinese. can you find someone to translate it for you?" *blink*...*blink*
this kind of thing happens all the time. it's ridiculous.
also ridiculous is what's happening on the main street outside our campus. they're building a subway, which will be awesome in a few years** when it's done, but is an absolute pain in the keyster right now. the planning, it seems, was not well thought out. first they had to widen the street. and now theyve sectioned off the middle bit of the street where the digging has begun. in theory not so bad. but. little things like closing off the only side streets that go to a certain locale, at the same time? not so smart. having a detour? HAHAHA. nope. once, on our way to school, we were stuck at a standstill for 20 minutes. it's a mess out there. and it takes forever to get anywhere. yesterday, our little road, shida lu, was finally opened to foot traffic. so what happened? the little gap was wide enough for small vehicles. and so people were driving their cars on the sidewalk. i just laughed and tried not to get run over as i walked home.
this was the same day i got punched by a waitress at the school cafeteria because i wasnt ordering quickly enough.
this is china. this is normal.
remember kids, make live, not war.
and, kids, no scribbling!
this weekend, we're traveling with divi to visit chris and john in changsha. they had a difficult time landing jobs in australia, so they came back to china. since my goodbye to them was rushed and not really what i wanted (i did, afterall, leave china in a hurry last time), i cannot wait to see these wonderful friends of mine.
*during the fall of 06, i was teaching on the new campus and spied a pagoda (it was a clear day!). the students did not believe me that there was a pagoda near the new campus, even after i pointed out the window and tried to show them where it was. i knew it was out there. so, adam and i went on our annual Thursday Adventure Day to the pagoda and it was fabulous. i returned to class and told the students where i had gone. and i said it wrong. i said xiāngjiāo (香蕉, banana), not xiāng jī (香积, not banana). henceforth, the banana temple was known as the Banana Temple. even the parents of that first batch of disbelieving students now call it thusly.
**the project keeps getting stalled because as they dig, they find cool relics from the past and have to call in the archeologists. andrew wishes he could get in on that action.