Sunday, December 03, 2006

Saturday Nights and "The Love Boat"

I don't know what your excuse might be for watching "The Love Boat" on Saturday nights in the 70's and 80's, but I was earning $4 an hour babysitting for the Farstad family. At age fifteen, watching Julie McCoy guide passengers through the trials of love - while Isaac tended every bar on the ship simultaneously and Doc picked up the women who rejected Gopher - resulted in an acceptable night of babysitting.

Well, tonight I'm spending another Saturday night with Julie McCoy as my guide to the high life, except that now she is just "Cindy" and she is acting as sous chef for the former chef of Canlis, Greg Atkinson, at a private dinner party in a Woodinville home. I can't believe my luck. I have been invited as the friend of a friend; the party is a Christmas gift by my friend's friend's sister, who tracked down Greg and asked him to do this party a year ago. Greg had agreed, since he is now a restaurant consultant, living on Bainbridge Island without the pressures of running a three and a half star restaurant.

Already experiencing overload at the thought of the evening in front of me, Jaci calls again to tell me about Greg's sous chef. "Can you believe it? We will be spending another Saturday night with Julie McCoy after all these years!" Another friend tells me that she may look very different - not only because of age - but because she had been dismissed from "The Love Boat" because of a drug addiction.

Jaci meets me at the door and informs me that "no one is mentioning 'The Love Boat'." Evidently, someone said something at the beginning, and the comment had been met with silence. The kitchen is busy but low key, and the ten or so who are standing around the large granite counter are engaged in lively conversation. Greg is soft spoken, instructing those who want to listen, while Cindy is silent, anticipating his every move. She is making dirty dishes disappear, handing him knives, scraping up loose flour and filling spinach flan cups.

I am studying her to glimpse a remnant of the perky, sex-kitten cruise director but without the clipboard, the smile and the curly blonde hair- and with the addition of two decades, black-rimmed glasses and 40 pounds- I just can't see it. So when I walk over to flip through Greg's new cookbook, West Coast Cooking, near her station, she surprises me by flashing that familiar smile. "That is a fun book" she says, and there she is: Julie McCoy. I ask her how long she has been helping Greg and she says she only does it a few times per year. She works as a cheese steward at the Broadway QFC; she got the job after finishing culinary arts school.

Culinary school student, cheese counter steward, and former sex symbol who defined pop culture for the good part of a decade. Where do you go with your questioning?

"Where did you go to culinary school?" I ask her.

I have studied the programs of every culinary arts school in the city, so am intrigued when she answers with the name of the school I someday hope to attend, South Seattle Community College. "My husband died a few years ago from a very expensive disease and I realized I had to earn some money," she tells me as she's washing out a mixing bowl containing butter cream for the yule log. "I wanted to do something new, so it turned out that going to culinary school was part of my grieving process. Because I had been so successful as an actress - I've worked with the biggest stars in Hollywood- I didn't feel I had anything to prove, so I did what I wanted and needed to do."

It is a loaded answer. Where would you go with it? She is offering me entrance into her Julie McCoy world and her personal world in just one paragraph.

But at that very moment, Greg needs her. It's time to plate the food: winter greens with a sweet orange vinagrette, roast tenderloin of beef, "Gary's mom's rolls," and spinach flan. But guess what. There is an open seat next to mine, so after the salad course, she takes it. When she sits down, she is all smiles and laughter, facilitating the table conversation like any good cruise directors would. Because of this, the wine, and the softest of tenderloins, I don't feel pressured to ask the right questions anymore; I feel happy and comfortable and just ask what I really want to know.

"When you decided to go to culinary school, did you have some kind of vision in mind for what you wanted to do with your skills?"

She pauses, relaxes and answers a definite "Yes." "What I want to do, well, I want to work in a retirement home. I want to get to know residents and their families. I will find out what they used to cook, what their families loved to eat, and then - knowing that I could never do it as well as they could- I want to recreate that meal for them. Because, you know, food is everything to those people. It's what they look forward to all day."

I tell her that my 92 year-old grandma just moved into an assisted living facility a few weeks ago, and that the food definitely sealed the hard deal for her; it was the first thing she mentioned. She, my aunt and my uncle had been unsure of where to have their Thanksgiving meal, and had decided to try the buffet, even though it was her first day in her new home. My grandma told me it had been "as good as any homemade Thanksgiving meal I've ever had, and we could go back as many times as we wanted."

Cindy is thrilled with my story. "Where does she live?" she asks, and I think that if I say "Seattle," she will meet with my grandma tomorrow, interviewing her about homemade noodles, pot roast and pickled beets. We talk about cooking with our grandmas, then the table moves on through a myraid of topics, none of them to do with cruise ships.

After dessert and clean up, Cindy packs up her things to go. She hands me a card that says "Cindy Tewes, cheese steward & personal chef" and I tell her I will drop in and say hello when I am on Capital Hill. I ask her if she is doing any acting locally and she says she is auditioning for a play at ACT. "I'll keep my eye out for your name," I tell her.

And with that, she slips into the darkness, out of another Saturday night. It's been 20 some years since the last time I saw her at the Farstad house; since then who knows what hardships she has been through, but she seems to have found a bit of peace behind the cheese counter at QFC. Not so unlike the rest of us.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Dangers of State Testing

For over two years, I have not been able to chew on the left side of my mouth. Three dentists and seven x-rays have said things like "Your tooth is completely healthy" and "Nothing is wrong" and "You should be feeling no pain." One said "If you keep chewing on only one side of your mouth, your face will eventually distort." Which was a very rude thing to say.
What else could I do but just learn to live with it? Until last year when I finally had crown lengthening surgery, followed by a crown, followed by...the same inablity to chew on the left side of my mouth. So I remembered that people with perfectly symmetrical faces are supposedly not really beautiful anyway, and I just lived with it more.
Until three weeks ago, at three in the afternoon on a Friday, which, by the way, is when all dentist, periodonist and oral surgeon offices are closed.
My dentist prescribed vicadin by phone, and my lower left side ached through the weekend until my root canal surgery (where I heard "I hate to do anything to this tooth. It's a very healthy tooth.")
This periodontist also told me that I was free to chew on the left side of my mouth within a few hours, which seemed very exciting. Until I did it. And it hurt...the tooth right above where I got the root canal hurt. So for two weeks, I tried to ignore the repeated failure of the left side of my mouth, but the pain increased. This time the upper tooth held out until Saturday morning of last weekend, then the dull ache returned. Along with the flu.
Monday morning my dentist took a look- with only a mirror- and made all kinds of hmmmm sounds to his assistant, then told me my tooth was fractured clean up the middle. He said that in fifteen years of practicing dentistry, he had never seen such a healthy tooth split like that. He removed one quarter of it to ease the pain, while asking questions like:
"Did you bite down on a bone?"
"Were you hit by a softball?"
He said it seemed to him that something happened last week; however, it could have happened a while ago.
He referred me to a specialist; she told me that I needed to have the tooth extracted, an implant, a crown, some nerve protection work. The cost- because I have already reached my coverage limit-is up to me, completely. Seven thousand dollars.
Maybe it was that number that made me remember what happened over two years ago.
Two and a half years ago, in April, I bit into a granola bar that had a rock in it. This experience ripped reality in two, introducing me to an unvisited dimension. It hurt so badly that I checked to see if my teeth were still in place. I kept the rock and the rest of the bar just in case.
My teeth seemed fine, so after a few days I threw away the evidence. Then slowly, very slowly, I began to experience pain. I figured it was just the second cavity of my life...a very elusive cavity...and I did not connect the rock. Now I know that that bite caused two miniscule fractures that took two years to explode- within two weeks of each other.
Now here is where my story turns, even though you thought it climaxed with the seven thousand dollars: Two and a half years ago, in April, I was administering the WASL at Options. Administering this test to successful students is painful and boring enough, but when you administer the test to Options kids whose failure in life is sealed by their failure of the test, sometimes the only bright spot in your day is to sneak some of the treats provided by the school, which are meant to enhance test scores. Apples, peanut butter, bagel and cream cheese bites, orange juice...and granola bars. All sitting in bowls plastered with signs that read "For Students Only."
Yep, the seven thousand dollar little crappy granola bar, years of pain, facial distortion and eight surgeries were destined to further ruin the life of an already pathetic, failing Options casualty of the state.
I know there must be a moral to this story. I already knew that the WASL was dangerous, costly. Can you help me find another one? Most importantly, does anyone know a back alley oral surgeon? The implant looks like a twenty cent screw from a Home Depot bin.
Fortunately, the Democrats took power in both the House and the Senate, Rumsfield resigned and Britney and K-Fed broke up, all during my week of implant news and flu; otherwise, I would reallly be questioning my world right now.
Oh, and I am grateful that I am here and not in China.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Boys in the Back of the Room, Space Claiming and Thoughts on Chairman Mao


a. The Boys in the Back of the Room Phenomenon.

