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!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I'm alive!

What a week, what a week...I can't go into details now, but I finally
created a gmail account to let my poor mother know I am alive. I have
had all kinds of problems emailing this week (I sense
censorship!)...anyway, last night I was desperate to let my family
know that I still exist and finally went to the hotel computer to try
one last time to see if hotmail would work. Again, I could read
messages, but could not send them - except I could send a subject line
- only, I couldn't get the words into, I typed a
desperate "I'm alive!" in Chinese, and sent it. My group members
think you will all assume I am being held for ransom and that you are
frantically decoding the script. But no, I am on my break at school,
trying gmail. Hope it works and hope to get back to tell some more
stories soon!

Monday, July 17, 2006

New Pictures Added

This is Brian, Marjie's brother in Bellingham.

Just a quick note to let you know that Marjie and I are having some trouble getting pictures to upload correctly from China. She sent me some new pictures via email last night and I've added them into the posts below. If you've been following along with Marjie's trip you may want to scroll through her previous posts to see some of the pictures that go with them. You can also click the "Marjie's Pictures on Flickr" link in the right sidebar to see a few more.



It's Monday evening...I was DREADING school today after traveling with 1.3 billion Chinese on the train this weekend and after my miserable Friday, but actually it went really well. I taught them "I am sick, tired, thirsty, hungry, freezing..." We had the same schedule today, but who knows about tomorrow! I am getting some emails from other ACT members teaching in other cities and the consensus is that "This is China!" In keeping with our theme from today, I have a sore throat and a cough; after school I went to the massage place (where we got foot massages) and asked them for a half an hour massage, pointing to my neck to my back. That worked; it was shiatsu massage in a cedar smelling room and it cost me $3. I just want to be alone tonight, so I am here sending pictures and will go back to a Korean restaurant where I asked if they served "Bi Bim Bop" and they said yes!
My flash cards rule! And Kathy from Norway suggested "Around the World" with them and they loved it. I think that this week I will get into the swing...too bad they weren't organized to begin with, but hey, it's China!
Some more details about the school: classrooms are very bare bones and supplies are limited. They have chalk, a blackboard and little wooden desks with wooden chairs (no backs). On each stair there is an engraved date, when the building of the school was completed; ours was completed 1996.8 (August of 1996).
Everything is learned by rote memory...we have seen a few teachers hit students with rulers, but for the most part, if some of them are not writing things down (mostly boys) the teachers are not too concerned. After lunch, all of the kids and teachers put their heads down for a "rest." The bathrooms smell terrible in the afternoon when it is hot...and I have heard that there are no toilets, but rather you squat over a hole. Fortunately, I can hold it a long time...I use the toilet in the hotel in the morning and then not again until about 4:30, at the end of our day. Between 11:15 and 1:15 we have a break where we can do whatever we want: eat the cafeteria food, go back to the hotel, email in the computer lab upstairs (where hotmail does not work) or hang out with the TA's in the break room. They are nice and giggly and fascinated with American culture. Sometimes Miguel brings his guitar to teach them songs, or they just flirt with him. He is the only one with a male assistant, Gary. The other day he went home with Gary and met his girlfriend; he says she is very controlling. We are all trying to think of how to tell him he has a billion women to choose from...why her? All the TA's like him too. We are planning to see their college after school on Thursday.
I brought my laptop with a couple of powerpoints showing Seattle and my friends, family and students. Things they were impressed with: Devon's braces, Nolan eating watermelon, Megan doing the splits on the trampoline (wowwww!) and anyone who looks a bit Chinese: Preston Bhang, Claire Zwaschka, Ida Keeley. They were amazed over Sue Stangl being a firefighter.
Well, that's all I have energy for. Keep the messages coming and thank you!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Monkfish Cooked in Crazy Water"

The picture I took right before almost ending up in Chinese prison
Another fun game to play in China to read the English sayings on t-shirts and again, using my time at the train station with a billion Chinese, I wrote some of them down for you. Note that most of them seem rather positive and happy, and as you read them picture them decorated with lots of sequins:

You supply the mirion waves what is love it remain the same eternal
It's a dragon let's wave
What is life? The air it's sunshine
Tonight more
Bummer me up
Lovely Dream Trip Vacation
Margaritha's with Buena Vista from la Rambla to Rio Grande
Love Dog
Nice move say when
Poetical romance peaceful
treat yourself to an extra special wish
happy holiday

This was worn by a man: sweet summer pretty smile amusing

This one got it right: The essence of pleasure is spontaneity

On last night's menu, there was a listing for "monkfish cooked in crazy water" and a sign outside with a drunken stick figure reading "drunken walking caution triping"

While in the book store, I was looking for a notebook and found a journal claiming (in gold engraved letters) "This will be the most comfortable book you will ever write in." I almost bought it but realized it did not look comfortable at all!

