Sunday, December 30, 2007


My third Christmas away from home. It was certainly more fun than last year, when all I did was eat with some friends. There are enough foreign teachers here that we can have family-like dinners together that do a good job of imitating a real Christmas. Of course, I would have rather been at home for the holidays, but given that that wasn't possible, I'd say I had a pretty nice time. On the 24th we had dinner at Kat and Ramon's, the Australian couple that runs the Aussie hospitality program here. We had roast lamb, roast goat, roast chicken, and many other delicious home-cooked Western food. I brought Skyline dip and it was a big hit, as usual, especially since no one had ever had anything like it before. There was also an Australian Pavlova for desert which was pretty god - not like anything I'd ever had before.

After dinner, we opened presents. Everyone seemed to really like the thinks I picked out for them at one of the souveniry streets downtown. Afterwards, as the evening was winding down, we were treated to a guitar duet: Ken, the Japanese teacher, and Chris, Stacy's younger brother visiting form Australia for a month. A good night, warm and friendly.

The morning of the 25th I got up earlyish to call home where it was still Christmas Eve. It was wonderful to talk to everyone, but I would have rather been there myself. I had to cut short my conversation with my brother to melt chocolate to put on the buckeyes I hadn't finished making for Christmas lunch. Again things were potluck-style, showcasing the creative cooking skills of expats. A ham, apricot chicken, lasagna, salads, glazed carrots, and many other non-Chinese treats made for a great lunch with pumpkin pie for desert. Fantastic, as far as being away goes.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Thanksgiving in December

Yesterday we had our second Thanksgiving dinner, and even though it was on a Saturday, I think it topped the first one. Instead of going to a restaurant, we ate downstairs in the meeting room. Everyone brought a dish (appetizer, side, or dessert) and Bob, a teacher in the British program, ordered a turkey from the restaurant we went to on the real Thanksgiving. The bird was delicious—juicy, and best of all there was dark meat. The other dishes were fantastic too. We had salads, pumpkin, cheesy cauliflower, roasted as well as mashed potatoes, and probably a few more I've forgotten. Oh, eggnog too. Then Don's fantastic crustless pumpkin pie—not as good as my mom's, but close. And my contribution: buckeyes. Everyone loved them, but I don't think they compared to Grams's. I need to get the recipe from her so I can make them for Christmas.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Belated happy Thanksgiving. I'm sure you had a wonderful time with your family - I wish I could have. Thanksgiving away from home just isn't the same. Not to say I didn't have a nice holiday (if you can call it that since I did have class in the morning), but there's something strange about not being home for Thanksgiving. I went out to Pete's Tex Mex, a restaurant in the south of the city, with a group of ten other foreign teachers from my school and had their Thanksgiving special: apple cider, pumpkin soup, Waldorf salad, turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, broccoli, and, of course, pumpkin pie for dessert. It was really good for a restaurant Thanksgiving, but like I said, just not quite right. In any case, I had a good time and enjoyed the non-Chinese nature of the food.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Today I went to Luodai, an "ancient" city about an hour southwest of Chengdu. Although I'm sure there was a city there more than a thousand years ago, nothing remains of it today, so I got to walk around a modern recreation of the town, not nearly as impressive as the ruins would be. It's a common attraction for Chinese tourists or people like me looking to get out of Chengdu for the weekend and therefore has a sort of Disneyland feel to it. The most popular thing to do is dress up in traditional Chinese clothes and have your photo taken, which needless to say I didn't do. Otherwise, you can shop in the souvenir stores that line the crowded streets or sample the many snack foods that Sichuan is famous for.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chinese classes

This week I finally started taking Chinese classes. Since March I've been saying that I want to learn to read Chinese but haven't really done anything about it until just recently. A month or two ago I began paying attention to the characters in the world around me, noticing the patterns and trying to guess the meanings based on the little bit that I knew. I've also been sending text messages to my Chinese friends in Chinese with the help of the predictive text input. Being more attentive to the characters has made me realize how much I want to learn to read and how difficult it will be, but also how knowing a few characters can go a long way.

I wasn't all that interested in taking classes because I knew that I could learn just as well if not better on my own with a dictionary and a few textbooks. Unfortunately, I've known that for a long time and didn't have the dedication to keep up with it. That's why I'm taking classes now—to have someone looking over my shoulder, obliging me to study. They are private classes at the largest private Chinese language school in Chengdu, Chinese Corner. The textbook we're using is boring as far as grammar and vocabulary go since my spoken Chinese is quite conversational, but there are still many characters I don't know in the sample texts, so I guess it's about the right place to begin learning to read. I'm not sure how much I like the teacher's methods, but he seems pretty flexible and open to suggestions, and the second class went much better than the first, so at least we're moving in the right direction. I'll keep going for the next couple of weeks and then reevaluate the effectiveness—hopefully by then I'll be over the hump and able to study on my own.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Emei Shan photos

I know I'm behind on both photos and stories, but I'll try to keep things in chronological order. Here are some photos of our climb up the never-ending stairs of Emei Shan:

a monkey stole Matt's water

carrying a stair on his back

a monkey stole Matt's peanuts

bamboo shoots - pretty yummy

"Are we there yet?"