I was told by the high school teachers that the BITBOTR were much worse as they got older. Surly, rude, no desire to learn, no expectation to learn (Their No Child Left Behind Policy is still under construction, I'm guessing). Of course there were many boys not in the back of the room who were extremely involved learners, but something is up and I don't get it. I have heard that the Japanese students are the respectful ones who stand when their teachers enter; has this Japanese reality transferred into Chinese myth?

b. Diet.

Ladles of grease + heaping bowls of rice = Not much body fat. What is our low carbohydrate, low fat diet accomplishing? I think we just need to walk more.

Bones. Chinese people separate the bones from chicken and fish flesh and miraculously spit the bones back out onto the table, not unlike our sunflower seed separation process. It's all about flavor to them, and the bones are the flavor. They would not understand our boneless skinless chicken breasts or the boneless tilapia I just had for dinner. How far are we removed from our very sanitized food sources?

c. Space issues.

Here is my epiphany: in America, we are cultivated in open spaces. There aren't many of us, and we obey collectively understood space rules. In China, when someone would cut in front of me in line at the grocery check out or push a hand full of money in front of mine, it was because I left an opening, allowing that to occur. When I learned to position myself strategically, blocking the line out with my elbow, I was leaving no spatial opportunity for the 1.3 billion people competing for it.

Same with the traffic. All of the close calls that should have ended in death or dismemberment or at least a bent fender DID NOT. I saw nothing resembling an accident. Crosswalks are suggestions; traffic lights are stronger suggestions. Police did not ticket for violation of them because you are responsible for seeing the open spaces and inhabiting them with confidence. That's it. And they excel at inhabiting spaces.

d. What's with Mao (whose preserved body, by the way, is displayed in a shrine in Tiananmen Square, with extremely long lines of people waiting to see him) (No, sadly, our tour did not include it)?

Remember my shock at the open adoration - the very loud plastic hands clapping - given to him by the crowd at the variety show? I was aware that his portrait kept watch over Tiananmen Square and that the government kept a strong line regarding him as a national hero; because of my reading I was expecting his image to be on t-shirts (eating a McDonald's cheeseburger, claiming "Poweer lomes from the gun (sic),") watches and lighters and other junky trickets- an image not unlike that of Colonel Sanders' - kind of kitchy and "Santa Clausy" (according to Julie Carey). But I assumed that there would be a very strong undercurrent of contempt for him and whispering about him; after all, the generation who endured his fatal policies still exists (how many of those old wrinkled faces did I want to draw stories from?)

I expected this from our twenty-something college girl TA's, being of the educated population they would certainly have opinions different than the party, right? On one of our "dinner with the girls" nights, feeling OK about bringing up politics away from school and expecting to receive secret political viewpoints, I asked intelligent Annie about the Mao rejoicing that went on in the theater. She looked at me blankly, like "why wouldn't they clap?" then Amy whispered to me "I found out more about how they feel about Mao...I'll tell you later...") They love him. They hate Japan and Mao is their savior from Japan.

Where was their secret hatred? After all, I have read numerous books about the Cultural Revolution (written by a small minority of writers who have come out of that society to gain Western perspective on Eastern events). I saw the exhibit at SAM last year: China: 25 Years of Photography, (chronicling the feelings of repression of artists). I have been viewing it with liberal American eyesight. However, viewing it with my Five Weeks in China Eyesight, I must consider that in the last century alone, China has witnessed the end of dynastic rule, endured brutal foreign invasion and occupation, civil war and cultural revolution and is now trying to maintain the fastest growing economy in the world, plus the biggest migration in human history from its rural interior to its coastal cities. We Americans have one civil war, a depression and 911 to give us perspective, while the Chinese...well, when someone falls on the roof above them and dies- covering them in blood that is dripping through the ceiling- they just move to another table.

Chairman Mao advanced China's social and economic development ("his policies were 70% good, 30% bad" Deng Xioaping once said). The communist (but oh so capitalistic) government overlooks the torture and death of that period and mentions it a blip on the life-screen of a highly successful military leader. The Chinese people are mostly accepting this for now - the information being difficult to come by, anyway - and are moving on without calling the police and freaking out and laying crime scene tape all over the place; they just want to claim a new space and finish eating their dinner.

e. How I feel about China now

Each morning since my return, I have restless waking dreams about China. In them I am playing frogger across four lanes of traffic, organizing flash cards, sweating streams down my back and worrying about the bags of cute, breathing frogs waiting to be stir fried on the streets. The dreams are not at all peaceful- they are confusing (Confucianing). It has not been a restful summer (especially today at Wild Waves).

But the nostalgia I'm experiencing so quickly is surprising me....all of the above - the energy, the chaos, the steadfastness of the Chinese people - I have been processing the events from this trip more than any trip I have ever taken. Maybe it's just too hard to love China at first sight, especially if that first sight occurs during the breath-sucking heat of July or August.

I'm pretty sure that, eventually, I will not only say that I love and miss the massages, Stir Fry Street and the Sunnies of China, but that I will be able to say that I love and miss China.

And that I will go back (some cool October).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

1. How did your Craigslist renter work out?

a). My Craigslist renter was dreamy. She kept my plants alive. She cleaned my place immaculately. She and my mom hit it off over coffee while I was gone. I came home to a stocked refrigerator (all kinds of cheeses, nuts, chutneys and jams - most of them unopened), a very nice bottle of wine, two food movies she thought belonged in my collection, and various little gifts scattered all over my condo. Her son lives in Seattle, so she will be returning...does anyone want her email address? You will make out like a bandit if she chooses to gift you with her presence in your home.

2. What other universal synchronicities occured through Craigslist this time?

Sometimes universal synchronicity takes time to reveal itself, so I will have to go with my initial perceptions and then, perhaps next month, next year or possibly when China is ruling us, I will have more insight into the workings of the universe (these are not, by the way, in order of importance):

a. Stir Fry Street

Imagine, had I remained in the Chinese hell hole that is Deqing, I would have missed living one block from Marjie's Street of Dreams. The universe played a little hard to get on this one (it taking me to a place with uninteresting street food at first) but Stir Fry Street was meant to be in my life sooner or later. Sadly, rickshaws are outlawed in many cities for the sake of "progress" and I have to wonder if the Stir Fry Streets are disappearing as well. Hopefully the others just didn't find them, but no other ACT group had tales of a street tranformed each night with woks, live fish, Noodle Performance Artists and vegetables. Now I have the memory of my Noodle Guy, my Noodle Lady and my Clam Guy with me always.

Specific foods in my destiny: the long necked clams (never had one before, hope to see them again), the hand-shaved and stretched noodles (had them here but I think shaving and stretching in China adds flavor and texture), the salted egg pumpkin and the egg-covered dumplings.

The above would have been enough u.s. but

b. Keqiao was Massage Heaven, too.

The Hair People and The Foot Guys were also meant to be in my life (but, sadly, not the Abundant Blind Person). Since we were living in the Textile City, residing in the marble-floored Textile City Hotel, the demand for massage was probably higher than usual for visiting businessmen. We had our choice of salons within a four block radius. And

c. My Group Gave Them a lot of Business.

My group was amazing and fun and up for so many adventures. I will be visiting them, hosting them, emailing them and traingvel with them. I especially enjoyed hanging out with Amy because fun follows her. She makes things happen and I loved being along for the ride.

d. Grade school kids.

I was so desperate to get out of Deqing that I didn't even ask what I would be teaching in Keqiao and therefore did not have time to worry about my fear of - my horror over - teaching small children. I would have never chosen it, but the universe made it so. I spent four weeks organizing flash cards, choreographing songs, wracking my brain for games and poems, sweating onto my students' workbooks, smelling hot, stale urine in the muggy afternoons and being forced to use the torture squat toilets. I'm happy for all of it now... the bad memories already magically transformed by distance.

Back to the kids... I loved their innocence, their sense of humor, openness, and their beauty. What a future they are facing; they are what the whole world is talking about.

e. Our assistants.

They were wonderful and they provided a window into Chinese culture that was and will continue to be invaluable. Another Sunny story: While we were loading up the van to leave Keqiao, we were very surprised to see Sunny and Maggie running into the hotel. They had ridden the bus for over an hour because they wanted to see us one last time; Sunny had a picture for Amy and two of Lu Xun's books for me (the famous writer from Shaoxing- I had briefly mentioned that I regretted not buying one of his books). Since my return I have received many Sunny text messages and emails. In each one she asks me a question from the idiom book.."What's the difference between 'every other day' and 'every two days?'....She has finished her "study plan" and is determined to come to America.

