Saturday, November 25, 2006


Happy belated Thanksgiving.  I wish I could have been in Cincinnati to share it with you all.  Fortunately, I did get to eat some turkey, but there's no way it was as good as it would have been shared with you at home.

Early this week, Monday I think, there was a knock at the door and I heard English voices -native English speakers- outside.  It was Keith (the Texan who's here studying English) and his first-grade daughter Génesis.  It was a pleasant surprise to see them, and it wasn't until they invited me to their house for dinner on Thursday that I realized Thanksgiving was this week.  They also invited a few other people. namely Ron, the other foreign teacher here, Sarah, their Chinese teacher and a fellow English teacher here, Nana, a Finnish teacher of English at another university, Larry, a Hawaiian teaching English in Xi'an, and Larry's wife.  We had turkey cooked in the toaster oven (the closest thing to a real oven, but unfortunately not big enough for a whole bird), cranberry sauce, cornbread, real baked bread (another rarity), and both pumpkin and apple pie.  Quite a Western feast.  The accompanying vegetables, though, were cooked in a Chinese style, which made for an interesting mixture.  The food was all very good; Mixy's an excellent cook, and I got to complement her in Spanish.   Actually, that complement unintentionally derailed a conversation she was having with Nana as, after saying a few more words in English, she unconsciously slipped into Spanish, which, as you know, is not commonly spoken in Finland.

After dinner, we had to play some games for the kids.  The first was "Pin the beak on the turkey," with children being blindfolded and adults forced to squat and waddle backwards, using only one hand to fix the beak in the (hopefully) right place.  I think I came in fifth.  Then there was an Easter-egg-hunt-esque turkey hunt, competition-style, males against females.  Of the 14 paper turkeys, we were able to find 9, and the girls fared just as well.  A draw.  Which lead to the next activity: coloring.  There were all sorts of festive pictures of cornucopias, pilgrims and Indians, family dinners, etc., and your choice of crayons or colored pencils.  I voted for crayons, and coloring outside the lines.  Someone needs to show these kids what it's like outside the box.  As we colored, instead of football, the TV showed Nanny McPhee, which, in my mind, was a poor substitute.

In all it was quite a nice evening, though as I said early, no match for Thanksgiving at home.  It did, though, beat my Chilean Thanksgiving in terms of culinary quality.

Other than the holiday, not much else has happened here.  I signed the extension for my contract yesterday, hopefully guaranteeing that I won't be teaching as many hours next semester.  This week I had 16 (plus the 8 spent going to and fro in the bus), and the next three weeks I'll be teaching 20, since the freshman started late and all of their classes need to fit 3 make up classes into the semester to meet the minimum requirements for the duration of a semester-long course.  Quite a pain, if you ask me, but again, one that won't occur next semester.  Also, I'm told that I'll be moving to the new campus on or around December 15th, which would eliminate the wasteful and boring commute.

Not much else to add, so I'm going to brave the 40 degree weather in search of a winter hat, slippers, reading lamp, and maybe some more tea.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

feelin' alright, doin' okay

I've been pretty busy here these past few weeks.  I teach about 16 hours per week, and go to Chinese class for about 12, and there's also 8 hours each week on the bus going to and from the new campus, not to mention any time spent preparing lessons and studying.  Fortunately next semester I won't be teaching as many classes, so I should have time to travel and study more.

Despite being busy, I'm still enjoying myself here.  My Chinese is slowly (very slowly) improving, but as I've been saying all along, if I would put more time and effort into studying, it would progress more quickly.

I haven't really done anything out of the ordinary lately, other than going to give a speech to a student-run English Corner on Sunday.  The idea is that the students get together to practice their English, since it's hard to learn a language alone.  Unfortunately the meeting was a lot more of me speaking than them, but I suppose I was the guest speaker, so what did I expect.

Lately there's been lots of talk about moving to the new campus.  From what I understand, this year is the first year for the new campus, and it's still under construction, but by the middle of next month, they have to have all of the departments and offices moved there.  Almost all of the undergrad students already live there, but very few teachers do since their apartments aren't ready yet.  One of those apartments is apparently for me, if I want it.  I'm pretty sure I can choose either to stay here at the old campus in Xianyang or move there.  It's a tough decision.  The new campus is in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest grocery store a 20 minute bus ride away, and almost nothing within walking distance.  By US standards, that's not a big deal, but here in XIanyang I can walk to anywhere I could possibly want to go, and a 20 minute bus ride goes clear across the city.  So it is by far more convenient to live here.   On the other hand, I do have to spend an hour each way on the bus to go teach, and I can't really interact with my students outside of class since we live in different cities.  By moving there, I could probably practice my Chinese more with my students, but I'd have less interaction with teachers and other people in the community.  I'll have to think it over a while longer.

Now, though, I need to run to Chinese class.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saturday's shows

Yesterday I did a few things for the first time ever. First, with a few friends I went to a lake/park near the new campus of the university, and it just so happened that there was a dog show there that day. A dog show is a strange thing to see, with so many well-manicured animals on display and wandering about with their owners. The lake itself was rather disappointing, and it was surrounded by an almost empty carnival-like environment, with games, a swinging pirate ship (think miniature King's Island viking ship) and other simple rides. Of course we just walked around, enjoying the beautiful fall weather.

After lunch, I knew we were going to watch a student fashion show, and one of the guys we ate with was one of the designers. I was looking forward to seeing it, since I don't know much about fashion, Chinese or otherwise. What I didn't realize was that I, along with two of my friends who are also teachers, were going to be the judges. I guess they didn't care that I have no fashion-related experience of knowledge, and weren't bothered by the fact that I couldn't even read the scoring form (my Chinese reading skills are almost nonexistent). Despite these hindrances, I did enjoy watching the show, though I must admit that all of the clothing was far from practical, held together mostly with safety pins. There were some interesting concepts, though, and, of course, a lot of failed experiments. It was also fun to see some of my students as models - their attitude was quite different than what I see in class.

In all, it was a nice way to spend a Saturday. Today I get to prepare for my classes and hopefully study some Chinese vocabulary. I'm good at using the words I know, but I know so few that my freedom of expression is incredibly limited. I've been practicing speaking plenty, but studying very little. I guess that's to be expected - homework isn't very fun - but without putting forth more effort I'll be struggling for a long time. Wish me luck.