Elephant Bathing Pool

Stacy found the easy way up

at the top - so much for seeing sunrise

From the left: Matt, Stacy, Kat, and Ramon.

huge gold statue of Puxian which we couldn't even see the top of

Chinese tourists attempt to get attacked by monkeys

Crouching Tiger Monastery

Arhat Hall

Sunday, September 30, 2007

National Day trip to Aba

This week is Chinese National Day so we don't have classes.  My friend Stacy and I decided to go somewhere, but since we couldn't decide where, we threw darts at a map, aiming at Chengdu so we wouldn't have to go too far.  Mine landed not too far from Aba, near the Sichuan-Qinghai border, probably about a 16-hour bus ride northwest of Chengdu.  After lunch, we're going to go buy tickets and hopefully be on our way later today.  The area is very Tibetan, though technically outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, so there should be able to experience plenty of interesting cultural stuff as well as amazingly high mountains.  I'll keep you posted along the way if the Internet has made it up that way.  If not, I should be back in Chengdu on Sunday with lots of photos and a story or two.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Emei Shan recap

I had a great time at Emei Shan, though after walking all the way to the top, I could have done without ever seeing another step as long as I live. We spend Friday night at the foot of the mountain, starting the long way up with a short bus ride on Saturday. We were hiking by 7:40 AM and finally quit for the night at about 8:40 PM, 45 kilometers and about 2000 vertical meters later. The next morning we left the hotel at 4:30 AM to finish off the remaining 2 hours to the Golden Summit (3045 m) and hopefully see sunrise. Unfortunately, as is the case more than ninety percent of the time, the peak was buried deep in clouds and we couldn't see more than 10 feet in any direction, so we opted for some breakfast in a warm restaurant and walked back down to the parking lot and took a bus 2 hours down the winding mountain road to where we'd started. Before driving back to school, we visited perhaps the coolest temple I've seen in China: Crouching Tiger Monastery. The temple is still very active with monks and pilgrims yet somehow manages to preserve a certain tranquility that many of the more touristed temples lack. The most interesting part was Arhat Hall, a small building containing more than 500 larger-than-life statues of famous people who have successfully followed the Buddha's teaching to enlightenment, each one with unique posture, attire, and expression.

I need to get to bed now since I have class in the morning. I should be able to post some photos afterwards though.

Friday, September 21, 2007

going to Emei Shan

This weekend I'm going to go climb Emei Shan, one of the four most-sacred Buddhist mountains in China.  It's supposed to be beautiful, covered in temples and inhabited by mischievous monkeys.  Hopefully they don't take my camera.

I'll post some photos of the Women's World Cup games when I get back.  I went to two double-headers and another single game, but unfortunately the finals will be in Shanghai so I probably won't get to see them.

Time to make sure I haven't forgotten anything and then we're off.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

time keeps on slipping

So far Chengdu is treating me very well. I'm enjoying living here much more than in Xi'an, mainly because there are things to do and fun people to do them with. Unfortunately for my Chinese, so far most of those people tend to be foreigners. Hopefully as I get to know my students better, that will change.

I've been so busy doing things that I've forgotten to tell you about them, so here's a quick rundown of the past week or so:

Wednesday: My first class. Juniors. Their English is pretty good, and they all seem to want to speak, much more so than my students last year. As an added benefit they like the idea of giving speeches on different topics each class like I did last year, so hopefully we'll have some interesting discussions. A few students actually said they were glad we wouldn't be wasting our time playing games all the time, which is a relief since many of my students last year wanted exactly that. All in all, a good start to the semester.

Thursday: I went with Stephen to the Book Worm, a restaurant/cafe/library catering to foreigners that also hosts many different events, such as book talks. This one was about a guy who retraced the famous long march of the Red Army, talking to survivors along the way, gathering primary source material while it's still available. Separating the fact from fiction in the historical accounts of the Party is difficult work, but from the photos shown and experiences recounted, very interesting, beautiful, and rewarding as well. The photos of banners and 60-year-old graffiti made me realize how much I'm missing by being illiterate. I'm working to change that, but it's slow going. After the lecture, Stephen and I walked over to a nearby French-owned bar where we met a couple from Tennessee who work as freelance journalists. She was writing an article about food in Chengdu so they invited us to eat chuanchuan (hot-pot-on-a-stick) with them. It was great to see the country through their fresh eyes, reminding us of how accustomed we've become to Chinese ways.