3. Would you do it again?

Many people have asked me this. I don't tend to repeat experiences, plus I will not willingly travel to Asia in July or August again, so no I would not do it again. I hesitantly recommend ACT; they are a bit unorganized, but they did manage to connect us with schools and the schools were primarily responsible for us. It's all a gamble (think Deqing), especially when you are dealing with China. It's certainly a valid way to get there and experience IT. (By the way, earning independent study credits through Heritage University make up your own curriculum and study plan).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Today the Great Wall, Tomorrow the view from Phinney Ridge

I will discuss the Wall in a minute...I have been involved in a haze of touring ever since we departed from our sleeper train (best night of sleep I have had in five weeks!) on Sunday morning and we have to leave for the airport at 4:15 tomorrow morning (what do you think I am doing after this? getting a hair wash and massage!).
Haze is the correct word. I feel I have been living in Batman's world for the past week - Beijing is SMOGGY! I have heard a few ACT people try to trick themselves into believing it is "fog"; it is not. It is most definitely smog and the sun is trying so hard to shine. The good part about this is that it isn't as hot here. The bad part is that I feel so claustrophobic and my throat hurts. Beijing is just SO BIG and there are SO MANY PEOPLE and the TRAFFIC IS SO BAD! I hear they are trying to clean up the air to present a good face at the Olympics; I will be impressed if they pull it off. This is not a pretty city.

Anyway, I will say that meeting up with the other ACT people that we met so briefly in the beginning was a lot of fun. Most had pretty good experiences, but out of the 7 groups, I think we got pretty lucky. Maybe part of my lackluster response to Beijing is that we had such a great setting in Keqiao...we keep saying that we were spoiled by Keqiao and that we miss Stir Fry Street and the waterfront. But as the groups arrived, we heard many stories similar to ours: changed schedules, more changed schedules, nothing as it seemed, duck beaks on a stick, the "boys in the back of the room" phenomenon, etc. But one girl, Chandra, a pre-MEd student from Portland who is taking three years off to travel before committing to the rest of her schooling, had the most unbelievable story. When we were at The Forbidden City, she approached me quite casually and said, "So, do you want to hear the weirdest thing that happened to me?" Here it is:

The others in her group were teaching night school so she decided to have dinner by herself at a restaurant she had frequented during her time there. She sat down to a dinner of noodles and vegetables (a popular entree among the ACT people) and was almost done when she and everyone else in the restaurant heard a huge BANG on the roof right above Chandra. Everyone looked up and this is what they saw: blood coming through the roof - lots of blood, pouring from the cracks - right onto Chandra and her meal. Shocked and confused, she just stared as blood splattered all over her. A waitress ran over and helped her up, trying to redirect her to another table and said "I will get you another dinner!" Chandra said "No, thanks...I don't want any more dinner, I think I will go home now..." As she was walking home, she saw the ambulance come. What had happened, a man had fallen from his high story apartment and landed on the roof of the restaurant and DIED. She was covered in his blood.

We all agreed that she won the prize for the "weirdest story." I can't believe she is still a normal person.
OK, so because THAT did not happen to me, I will tell you the worst thing to happen to ME. And because this is the worst thing, I have to say it is not SO bad but it is bad. I lost my camera the first day in Beijing (sorry Brian, this will hit you the hardest next to me). My camera that I had learned to love in the six weeks I had it...the one my whole group coveted and wanted to buy upon their return home. We had just gotten to Beijing and had seen the Temple of Heaven and got into the hottest cab ride ever. I was sitting behind the plastic barrier, sweating to death, feeling I would pass out. I had gotten into the habbit of checking my bag every time I left a cab and did so again to see my camera CASE in there. A half hour later when I went to take pictures of the hutong (ancient neighborhoods of Beijing) I realized that my camera was missing from its case and that cab had of course disappeared into 14.9 million people. Wow that was depressing. But everyone has been so nice about it...Miguel took pictures for me up until today and then today one of the other group members, Joey, let me use his extra camera for the wall. But I don't want to talk about it anymore except to ask my brother if he will check NewEgg for another good deal on the exact camera. And, thank God, I had transferred EVERY single picture up until that morning onto my laptop, so all of my memories remain intact.

So we have been, like I said, zipping around the city in a tour bus. I expected (and wanted) to feel really small in Tiananmen Square but did is broken up into sections (obstructed by a museum and a masoleum holding Chairman Mao's body) so what I had in my imagination...standing there and feeling the history of China and that bloody square course through me just didn't happen. The Forbidden City was forebodingly crowded and our very difficult to understand, yet very enthusiastic tour guide, Jessie, drug us to every single crack to tell us a long story that sounded like this" Hu ha wu shi wa, Emporer, Concubine" (sped up five million times and ongoing for 5 minutes) until she got to the end with her "OK! OK! Let's go!" It was hot and we were hungry and really, the Temple of Heaven was more interesting. But what the Temple of Heaven did NOT have was a STARBUCKS right in the middle of it. That's right, there was a Starbucks Coffee right in the middle of this city that was forbidden to outsiders for 500 years; corporate America, corporate Seattle for that matter, has now been invited right in to the bossom of the most sacred place of the oldest continuous civilization on earth. I didn't like that at all but I did have a tuna sandwich and an icy chocolate chip frapaccino that tasted really good and prevented me from slipping into a food coma. I am conflicted! And Jeff, I have a picture of a sign describing an ancient ruin with the message below "Made possible by American Express." If that is not PI material...

The Wall today did not disappoint, except for the vendors giving fake money in change for their cheap souvenirs. It was massive and windy and glimpsing it was truly exciting, walking on it surprisingly steep and challenging, the height of it (only about two stories) was quite shocking. I mean, what kind of wimpy army can't scale a short little wall like that? We climbed the "hard" part to the south where there were half as many people. I will not try to describe what it is like, it is truly fabluous. There is a huge sign next to the most well traveled section that reads "One World, One Dream, Beijing 2008." You know that will be on The Today Show every day!
So I am ready to be on my comfortable couch for a while. It has been a great experience, but I want normalcy to return. I don't know if I mentioned this, but I have earned five credits through Heritage University for doing this trip and writing this blog, so a "reflection" will follow upon my return and if it's OK with Mary Ann, my advisor, I will just do it on the blog (Mary Ann?). Thanks to everyone who kept in tune; especially to those who wrote messages that were so fun to receive. And mom and dad, can't wait to eat from your garden tomorrow and to smell that fresh CLEAN Seattle air!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Dog with a side of Ethnican Chips, please

Amy and I are all packed and ready to go so we wandered up and down quiet, (sad) foodless Stir Fry Street (can I really leave it?) and are now at the clean cafe for just a half an hour. I guess I didn't mention that we have an all-night "soft seat" train ride to Beijing. I don't mind the train ride, but I hate getting my luggage to the train.

Last night Gail and I got "Elegant" Taiwanese massages (one of the only ones in the neighborhood left to try) and then met the others over at my hair washing place because most of them had yet to experience that (which was hard for me to believe after how much I talked about it). What a sight to see four Americans reclining in a row with soapy hair and an attendant at each head. Wish I could send the picture.

Then Miguel, Jess, Karis, Amy and I went down to the carnival for one last walk along the water. Earlier in the day, one of the TA's told us something interesting...that the boats on the water in Shaoxing (and Keqioa - our polyester suburb) were different than all the boats in China. They are canoe-shaped with two overhead coverings and because of them Shaoxing is referred to as "The Venice of the East." For some reason we had not tried these boats, so at 11 last night we decided to hire one of the many guys beckoning passersby into their boats. It was a bit scary getting in, but our oarsman was quite competent. We were very surprised to see (because it was hard to see him on his perch behind the covered area) that he was rowing one oar with his feet and the other with one hand (he was also smoking a cigarette). We sang Italian songs and had a great reflection hour regarding our time in Keqiao; another bittersweet moment because it is Jess' last night with us. She is meeting her parents in Shanghai and is going to Beijing with them rather than joining the group tour. I haven't talked much about Jess, but as one of the youngest in our group, she has been one of the most steady and able to bounce with all of the chaos. She is great, and we hate to see her leave early.

So, for more emotional reporting, this morning at breakfast, calm cool Jess couldn't help crying. Our group, thrown together under very difficult circumstances, has functioned very well together. In fact, the director of ACT visited the other day and he said we were the most independent group out of the 75 teachers in China this summer. He was impressed that we had ventured out so much on our fact I can't remember if I mentioned this, but we weren't supposed to leave until tomorrow. None of us wanted to miss out on another day in Beijing though, so on the train we go "alone" tonight. Anyway, it has been non-stop action, up down and sideways for four weeks, all eight of us, and it is hard to break that magic.

Before I go, I forgot to tell you one of the highlights from yesterday. Five minutes after I said goodbye to my first class (the third graders) and returned to the break room, there was a knock at the door. Someone opened it and there they were, all fifteen of them. Their teacher was in the break room, too (they leave their kids unattended in the classrooms all the time). She said, "Oh, they miss you already!" Then, because she is a music teacher, she suggested that they sing "Jingle Bells." They did, and we received perhaps the only caroling to occur in China this summer.