I am tired and really really don't feel I have the energy to teach lots of kids tomorrow, but at least I have flash cards and (hopefully) the same students all week.

You know what has really bothered me is that audience's reaction to Chairman Mao last night. Who can enlighten me about that? I look at some of the older people here and just can't fathom what they have lived through.

By the way, today Karis and I had our first scary experience (besides crossing the street, riding in taxis and being thrown in front of millions of different students last week). We were at the grocery store and I was taking pictures of the hearts, chicken feet, intestines and livers in the meat case and was just moving on to take pictures of the pretty buns when a guard approached and barked at me. I motioned that I meant no harm and he pointed at my camera, like he wanted it. I opened my bag and put it in and said I was sorry. He got out a walkie talkie radio and began to walk away, pointing at us to other guards. They were all having a powwow so Karis and I just walked over to the line and waited (for about half an hour - no express here). We thought for sure we were going to be escorted from the store and put in Chinese prison, but we escaped! I wonder if he would have taken my camera? I now have a slight understanding of what Middle Easterners must feel like with our reaction to them at times...

I'm glad to be back in our little polyester suburb, mostly because of my air-conditioned hotel room where I will now go to figure out my flash cards and lesson for tomorrow. Hope you are all well and again, I have to say, enjoying the mild Seattle weather, if you are in Seattle and it is mild!

Save yourself a trip to France

Back from the family vacation and I    NEED    SPACE!  The train station was packed with thousands of people.  We waited in line after line and thought we purchased standing tickets for the train but were pleasantly surprised to get seats. In Hangzhou, in addition to the pagodas, the thousand year old ruins and islands, we were overjoyed to find a bookstore with some English books...we bought flash cards and teaching materials since our school does not seem to have anything (but who knows, maybe tomorrow we will have the world!) Another nice thing - it has been cooler the past few days and rained lightly all day today, so we didn't feel completely dead - only slightly! The only day of hard rain we have had was on the very first day in Shanghai.
While we waited at the train station today, we were fascinated by all of the flavors of the Lay potato fascinated that I wrote them all down for you:
Mexican chicken tomato, cherry tomato, cucumber, lemon, texas grilled BBQ, Haikado grilled crab, sha sha chicken, French chicken, crispy drumstick, Italian red meat, Ziran steak, Crispy roasted pork, beef stew, Japanese Teriyaki, and Ketchup pork flavor.  We found two other Cheeto flavors (I hope the Cheeto eating vegetarian from Seattle has discovered them!): Japanese Steak flavored and American turkey.  We all bought a package and had an international smorgasborg; and I will tell you the truth...the turkey TASTED like turkey!  And the Japanese steak TASTED like Japanese Steak.  The cucumber, lemon, crispy saves you from traveling the world to taste things. I myself have never eaten French chicken and can't wait to see what all the fuss it. Frito Lay is holding out on America with our measley four flavors. 

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I Don't Think I'm Staying

On Friday, our classes were changed for the fourth time.  We were all so confused, as were the kids, but maybe they are used to it, living in China...I got a new fifth grade class at the very end of the day.  Fifth graders can make anyone want to go home from anywhere...the girls were sweet but the boys were crazy. All of us had the same experience- what a day to change the schedule, there was a typhoon brewing. Then on the way home I was almost hit by a rickshaw, the internet wouldn't connect at the cafe and when it finally did it froze, I got home and my room key didn't work and had to be reset, then when I got into my room my lights were burned out.  I just layed there, staring at the ceiling. 
It was Friday night and we all decided to meet in Shaoxing (in the city center) at Starbucks (not my idea), so Amy and I decided to take a cab to an Indian restaurant. I haven't mentioned the traffic patterns here...rickshaws, taxis, cars, busses, bicyclists and pedestrians all move in some sort of magic synchronicity here. The lights don't mean much, and neither do the crosswalks. Everyone just does where they want and if they come close to getting hit, they don't flinch.
All of us feel we are playing Frogger each time we cross the street but we are getting pretty good at it. Anyway, we take this taxi to the city and get Speed Racer for a driver. So not only are we coming within inches of busses and people and other cars, but he is driving like he is in Germany.  Amy started saying the Lord's Prayer and then switched to asking her mother who died last year to help us!  I honestly regretted that I had never told anyone a song to play at my funeral.
Obviously we made it, had a great dinner, then went to some bars in Shaoxing.  At one, the usual techno was playing and suddenly we heard "Every Sha la la la, every whoa whoa whoa..." Karen Carpenter...Amy and I went crazy, singing for everyone's entertainment. And I thought, hey, maybe that is "my song." Casey always said that the difference between me and her was that she was raised on Bob Dylan and I was raised on Karen Carpenter...
All in all, this is what traveling is - ups and downs and a lot of craziness. But really, what you want after even a week of being in a strange place where nothing works well and where the rules don't apply is just a Friday night dinner at the Phinney Market and a good night's sleep in your own bed (followed by a Chinese foot massage). 