Friday: Most of the foreign teachers went out together to a hot pot restaurant. Actually, we planned to go elsewhere, but as often happens in China, it had shut down, gone out of business, leaving little evidence it had ever existed. Meeting all the other teachers was good, and the food, though really expensive, was delicious.

Saturday: A local bar was having its 2-year birthday party, so we stayed out late, dancing to the live band and late-night DJ. The crowd was an eclectic mix of foreigners, locals, and travelers, reminding me once again what a cool city I live in now.

Sunday: Most of the day was spent relaxing, drinking tea, and conversing, but there was quite an entertaining interruption around 10 PM when Ken, the Japanese teacher who lives across the hall, yelled for us to come immediately. There was a spider at least as big as my hand on the wall in his apartment, and as we watched in fear and fascination, it ran and hid behind the wall-mounted air conditioner. Unable to scare it out, Ken sat at his table, watching and working until 45 minutes later, he again had us rush in only to see the spider slip behind a painting hung on the wall. The first attempt to catch it involved using a broom to brush it into a paper bag, but failed with the spider falling to the floor and scurrying into the corner. The second similar attempt also failed, again with a fall and the spider hiding in a soft guitar case. The next plan, though, was brilliant: catch it in a huge cardboard box. With a bit of effort, we pinned it in the corner with the box and slid another piece of cardboard along the wall to insure he was really in there. The box was quickly closed after only glancing in to be sure we had him. Once we took the box outside to release him, though, we realized we'd been a bit too vicious and mortally wounded our arachnid friend. We really did try to be nice, but when dealing with a spider as big as your hand, there's only so much you can safely and comfortably do. Maybe next time we'll be more successful.

Yesterday: Bike shopping (but no purchasing, I'm waiting to check out the used bike market and the larger Chinese-made market since foreign bikes tend to be pricey), followed by dinner at a Red-Army-themed restaurant with excellent food, and then the tail end of another book talk at the Book Worm, this one about Animal Emotions. Unfortunately, the speaker was your typical animal-lover and didn't really incorporate much science into his speech, relying instead on cute pictures of animals playing to make the audience go "ooooh."

Today: Women's World Cup double-header: USA vs. North Korea, Sweden vs. Nigeria. Time to get ready.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

getting settled in

I've got my computer now, and everything is going quite well.  My apartment is nice, a bit smaller than last year but hey, I'm only one person, so I don't much mind.  The administration seems friendly enough, and my coworkers are quite nice as well.  I live next door to a couple from New Mexico about my age that also teach English here and, conveniently enough, can speak Spanish and are studying Chinese.  I have my schedule for the semester and I'm teaching all English majors, one class of seniors, one of juniors, and five of freshmen, each for an hour and a half per week.  The upper-classmen start this week, but the freshmen don't start until the second week of October, right after the week-long National Day holiday, so I might be able to travel a bit on my long weekends before then.

Everything is falling into place nicely, and it looks to be a great place to live and work.  Now I need to go buy some food.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I made it

I made it to my new job in Chengdu.  More when I get a computer.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kashgar and Lake Karakul

I'm still in Kashgar - I think I'm leaving tomorrow for Urumqi.

Kashgar doesn't feel like China. Many many people don't speak any Chinese but only their native Central Asian language, most of which use a modified Arabic script. It's really strange to see Chinese characters and Arabic letters on signs all over town, and interestingly enough it makes Chinese, both the language and the Han people, seem foreign and a bit unwelcome. In any case, this is a fun place to walk around through bazaars and winding alleys of old houses. Hopefully some of the pictures will turn out.

Yesterday I went up towards the border with Pakistan to Lake Karakul, a beautiful blue lake in an alpine meadow. I walked all the way around it, which may have been a mistake since one end was pretty marshy and populated by more mosquitos than the Amazon. During my navigation of puddles, streams, and mud, I found myself walking along a sand bar that separated the main lake from the surrounding puddles. It seemed firm enough until I came upon a little stream flowing over the top of it, no more than 2 feet wide, but when I stepped next to it the ground suddenly sunk beneath me, filling my shoes with sand and soaking me up to my knees. And the mosquitos wouldn't give me a minute's rest to stop and get the sand and little rocks out. What inconsiderate creatures.

On the lakeshore, there were many local people who had built an extra yurt that tourists could stay in, but the idea of spending a night on a yak rug with my allergies was less than attractive, so I took the bus back in the afternoon. All went well until we came upon a huge mudslide with a creek running down it, all snowmelt from the surrounding mountains. It took more than an hour for the earthmoving machine to arrive and finally clear a car-wide alleway through the muck. I didn't really mind the wait, though, as the surrounding canyon was beautiful and watching someone scoop mud off the road can actually be quite entertaining.