Gail told me a touching story last night. Thoughtful Debbie bought us each a puzzle of China as a parting gift. Since Gail taught her very bright fifth grade class a lot of geography, she put a piece of the puzzle in each kid's goodbye bag and then gave them a speech about working as a team to accomplish things. She told them "You all have a piece, but if you work together, you can make a whole and build the world" (she did not say 'in one day') (although her words were more inspirational than what I remember). One of her students stood up, independently, and took his piece and put it in the puzzle. Every single student followed and when they were done putting China together, they gave the puzzle to their Chinese teacher, whom Gail said was wonderful. She said she was holding back tears. Gail really is a wonderful person, and at 60, a very brave one to venture out to do this. She took all of her students on an imaginary journey for two weeks...they got to pick where they wanted to go and then they "flew" in a plane (she even had the kids act as stewards serving rows in a plane cake from across the street). The kids loved it and her. People here do not really think about traveling outside of China very much because it is very hard to get a Visa and it is so expensive and Gail helped them to imagine it.
Here is another t-shirt saying (just saw it) STOP SAD it says.

Oh, and Amy bought me a bag of chips, Inca Chips, "Ethnican Flavor."

Oh, and one of her students wrote in a penpal letter "My favorite food is dog."

Mine wrote to penpals, too. I can't decide which girl to give my niece as a penpal but she can choose from the video of them (Crystal, maybe your daughter wants one?). Anyway, I put a list of questions for them to answer on the board (yes, in chalk, did I mention the only tool I have had to teach with for the last four weeks is chalk?). Lily, my favorite, wrote "I like Marjie, but I don't like tomatoes or pork."

Now I really have to go! Good bye!

Take Me Home Country Road (but to Beijing First)

I'm done I'm done.

What a day what a day.

How exhausting to have two end of the school session days within two months!
I arrived to find my 6th grade girl fan club waiting at the door with loads of gifts (unfortunately they mostly bought me cute little angels and paperweights...) and spent the day in a fog, playing last minute favorite games and giving my little bag o gifts to the 80 or so Chinese children who have made my life oh so interesting this month and receiving so many gifts. The little ones cried and the older ones hugged me about eight times a piece when we said goodbye. The fan club put on a "program" for me which included skits and songs...if anyone can endure some videos just let me know, how could I NOT get them on film?

After school Pamela treated all of us teachers and our assistants to dinner at the hotel. We sat at a huge round table and ate about 25 dishes. In China, you think you are done eating because the food stops coming out for about ten minutes and you feel kind of relieved...then five more dishes arrive. I can't figure out why one of the last dishes is always soup. Anyway, after dinner we had to say goodbye to our TA's and I was fine until I looked over at happy Sunny with tears running down her cheeks. I can't tell you how special Sunny is; out of all of the girls I think I was the luckiest. She is funny and, well, Sunny. She helped me so much. She really liked the "Where the Sidewalk Ends" book I brought (my mom's) so I gave that to her as a parting gift (I will buy another one) as well as a book Julie Carey gave me on idioms and a tie-dyed t-shirt I bought on a whim and wow, it fit her personality to a T. She loved it all - she especially loved the books because she is so eager to study English and travel the world ("like Marjie" I have her saying on tape). She gave me a drawing of a beautiful Chinese woman - she is quite artistic- in a very funny plastic frame with animals on it ("the animals are lovely" she said). Anyway, when I went to hug her goodbye she turned away and said "I can't say goodbye to you!" She was very attached to Amy, too, and when Amy hugged her she lost it completely. I think Sunny is so bright and this is her first contact with the world and she loves the taste of it and it broke her heart to see it go for now. She is determined to study hard and make lots of money and come to visit me. "I will visit you in your condo" she says.

Last night Amy and I took the girls from a few weeks ago out to dinner. We all took the bus to Lily's university campus and fortunately it was much better than the first one, with waterfalls and rocks and an ancient bridge. The seven of us walked through the "U District" which was unlike anything we have seen vendors cooking pancakes filled with meat and vegetables, artists making animals with ribbons, photo booths where Sunny and I got nine different backgrounds and nine poses for under two dollars. Amy's TA, quiet and studious Lily, wanted to take us to a special restaurant, so I had to resist all of the pancakes - but what a treat. The place is known for its pumpkin with salted egg...really outstanding, I would have to say the only time pumpkin has tasted good outside of pumpkin pie. Funny, we bought our drinks outside, as usual, and when we sat down Lily said "They have very good dumplings down the street, I will be right back." And she returned with the best dumplings of my life and plopped them down, no concern that they came from down the street. They were pot stickers covered in egg. Later I found out that the fried rice we had at the beginning came from somewhere else, too. No problem.

After dinner we were under no volume constraint so Amy and I traded songs with the girls. We would sing an English song (Take Me Home Country Road, Top of the World, American Pie) and they would counter with a Chinese sleeping song or a pop song. Funny, they know a lot of Carpenters and we sang "Yesterday Once More" together.

I am under pressure to leave now for my last massage and some wandering down Stir Fry Street with the gang so I am not going to edit this: the next time I write I will be in Beijing, and by the way, don't ask for pictures...the dirty internet has been completely dismembered and I can't figure out the camera stuff here ( and I have TRIED).

See you in Beijing!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

About to Rock Around Beijing

Last night Kim and I walked around the lake and I was able to persuade her down Stir Fry Street, even though her feet were killing her. Took her to my Stir Fry Guy and bragged to her that he "got me." "He will know just what I mean." Well, I was a bit too bold...I had dreamt up a concoction in my mind and it involved long necked clams, eggplant, greens and noodles. I thought My Stir Fry Guy understood my pointing and nodding perfectly, but what ended up on our little plastic table was an order of clams (delicious), an order of noodles with eggplant (delicious) and an order of greens with eggs (greasy). That's what I get for showing off, but at least they were all good mistakes and Kim was impressed anyway. She got NOODLES WITH VEGETABLES and that was all she cared about.

As we sat at the table, a cute girl with a guitar came to our table with a song list and well, you know, how can you resist those eyes? (musicians wander along Stir Fry Street only on certain nights and we can't figure out the pattern...) We agreed to some entertainment from her and she proceeded to play a song on the saddest sounding guitar you have ever heard - it was a similar sound to strumming a piece of wood. Nevertheless, word got around that the Meguoren (Americans) were paying for entertainment and I am not exaggerating when I say that we suddenly had a line of beggars and musicians waiting at our table. We agreed to one man who had a two stringed sitar looking instrument and his music was beautiful with a little Jimi Hendrix jamming thrown in. The entire time he played (about ten minutes in all), a little boy stood by our table holding his guitar and clearing his voice quite loudly. We were so amused. Then a gust of wind came and blew about ten dollars off of our table and he heroic-ly ran after it and brought it back (we have discovered that this is a very honest culture). So what could we do but pay him for some music. His guitar was worse than the girl's, but we enjoyed our evening immensely. I especially enjoyed Kim's enjoyment of it; she had not explored the street much and she loved it. As we sat there I felt so happy and satisfied. Me on Stir Fry Street, almost done with my responsibilities and heading for the Great Wall = Happiness.

I have to say a word about how much my brother rules...most of you know this, but not only did he set up my glob and has been of the utmost importance in his role of maintaining it and posting my pictures (remember, I have not seen it since I left US soil...) but he found the greatest Canon camera for me before I left and I have loved it. I have taken many videos...of stir fry street, my walk in the morning by the canal, crossing the street, the kids saying "We Feel Awesome, Oh we feel so AWESOME, UGH!!" and skits and the musicians last night, etc, etc. He also urged me to buy an extra battery and that has saved me on about five occasions. Imagine being at the wall and running out of battery... Plus I have my laptop here, so I have been organizing pictures as I go. Today I showed all of my kids a slide show of them during the past four weeks and they loved it.

I attended the third grade party today and what a treat. They seated me as the guest of honor and we played games and different kids performed for Nancy, who turned ten today. Larry did a trick with string, Oliver did a magic trick, Jeremy did the splits, two boys did a dialogue (tradition in China, to do a dialogue with advertisement slogans), five girls played "Jingle Bells" on the flute (I taught the teacher the song because she is a music teacher and she kept them singing it), we sang Happy Birthday in both English and Chinese and opened presents and had cake. I was very honored to be invited and the kids were so much fun. It was good to see them outside of classwork.

By the way, there is a bit of a performer in me and it has really come out here in China. I teach the kids songs almost every day and I choreograph most of them. For example, today we were learning time so I taught them "Rock Around the Clock." We start out with one hand straight up, like the long hand on the twelve, and one hand as the one, then change it to five oclock and then nine oclock, then we spin our hands in a big circle to "Rock Around the Clock." I was doing this in front of the mirror at about 11 last night to put it all together. I am someone else here!

Well, off to Noodle Street tonight... I think, I will give my Stir Fry Guy a break.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Frisbees and International Relations

Last night Amy, Karis, Miguel, Jess and I went down to the water with a frisbee. Everyone was playing carnival games and dancing and playing badminton as usual so it was a bit difficult to create a space. However, we were successful and in not more than five minutes a crowd of about 100 people gathered around the Americans and their funny throwing thing (none of my students, and apparently not many Chinese, have ever seen a frisbee before!) After a few minutes, we began to ask kids who were watching on the sidelines to throw by gesturing toward them with the frisbee; the first five literally recoiled from the offer and ran away! But then a ten or eleven year old stepped out and made it known that he was ready to try. He became permanent in our throwing group and then more people started to get involved. In about twenty minutes, we had eight others in our group, including a Pakistani robed in gold, an Indian man robed in white and a couple of punk rock teenagers. Everyone was laughing and having such a great time; especially watching Amy with her antics. Every time the frisbee went outside the circle, a little Chinese boy (about two years old...he had probably just learned to walk) would run with all of his might to fetch it and bring it back to Amy. None of us wanted to break the spell but when we did turn to go, we all waved goodbye and received a hearty wave from the crowd. We decided that that ten year old will be an ambassador someday.

The clams were fantastic last night and will go back tonight; I have lured Kim to come with me.

Today was fun...the kids were fun. One of my fourth graders asked me such an interesting question (through Sunny) "How can you graduate from university and not know Chinese?" What an honest I didn't quite know how to answer. My third graders have invited me to a birthday party tomorrow so I am looking forward to that, and my fifth graders put on skits today for the class. They are so cute, I got them on video. The really smart girls (who "worship" me, can you tell I really enjoy writing that?) performed a whole skit with an investigative reporter and everything. Tomorrow I am going to have them write ten sentences about themselves to be video taped and sent back to America...if they do the sentences, they can enter a drawing for prizes, consisting of the things I brought from home and do not know what to do with-

All in all I have mixed emotions about leaving now. I feel I am just starting to make some progress, but would I stay? NO! Do I love China? Well, I like China, but I think the main word I would use to describe my feeling about it is CONFUSION, or Confucian, whatever.

I was actually heading for the dirty cafe so that I could send some pictures but it had huge padlocks on the doors and a sign in Chinese...who knows what happened, but I don't know if I will be able to send from this clean cafe, which doesn't seem very clean now because the guy across from me is spitting on the floor about every five minutes. It's really disgusting!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Go to The Beautiful Place

Sunday we asked the hotel for advice as to what to see. The girl at the desk wrote the name of "A beautiful place" for all of us, that we just HAD to see. By the way, when we got there on Saturday, we asked for a map of the city. "Oh, we only have one! We are only a three star hotel. At four star hotels, more English maps." Note to self.
Anyway, seven of us filled two taxis to go to the beautiful place. About a half an hour later, after crossing numerous bridges, in an area that somewhat resembled Lake Washington, the taxi containing Debbie, Miguel, Karis and Jessica behind Amy, Gale and my taxi abandoned the trip. But we were determined that we must be almost there so we pressed on. Finally our taxi driver stopped and he seemed to be asking us where the heck we were wanting him to take us. "The beautiful place?" we offered hopefully. He was frustrated. It was all beautiful, but he was baffled. Finally, he took us to a pagoda which was really out in the middle of nowhere. We were fascinated by the street lined with people selling plums and tea so we decided to risk not getting an easy taxi back to the city. What a day we had. We had stumbled on some old Taoist caves, which were vast and cool and where no other white people were in sight. There were three caves: The Rain Cave, The Third Cave and the Sunrise Cave (in that order). What we gathered was that they were used for retreats and we wanted to become Taoists and stay there forever.
However, after an hour we had to emerge, so we sweat our way all the way to the top of the pagoda (a journey that took about 20 very hot stair climbing minutes) and were treated to a very good view of the plum and tea forests from the top. We felt so lucky!
When we got down we bartered for some tea and then focused on getting back to the city so we could meet our group for the bus ride home. At first we asked a tour bus of University Students to let us ride with them but they had no available seats and their bus driver annoyingly obeyed the law and wouldn't let us stand. A guy who was standing nearby heard us and of course offered to drive us for a very hight rate (the taxi meter charged us about $12 for our 1/2 hour ride...this man was going to charge us more than twice that). We got him down a bit and he drove us about ten minutes toward Suzhou when he saw a taxi driver changing a flat tire. We thought he had stopped to help him, but little did we know he was selling us to him. He got us out of his car and put us into the taxi cab, then told us we were paying the driver what we had agreed to pay him. "We will pay the meter" we said, which made him very angry. What followed was lots of very loud yelling in Mandarin between the driver and the swindler, some of it right in my face. Finally, the driver handed the swindler a very large bill and drove off with us. He was acutally nice and we could tell he felt badly about the situation. Anyway, we got back in time to eat great Japanese food (enoki mushrooms wrapped in tenderloin, potato croquettes, tempura, udon noodles, etc) before our bus ride home.
Now it is Monday afternoon. School was crazy today for some reason, I think it was the game I tried to play that Karrie recommended, using fly swatters to hit word categories. I would explain but the clams are calling. They liked it but they were SO ear piercingly loud over it. During lunch I went to get a massage from the abundant blind person but he was nowhere in sight (!). I did get a very good hour long massage from a seeing man though, and it was a very good way to spend a lunch hour and three dollars! Only four more days of teaching!

Broken Wing!

On Saturday morning, Our Brady Bunch headed to the bus station at 6 am, smarter and wiser, having pre-paid for a nice air conditioned bus ride to Suzhou and expecting to find the evil voodoo doll (or whatever they found in that episode). We agreed to split up once we got to the hotel and we did worked so much better for all of us to go at our own pace and see what we wanted.
I will sum up the day like this: beautiful classical gardens, the Cultural Revolution paraphenalia I had read about lining the streets (Mao watches, lighters, Little Red Books, t-shirts with him eating at McDonald's, propaganda posters, etc) and yes, lots of lovely women like the Lonely Planet claimed. In the afternoon it was so hot that Amy and I took a taxi back to our nice hotel room and watched an HBO movie about a street dancer, Honey Daniels, who saves her street kids by opening a studio for them. It was the worst movie ever, but we couldn't have been happier.
Later that night, Kim, Amy and I joined up for a boat trip that cruised the perimeter of the city in the smaller canal. We decided that in China you just have to keep making your own happy hour so we bought food to go (club sandwiches at a restaurant by the boats) and beer so we could have a picnic. A New Zealander businessman (buyer of cement), Richard, had decided to venture out of his hotel and so he and his food joined us. We were treated to 80 minutes of vegas lights along the water, with green lighted trees and beautiful temples and landscapes. For the last half an hour, we went to the top of the boat and were commanded to "duck" (in Chinese) every time we came to a bridge. The bridges came RIGHT over our blind mules in Venezuela, this would never happen in America!
After the boat trip, the four of us (Richard included) wandered into a night club with strobe lights and very loud European music. In the middle of the bar was an island, behind which danced about ten beautiful bikini clad women, complete with tassles and sequins (spelling it right this time). They drank and smoked while they served. We were shown to a table where we had our own personal attendant, a guy of about 20 or so, who wore a green night light ring which he swerved in and out, up and down, using perhaps the worst dance moves I have ever witnessed, dancing for our entertainment, I guess, and to serve us little wedges of watermelon and peanuts. His main job was to pour our beer in little tiny glasses every time they were emptied. It is evident that everyone in China has a job, but this was very peculiar and not to my taste. I don't like to drink a lot of beer, but I don't like an bad dancing attendant at my table waving a green light ring around, filling my glass every two seconds! I guess the girls were going to come out from behind the bar and dance on the pole but we didn't wait to see it.
Instead, we found a bar with pictures of Nirvana, Oasis, ACDC, David Bowie and the Beattles on the wall. Just our luck a punk band was just about to play. Amy just about flew through the roof she was so excited. She met the band, called "Broken Wing" before they took the stage...they were so nice and clean cut, except for one token long haired guy. They sang their first song, Green day's "American Idiot" to their largely American crowd, then went on to play Ramones and Sex Pistol covers. They had one original song (they played it twice to get mileage out of it) called "F--- Education." Every once in a while I stop and think about what has changed in the last ten years or so and so this seemed quite monumental...singing anti-American songs is perhaps a stepping stone to their own political criticism. Amy was their biggest fan "YEEEEWWWW, Broken Wing!"she was yelling in support.

A Long-Necked Clam Happy Hour

When I last blogged (I am not lonely any more, thank you all for your emails, you can't imagine how good it is to feel remembered in a country that makes sense!) I was heading to Stir Fry Street to try the clams, at last. Well, I got them to go (after a lot of pantomime and pointing) then went into the grocery store to buy a drink (stir fry vendors only deal in live fish and vegetables). I was just about to leave when I thought, oh yes, I want some peanut butter for my hotel room and I went to the back of the store and ran into....AMY!

Amy, who had been gone for two days, disappearing into mystical Shanghai without a trace, possibly never to return, the last picture of her in my mind one of extreme trauma. Well, an understatement would be to say that it was just SO good to see her. She had just ordered from our Noodle Lady so we bought very cold beer and decided to make our own happy hour. I decided to have the NL make me an order of noodles, and I mixed my long necked clams in with them and I was in heaven. Sitting there for an hour catching up with Amy and hearing about her Midnight Train to Shanghai trip was one of those moments you only experience if you sign up for a crazy teaching assignment in China for the summer and your new friend loses her passport and you happen to run into her in the grocery store when you are buying peanut butter and drinks for the long necked clams you just bought on Stir Fry Street. By the way, Amy was practically singing the National Anthem, she had been treated so well and had been issued a new passport in just one day. Phew.