Since today's my last day in town, I'm going to get out and walk around.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I'm writing this post from an internet cafe in Kashgar, one of the westernmost cities in China. It's famuos as being an oasis on the Silk Road. I just arrived today after a 24 hour bus ride from Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang. I didn't really spend much time there either since I'll have to pass through again on my way back to Xi'an. My flight for Indianapolis leaves on the morning of August 1 from Xi'an so I will need to be back there by the 30th or 31st. In the meantime, I plan to see what life is like here in China's Wild West, hopefully getting to see some beautiful high-altitude lakes and mountains along with the vast expanse of desert I saw pass by the window yesterday.

Time to go eat some kebabs.

Friday, July 13, 2007

end of the school year

Apologies for the extended silence. I've been taking care of all those fun end-of-the-semester things, such as exams, grades, and, most importantly, my plans for next year. I will be moving to the Chengdu University of Technology in, as the name implies, Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in what is considered Southwest China, about 16 hours southwest of Xi'an by train. I'll have pretty much the same financial, living, and teaching arrangement (up to 16 hours of class per week) there as I do here, and when I visited the city a few weeks ago I liked it much better than where I'm living now. The campus was nice with lots of trees and other greenery and a man-made lake or two to sit around and study or what have you, a stark contrast with the dry still-under-construction campus I live on now. A change of scenery will also be nice, not to mention providing me with the opportunity to learn about a different part of Chinese culture.

Before I move to Chengdu, though, I get to travel. First, I'll probably be heading to Xinjiang province in the far west of China, hopefully flying from here to Ürümqi next Tuesday if I get my visa extension in time. From there I'd like to head west to Kashgar and the border with Pakistan, then back along the Southern Silk Road. How far I take that will depend on timing - I need to be back in Xi'an around July 31 to start the international part of my vacation.

The details are still fuzzy but if what my boss is telling me is true, the ticket the school is buying for me should have me arriving in Indianapolis on the first of August. I'll spend most of the month in Cincinnati and Illinois, probably leaving for Chengdu between August 26-31. I'm very much looking forward to seeing everyone - it's been a long time and this online communication just isn't the same.

Well now I'm going to get to buying my plane ticket for next semester. If there's anything you want from China, don't hesitate to ask - I should have plenty of room in my luggage - just please don't ask for all the tea. They don't like that.

Friday, June 15, 2007

visiting Yunnan Agricultural University

I'm flying to Kunming tonight to check out Yunnan Agricultural University where I could teach next year, and I'll fly back here Monday night. Since I'm in the country, I figure I should take advantage of the opportunity and check out the place that I'm going to be living for a year instead of just going in blind like I did before. Depending on how it goes, I might go visit the other two schools I'm considering next weekend. I'll let you what it's like and maybe even have some pictures to share when I get back.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

still doing alright

School's moving along smoothly with about a month left to go in the semester. Last week I gave a lecture to the English department about what the school could do to create a better language learning environment here on campus, but since only about 4 teachers attended, I doubt much will change.

I'm working on finalizing my arrangements for next semester. At the moment I have a good offer from a school in Shaoxing, a small city about 2 hours outside of Shanghai, and I'm waiting to hear more details from a couple of schools in Chengdu and Kunming. By the end of the week I should have enough information to make up my mind. The school in Shaoxing would be nice, but the local language spoken there differs significantly from Mandarin so I would probably have to practice mostly with students who are used to speaking Mandarin instead of people outside the school. I don't think that will really be a big issue, but it's reason enough to wait to see what the other schools have to offer me. I'll keep you posted on my decision.

Congratulations to all of you who have recently graduated - I wish I could have been there to celebrate with you.

Monday, June 11, 2007

birthday photos

For my birthday some of my students came over and we made dinner together.


They even got me a cake


which started a cake fight.




Quite a party for a 23-year-old.

daytrip photos

About three weeks ago I went on a daytrip with my bosses and Wayne, the other foreign teacher. We also went to walk up a mountain with waterfalls, but this time we took a tram most of the way up.


I saw this cool spiderweb and actually managed to photograph part of it.


The waterfall was pretty tall but not so voluminous.


/ /

pared de agua

After lunch we went to Famen Si, a temple that houses a bone from the Buddha's finger.

Famen Si


torre del templo

Not a bad day of local tourism.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Taiping National Forest

Last Saturday I went with a big group of my students to climb up a mountain alongside a stream with a bunch of waterfalls. The bus broke down twice one the way there,


but we eventually made it. There were pretty many people and only one path to walk, but it was nice to get away from the city for the day.

camino de dinero

The path followed the stream the whole way up giving you great views of rapids and waterfalls.



At the top, there was a muddy pathway



up to an impressively high waterfall blowing in the wind.

vertiente + viento = mojado

qué grande!

On the way down, we stopped to rest on some of the rocks.



Some people got a little wetter than planned,

tilla mojada

but fortunately no one fell through the bridge.


All in all it was quite a nice day.