Wow, those clams were good. I am heading to get some more after my next two posts (I'm going to have to make it quick...)

Friday, July 28, 2006

The abundant blind person massages the center

During our two hour lunch break we sometimes wander around town or we might take a rickshaw back to the hotel to take a nap. Today I just walked down a street I had not been down before. I saw a sign that read "The abundant blind person massages the center" so I looked inside and saw many massage tables. As I was peeping in the window, a woman saw me and ran to the door. Through gestures, she indicated that she wanted me to wait for just a moment and eventually came back leading a man by the arm. She pointed at his face and I saw the whites of his blind eyes. He was, of course, the abundant blind person. I didn't have time for the massage of the center, but I am very curious about getting a blind massage...I've gotten every other kind! We will see.

California Beef Noodle Restaurant, Built in a Day

A few weeks ago we all went to an Indian restaurant about two blocks from our hotel (most of the time I rage against my comrades' lack of food adventure and go out on my own) and next door there was a restaurant under construction called "California Beef Noodle Restaurant." Only the frame of the interior was completed and two-by-fours were laying all over the place. We all mentioned that it was too bad it wouldn't be finished until after we left. Now, I am not making this up...TWO days later we walked by that restaurant, and it was COMPLETELY OPEN FOR BUSINESS. There was a reader board menu, tables, chairs, customers...clean, uniformed workers standing at the door to great us. It was really weird. So ever since then, when we see any kind of construction, even big sky scrapers, we say "Oh, I wonder what it will be? We'll have to come back tomorrow and find out!" I had read that there are more cranes in China than everywhere else in the world combined...the rate of progress here is unbelievable. What a place!

I'm Turning Chinese

It's Friday afternoon, it's 92 degrees but "it feels like 103" according to the internet. Right, more like it feels like 150! But I hear Seattle is the same.

So, the end of week three and now a confession: I looked in the mirror on Monday and instead of having a Stuart Smalley talk with myself, I just said, "your life sucks!" I can tell you that now because I feel one hundred percent differently today - and today the power was air conditioning! So I have been thinking about all of the things I have become accustomed to in just three weeks:

-how to use a fan properly. Sunny asked me a few days ago, "have you ever used a fan before?" and then said "I can tell" and gave me a lesson in fan etiquette.
-being a walking American attraction. Everyone locks their eyes on "The Marjie" (as the kids say) wherever I go...especially during my walks in the morning where I am the only one wearing shorts and tennis shoes.
-crossing six lanes of traffic with no signals. Sharing the crosswalk with rickshaws and cars and scooters and bicyclists and buses.
-wearing my hair in a ponytail. I hate ponytails on me but here I have had to forgo all vanity since sweat is a constant part of my "look."
-No make up...what's the point?
-Two hour, six dollar massages and one dollar humbow, dumplings or noodles.
- 30 or so kids repeating everything I say
-the threat of having to use the torture bathroom every minute of every teaching hour
-about fifteen very high pitched voices of Chinese twenty something girls during fifteen minute breaks
-creating ESL curriculum for six hours of teaching per day with a target audience of very active, very loud Chinese kids. I can surely do a better job than the "Let's Go" people...I wonder if there is any money in it?
-constantly scrounging for cold or frozen water and when finally finding frozen water, waiting forever for it to melt.
-people cooking pretty much in the six lane road and all down every side street at night.

This morning I was thinking about my return to Seattle and I had the thought, "It may all seem so dull!"

Anyway, classes have been great. Sunny and I are a good team and we continue to come up with games and have gotten each class involved in competitions, Team One and Team Two games; we have them chanting cheers so loudly that the other teachers are asking me "Tell me what games you are playing!" The one they loved this week was so simple. I would take one of my flash cards and hide it in my book and ask, "What is in my book" and they had to guess in a series of yes or no questions in categories, each team taking a turn. They were crazy over it.

My girl fans are just so cute. They have all written messages to me on their name tags - Jill's says "Hi Marjie!!! (with a heart) and my favorite - from my favorite student, Lily. She wrote "I worship Marjie" on her name tag. Being openly worshiped in writing is great. For those of you who taught Andrea Trias at Meadowdale, she looks just like her. When I asked the class "Where do you want to travel?" Lily said "I want to travel to Mexico" (where Andrea's family is from of course..we all agree that many Chinese could pass for Hispanic, easily). It's very rewarding to hear these kids speaking English and understanding it. Today after lunch when I asked them "How are you?" They answered as they always do.."I'm fine thank you, how are you?" I said "I'm hot!" and they said "We're hot too!" I said "I want ice cream!" and they said "We want ice cream too!" then I kept saying things that would be nice on a hot day and they would repeat it. Then I said "I want a very hot pizza" and they all, in unison, said "We don't want a very hot pizza!!" I guess you had to be there, but remember they knew nothing three weeks ago. Sunny and I just exchanged a look like, That Was Cool!

Maybe the best part is that the boys are now (mostly) on board. I really made an effort to include them and gave them the one who likes basketball is "Yao Ming" and another I just call "Basketball." At least they are not talking the entire class period now and they love the games and the prizes I invested in (best money ever spent).

The bad part of this week: Amy lost her passport. She and Karis went into Shaoxing Wed. night and she lost it somewhere between Starbucks and the hotel; she probably left it in the taxi. Big tough Amy was sobbing in the morning so Pamela had one of her other teachers take her to Shanghai to start the application process. I felt so badly for her. Amy left me a message this afternoon saying she got her passport and would be back tonight, so I'm sure she will be full of stories.

Tomorrow we are all heading to Suzhou - about an hour outside of Shanghai. This city is one I had marked before coming to China because my neighbor, Jade - a landscape architect - had visited there recently and loved it. The Lonely Planet says it is known for its "classical gardens, silk factories and beautiful women (no mention of the men...are they all trolls?)"

[See Suzhou and the other places Marjie has been by clicking on the "See Maps of the Area" link in the right sidebar under the clock]

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

They will have an interesting time in America someday...

Every day I have my students copy down sentences and then recite them out loud, using all of the words we have learned so far. Just today I started to change up the boring sentences and the kids loved it:

Whose pink elephants are under the sink in the kitchen? Oh, they are Josh's pink elephants!
John really likes to eat purple tigers while he is flying long kites on the island in the sea.
Lily loves to make chocolate cake with the pigs who come to her house in the evening.

Now that is just good fun!

I hadn't played Simon Says with my fourth or fifth grades and was desperate for something to start my class with and oh my did they love it. I was hopping and sticking out my tongue and turning all at the same time, so Sunny asked if she could take some pictures in the next class so I am going to try to post them. (Thanks, Brian!)


Here are some of the menu items on the Muslim restaurant's menu:

Sugar Baked in Fire
Sheep Bone Soup
Fried Sheep Tripe with Iron Plate
Soup of Chopped Cooked Entrails of Sheep of Xinjiang
Cow Chops

and my two favorites

KFC (with a picture of fried chicken) and
Roast Lean Meat Taken From Under the Spinal Column of a Sheep.

I had the chicken with cashews.

Noodles with vegetables, please

I can send pictures from the dirty internet cafe, not from the clean one. I can post from the clean one, but I can't get into Gmail. Nothing sends from school or the hotel. This is the logic of China. So now I am at the dirty cafe to send some pictures and write about Kim.

Kim is the executive from Salinas and she is a walking attraction. By that I mean she is a quintessential woman and men, well, they notice her. She is always dressed to perfection and her make up is perfect; she does not sweat. I love Kim; she knows exactly who she is. Out of the eight of us here, she is the anomoly; she has hardly traveled and this is NOT an easy place, nor an easy job for someone accustomed to board rooms and business suits.

Last week when we were all getting settled, Pamela came in with ANOTHER new schedule. All of us froze and she said, "Don't worry, we are only switching two classes." It was one of Kim's. "Wait. No. Why are you switching them?" Wtihout pausing, Pamela said, "The students like their other teacher better." And Kim, not pausing said, "Too bad. I'm not switching again." Then she turned to us and put her hands up in a claw and said, as if to her students, "I'll get you, my pretties!" Pamela did not change the schedule.

Kim expects excellent service at every restaurant. It bothers her that dishes don't come out in a logical order; many times one of us will be done while the others are still waiting. A vegetarian, she has been trying to order noodles and vegetables for the past few weeks and, no matter the place, she has yet to get noodles with vegetables. She went as far to have her TA, Kelly, write the words "noodles with vegetables" in Chinese so she could show it to the waiters and waitresses. These symbols have gotten her only roasted peanuts and rice.

Just now, four of us went to a muslim restaurant and the menu had pictures with English translations (more about this in a minute). Quite excited, she pointed to the picture and description, "celery and cashews." Now, I had ordered chicken and cashews and out came a beautiful plate of chicken and cashews. Kim's dish? Only celery. She spent five minutes pointing to the English on the menu and to my plate; she wanted what was on the picture, "as it is advertised, please." So finally the waitress said (in very broken English) "Would you like me to take this back and put cashews on it? "YES, please!" said Kim. Ten minutes later, out comes the celery....covered with kidney beans.

To Kim's credit, she laughed. Just last night she told me that this trip has made her want to travel more...good for her. About her being an attraction: two muslim men asked her for her phone number while we sat in the restaurant.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Motivation for Potty Training

Babies here don't wear diapers. They wear little pants with a slit down the crotch, completely exposing their parts. What happens when they go to the bathroom? Good question. The parents stop and rub dirt on their butts and walk on or hold them over the garbage can. Parents take them into stores...everywhere. Isn't parenthood difficult enough without urine on your arm?

A day in my life

Here is my day: I wake up and run/walk at the canal to much waking up of Chinese bodies. Then we all have breakfast in the hotel ( a huge buffet of strange things each morning) and walk to school (about five blocks) past morning dumpling sellers and the electronics store blasting distorted music and play Frogger across three intersections (there is sometimes a very military looking traffic controller but we can't see any difference between when he is on the job or not). We drop off laundry next to the school or buy frozen water from the store, then we go into the break room to greet all of our assistants and plan for the day. We have three 45 minute classes in the morning, a two hour lunch and then three 45 minute classes in the afternoon. At the end of the day we are exhausted so we buy a different flavor of ice cream every day on the way home. Now that the kids know us it is like we are movie stars and they try to walk with us as far as they can and we try to talk to them but they are pretty shy. After a half an hour or so of rest, the night is finally ours and we try to negotiate our way through strange Chinese streets or bars.

They have uncles in their desks

This curriculum is SO EASY and is just killing me. So I try as much as I can to spice it up and I have taught them about five million flash cards. It is rewarding that they are making progress.

Today the lesson in 5th grade was "What is in your desk?" So I took my flash cards and held them up in front of various students. "What is in Mary's desk?" and I would hold up a picture of a grandfather, a piano, a train, a horse, etc and they had to say "I have a grandfather in my desk." Then of course I would say "Peter has a horse in his desk!" and they would all laugh and laugh. At the end of class I told them I was going to go home and tell American children what Chinese children had in their desks. They think I am hilarious!

Yesterday I started playing Wheel of Fortune where they have to solve a really long hangman like "They want to eat chocolate and cake while riding their bikes." They loved it.

Do you like Chinese New Year's Cake?

Yesterday we were going over food in the 5th grade. This class has about eight girls that are just the bomb. They love me is why I love them so much. They can't wait for me to come to their class and they always finish their work first. In the past few days, Lily, Lisa and Jill come up with questions to ask me while the others are still working. Yesterday it was "Marjie, do you like Chinese food?""Marjie, do you like dumplings?" "Marjie, do you like Chinese New Year's Cake?"


Getting messages of any kind through has become an obstacle course each day. Nothing in China is easy.

There have been hours of misery and yes, one more complete day of misery...imagine this: You are teaching grade school in China and all they have for a bathroom is a huge long trough that you have to straddle and then squat while trying to hold your breath because if you breathe you think you will lose your stomach. There is no sink and therefore no soap and of course so toilet paper. Add to this diarrhea. Now, I am not saying this happened to me, but just imagine it. And if it did happen to me, I might have been unprepared because up until that time I had no intention of EVER using the torture bathroom.

Fortunately, the teaching has finally become some kind of "fun."

Your Mama

Amy's classes were drawing family trees. As she was walking around, one of her students (one who liked to get his friend sitting next to him to do all of his work) tried to hide a paper in his desk. She asked her assistantm Lily, to go back and see what that was all about. Lily retrieved a paper with a picture of his friend's read (in Chinese)"Matt's mother is a female tiger!"

Monday, July 24, 2006

The cure for heat stroke

This morning when I came in to school, Sunny, my assistant, looked very pale. "I have heat stroke" she said, which was a very strange thing to say as this is BY FAR the coolest day yet, out of all eighteen days we have been here it is the only day that I am quite sure I will live. So during our entire third grade morning class she sat in the back and was not translating anything. After class, the teacher, Chris, said to me, "Sunny must stay here for the next ten minutes." I was very curious as to what was planned because Chris had prepared a bowl of water and was pulling Sunny's hair up. Sunny had not returned to the break room when it was time to go to the next class, so I went alone. Five minutes later the teacher, Chris, showed up to translate for the class. "Sunny is resting in my classroom," she said.

After that class, Sunny was in the break room with about six long, deep red scrapes down her neck. It looked like someone had tried to strangle her. "Sunny, are you OK?" "Oh, yes, I am much better!" She explained what Chris had done, and it seems to be something like the application of water and then very hard, deep pinching. I thought back to the class we had taught last week, called "What's the matter?" and how strange it must have been for them to say "I'm hot" and "drink some cold water!" when really it should have read "I'm very hot" and "apply water and hard, violent pinching!"

I was very curious as to how Sunny's cure would progress...well, at lunch, I told her that in America if we are that sick, we go home! She was so pale and almost fainting. She looked at me kind of shocked and said, "OK, I will go home." I offered to pay for a taxi for her since her bus ride is over an hour and she would not agree. "The air conditioning is making me sick!"

One of the strangest parts of this story is that NONE of the kids even flinched when she walked in with her strangle scratches. It's simply what you do when you have heat stroke on a very cool (relatively) day!

Today is going really well (I am writing during my lunch break). I can receive hotmail here but must type my messages in Gmail...see, logic does apply! The kids have mellowed and seem to be learning at least some English. I feel very relaxed and peaceful about my job and hope that no changes occur this week.

Last night Amy and I walked all the way around the canal which looks like a huge Green Lake (about five miles). There had been another thunder storm so it was nice and bearable outside. At one point on the pathway- out of nowhere, really- we saw a HUGE blow up castle, the kind kids jump in. This colorful castle, juxtaposed against the gray sky, was so sad and the sadness was enhanced by the fact that there were no kids there, only about four grown-up workers. Why they blew that monster up in the middle of that trail is another Ancient Chinese Secret, I guess. How did I know to name my blog " a State of Confucian?" That nails it! OK, back to work without Sunny...this should be interesting!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Buddhas, ballroom dancing and badminton

Given the good time I had this weekend, I may have agreed to come despite the sweat. Two of our TA's, Lily and Lynn, took us to a National Park that was just a ten minute taxi ride from our hotel (Keyan). By the end, we were more confused than we were at the beginning as to what kind of park it actually was, but I will try to describe it:

Picture about three times the size of Woodland Park Zoo with trails, pathways, canals,bridges and lots of temples and sculptures. I don't know how many times we turned a corner to gasp... at a two hundred foot stone Buddha (completed by three generations of a family), or waterfalls or trails with interesting themes. My favorite trail was called "The Finger Path" and was decorated with Chilology sayings and huge representations of very nicely manicured hands holding the objects referred to in the sayings. We took boats to islands and tasted wine at one of them -"Inebriation Island" - where, by the way, we had to wait out an hour long spectacular (and kinda scary) lightning storm (not a bad place to have to wait...)

One island had many sculptures interpreting the writings of the famous writer from this area, Lu Xun. Another island had a beautiful waterfall, which we stood under and waded in the clean, cold water. It was a hot day (until after the storm) and we had to suck on iced blocks of water to live through the heat. One temple in particular was quite beautiful, and we took about an hour to read the stories depicted in the pictures about the life of the Buddha. After seeing so many Christian churches and art pieces all through Europe, this new form was especially interesting for me. The strange thing about this park is that is was almost empty...evidently the government has been investing in parks like these, but we wonder how they keep them running (don't they know they should install a Magic Mountain ride?). We thought it was much more beautiful than Hangzhou and Westlake (their "heaven on earth").

Last night we just walked down to the canal where the carnival was taking place, only this time it seemed to be badminton night - birdies flying everywhere - and I also got to see the ballroom dancing I had heard about. One group was doing kind of a techno swing dancing and another a waltz.

Both yesterday and today I was feeling good enough to get up and go running at the great that felt. I know this week will be much better just because I feel so much better. Being sick in a foreign country, especially if you are teaching, is just no fun at all.

Today Pamela took us to "the largest pearl factory in the world." My favorite part of the day was the hour long van trip out there because we passed through villages and saw a lot of green takes a while to get out of the industrial masses. The factory was overwhelming - just strings and strings of pearls, white, pink and grey. I managed to get a few pretty cool pieces but overall I thought a lot of it was very gaudy.

I'm spending the rest of my time uploading pictures for my brother to post...did you know I haven't been able to access my blog at all since I've been here? Fortunately, my brother set it up so that all of your posts come into my hotmail account (when it is working, of course!) Bye for now!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Just Breathe

Today after school, Amy and I walked over to "our street" across from the hotel. By day it is a street with ordinary sidewalks; by night it is tranformed into Sir Fry Street. I know I have already mentioned this, but I have to paint the picture again: ten foot long carts come out of nowhere and suddenly plates and plates of chopped vegetables and live creatures line up for you to view. Underneath the carts are buckets of live fish; only when you order does the fish give up its life - freshness counts for everything! I have been tempted by the guy who is always grilling a beautiful whole fish at the end of the street; maybe I will have to eat one of his masterpieces. I have yet to try the long necked clams, but I have had quite a few stir fries with thick noodles and an assortment of veges.

Tonight, Amy and I were determined to try some of the beautifully skewered vegetables; we thought they would be grilled on the open grills manned by the Middle Easterners...but we found that we shouldn't assume anything - ever- here. We were told to put veges and fish in a basket. These contents were dumped into a huge pot of boiling water to par boil, then they were lifted out and put in cold water. Then, into a metal bowl it all went and up came another lid and inside that cauldron was a red broth which was scooped out with a ladle and poured into our metal bowl; we had ordered soup! You just never know. So we said, oh, they don't grill those veges on the stick, too bad...but ten minutes later another vendor was grilling veges.

We have met people from so many countries here, all doing business in textiles. The Middle Easterners stand out, surely; however, we have met plant managers from Norway, Switzerland and the Czech Republic; all during the day, men pedal huge loads of fabric in every direction. I suppose millions are made each minute in our polyester suburb!

Back to my night: Amy and I parted ways and I went to my hair washing place. I felt like singing "these are the people in my neighborhood" because on the way there I saw my noodle maker, my stir fry friend and the guys who gave me my foot massage last week; they all waved and said "Ni Hao" --but it's my hair salon that really appreciates me now! They cheer when I come in! I got my hour and a half massage and my same guy (wearing a pink shirt and holding hands with another hairdresser) loves to dry my hair. I guess he feels comfortable with me now because he asked if his friend could touch my hair. They love it! At one point, I opened my eyes while he was drying my hair to see about fourteen sets of eyes glued to me. I forgot to mention that on the train last weekend, Karis said that some girls sitting next to her were waiting for me to put my head up from a nap and when I did, they looked at each other and ooooooohed over my blue eyes!

OK, three posts is enough for now. Hotmail works today, phew! I must go home and sleep because this weekend, I am seeing a silk factory, a pearl factory, and getting a tour of some special lakes with Amy and her TA tomorrow. Hope all is well at home, and breathe that air!

A night with the girls

Yesterday five of us went "home" with two of our TA's, Sunny (mine) and Maggie (my favorite bubbly TA). They go to a University outside of Shaoxing and it took us an hour and a half on the bus to get to a very institutional campus (of course, we ooohed and aahhhed over it, they were so proud to have guests...)(there is one really cool look up to the hill behind campus and there is a HUGE winged creature up there. Sunny says he holds back the floods from Shaoxing. We asked if we could go up there to see him and his pagoda and they said, yes, it's only a few hours' walk! which would kill me in this heat!)

After an hour of walking around their stark campus, Sunny took us to her dorm room. When we walked in I thought, oh, this is about the same size as dorm rooms in the US...and then we counted the beds - one, two three four five SIX! Six people to a room that would fit two Americans, each person with a four by six cubicle for clothes and books! Each bed had a bamboo mat on it and on top of the cupboards were bags filled with bedding. No air conditioning, only fans. Well, after this long hot journey, three of the others decided to go home but Amy and I felt really badly because Sunny and Maggie had told three of their friends about the American teachers coming and had wanted to take us to dinner, so we decided to stay, drenched with sweat as we were, so that we could honor them and meet their friends.

It turned out to be a lovely night; I especially liked one of Sunny's friends, Annie (they all named themselves English names when they got to college). So the five of them took Amy and me to dinner in this little dirty looking place where we were seated in a private room and where the girls ordered us a feast...DELICIOUS! Annie was telling us all of the good qualities of each dish...eggs make you beautiful, fish makes you smart and tofu is good for your skin. They ordered the regional specialty, which was fish soup made with preserved cabbage. They were so gracious to us and oh boy do they think everything we say is funny! Five times the owner of the restaurant came in to tell us to be quiet, but those girls were so loud and giggly! They secretly paid for our dinner and we think they spent a week's salary on us, but they couldn't have been more happy about it. Amy and I agreed that we made the right choice to stay...what a great night.

A note about the heat. It is hard hard hard for me. If I had known how hard I would not have come. I am learning to just live with constant sweat, but I dream often about Seattle air and temperature and I'm sure when I return I will only have the good memories and will appreciate what I have one million times more!

The Story of My Week

(Let me start by saying: it's a little hard to begin typing, not knowing if this text will magically disappear; on two occasions this week I have spent at least an hour typing a message only to lose it, but here goes)

When I left you Monday, I went home and my sore throat turned into a very bad fever which lasted all night. In the morning I was dizzy and had no voice and therefore Debbie the nurse told me to stay "home" and that she would take overmy classes (she is doing a different job and could do this). I spent the day sleeping off what seems to be The Day of Fever I Must Endure in all Foreign Countries (except this fever was not met with a needle in my behind administered by a Guatemalan mother!).

The next day I went in feeling about 50% better; although I was completely drained of energy by the fever and the heat by the time I arrived at school - then Pamela our hot, perfectly dressed coordinator showed up wtih about two minutes until class started to give us the workbooks that all the kids had received in the morning. uh, excuse me, workbooks? To go with the crappy "curriculum" we've not been teaching for six days of a four week course? "Just begin with unit three" she told us. I arrived at my first class of 15 third graders and they were all crazy about their books...level one books, and I had been teaching them level two. Sunny ran to ask Pamela about it and she said, oh! we made a mistake, they are level one! So, frantically, I tried to skim over the lesson while dripping sweat because the air conditioning is broken in that room. As the day progressed, the books were a curse; the other teachers were using them to fill time in their own classes so if we planned to use them, too bad! It was chaos. In one class I had kids climbing under tables and flicking cards at each other and you know what? I just didn't care. I wanted to take my fever home and never come back! The others all experienced the same kind of day and we just looked at each other in a kind of China bewilderment.

The rest of that afternoon was horrible. Jeff knows how low my teaching lows are, but Jeff you have never seen this! I have never wanted out of anything so badly, ever!! But that evening, I had a Stuart Smalley talk with myself...for those of you not familiar with this Saturday Night Live skit, Stuart is a pudgy middle aged affirmation counselor who tells his clients to look in the mirror and say "I am smart enough, I am good enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!" So I did my own version of this, telling myself it can only get better and that this is just another one of those skin thickening experiences. The irony hit me that I was self talking about skin thickening in a place where the people are so tough in their everyday lives;they don't complain or slow down, they just do what they have to do in very harsh conditions.

Anyway, the next day I walked into class with a plan and I have to say, good for me. I taught my older ones the old cheerleaders yelling into the stands cheer "(5th grade class), how do you feel? and they answer "We feel awesome, oh we feel so awesome, UGHHHH!" They loved it. After a day of getting used to the workbooks that we didn't know we were getting, they are kind of nice and now our curriculum makes a bit of sense. So the good ending to the school story is that Thursday and Friday were good days and I will make it through, (an American thickening some skin, truly...) It's hard for us to leave the thought behind "just think if we had had the same students and the whole curriculum from day one?"

Somehow I have come up with fun songs or games for every day (with a lot of help from some of you, thank you!) but some highlights have been teaching them to sing my own arrangement of "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" where I split the class in two and had them do the "sock it to me" part toward each other; they also loved "Anything you can do I can do better" when our subject to teach was "can" and "can't"- - they YELL "Yes I can! No I can't" so loudly! (my fourth grade class has 35, my fifth grade 38!) The other magic working in my classes are the stickers that Jaci and I bought at the dollar store before my trip...if only I had bought a million (and a lot more Spider Man!) These kids will do anything for a sticker. Another winner was today; I had my third graders make those "little paper folded things" -- you know, the ones that you choose a number, then a color, then you get a fortune inside. I got the idea from a South Park episode Dennis showed me about two weeks before my trip (the boys wanted to get their hands on the "future telling device"that the girls had. I had them put their words of the day inside because they were "dance" and "jump" etc, so they were thrilled with that and with the stickers they got for "doing it right."

I am not a grade school teacher, though, thank God thank God thank God. Thank God I am not a grade school teacher! Mom, HOW do you do it? By the way, I was not able to save Annie...but we are in touch and she is doing OK and meeting other people in Deching; she is enjoying the high school kids...I will see her in Beijing in two weeks.

I would have to say that one of the most surprising thing to all of us is that in every class, there are five or six boys who are seated in the back and they don't seem to be expected to learn anything. In most classes, the classroom teachers stay in the room while we teach and they don't make the boys get out paper or pens and they just goof off and talk the whole time. I was completely, completely blind sided by this - thinking that these kids were going to be so respectful through and through. I have to say though, the girls are ALL sweet and smart and eager, and the boys who are make up for those who are not. I had better post this before it disappears!