The Sound of One Plastic Hand Clapping

Amy and the clapper
Good morning from Hangzhou! We, the eight from Shaoxing, are on what Amy is calling "A Brady Family Vacation." She is calling me "Jan" and I am calling her "Marsha." "In heaven there is paradise, on earth there is Hangzhou" is what the Chinese say about their favorite tourist spot...we spent yesterday figuring out trains (we got a standing train only for over an hour) and finding a hotel, and were then treated to a day of taking little ferries to a series of Islands called "Falling Snow over a Broken Bridge Island" and "Birds Singing on the Bridge Island" and "Three Lakes Mirroring the Sky Island." This is a very beautiful city.

HOWEVER, I don't think I will travel with eight people again! The day moved very slowly, trying to wait for everyone. Finally, Amy and I decided to break off from the group to get Italian food and then go to a "show" - "thebest (sic)show in Hangzhou!"

We are ushered into a theater where we quickly note that we are the only Westerners and are seated at a table upon which are two 'clappers.' This clapper is three plastic hands connected to each other, green-red-yellow and is used to clap for the performers. We were a bit surprised as we thought this was going to be a fancy show and thought that surely the entertainment couldn't be all that good by the looks of the clappers. Then we were brought a tray of watermelon and Land of the Lost grapes and were given abour five dollars in change. A note here...we have come to say, simply, "We're in China" when odd things the plastic hands, the fruit plate and the money made us look at each other at the same time and say this, which struck us funny and we started to laugh. Shortly, the waitress came back, mortified, because she had delivered the money and fruit to the wrong table (which would be easy to understand if we didn't COMPLETELY stand out...) So this struck us even more funny and we started to laugh the kind of laugh that just won't stop. Within minutes we were crying and everyone was staring...which was even funnier. All of this occurred while a heartthrob warm up singer was on the stage, crooning with tight white pants, a vest and dark sunglasses (also projected on two "big screens" which were impossibly to see!

Thank God we calmed down by the time the main show started. I tried to take a video, but was reprimanded quickly, but oh my, what a sight. A Chinese variety show! Jugglers, dancing, drums, Opera singers, Chinese opera singers...a man sitting in front of me turned around and asked where we were from, and was instantly embarrassed...he said, "Oh! This show really isn't for Western taste!" But we loved it. The best part was definitely the eight girls dressed in long pink socks and tutus, juggling four volleyball looking items with their feet. They played catch with these balls while they contorted their bodies into unimaginable positions. The other show that blew us away was the one where eight Japanese samurai warriors came out and were eventually annhilated by the Chinese, to much plastic hand applause. At the end of the "battle," a huge banner of Chaiman Mao came down...the clappers went mad!

What a night, what a place. Amy is very involved in theater at home in LA...she was thrilled. She does improv, writes and directs plays and sings in her brother's band, "Dick Diamond and the Family Jewels." She is so much fun, always a party. By the way, at the nice Italian restaurant we found, we heard music coming from the top floor, so we decided to was a place we were not welcomed - business men and call girls! Prostitution is "illegal" here; but in China, what rules apply? Prostitutes line the streets in front of certain "salons." It's wild.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

No, really, I'm staying!

Kids learning

OK, it was a long day at work...we've all had them, but the therapy for a hard day here is a little different that at home. Our schedules were changed for the fourth time (I bought Amy- the buxom tattooed wonderful girl she is- a beer because she negotiated for me to keep my third, fourth and fifth graders!!) And every 45 minute period just takes so much energy. Today I taught them some emotions and had them practice for the camera...they loved it. However, I thought I might be spoken to by the principal because I'm sure you could hear them "laugh" because they were "happy" all the way to Beijing! Sunny and I are working well together; she loves to have fun and play games. Any moment that lags, she says, "How about a game?" I'm with her! By the way, the assistants are mostly girls who are going to the university in Shaoxing; Sunny is studying English and is thrilled to have this part time job. She tells me every day that she is grateful for how much she is learning.

Anyway, after work (I haven't even been back to the hotel yet) we went in search of dinner. I had not yet tried the street food, but was mesmerized by a woman cook tonight. I stopped everyone to watch her; she had cooking grace. She had some thick cut noodles, oblong and about three inches, a bunch of vegetables, tofu and meats to choose from for her stir fry. I watched her make three dinners in her big wok and she cleaned everything so well that I couldn't stand it any longer...I announced "I'm eating here" and two of the five stayed with me while the others went to a restaurant. You are going to get tired of hearing me say "unbelievable"- but it was!! We will see in the next few days if I have to pay the price, but I have a good feeling about her and her business. She loved cooking for us, smiling shyly the whole time. Our dinners cost fifty cents each.

Just now, I walked along another street to come to this dark smoky cafe where Hotmail works (after my foot massage which I will tell you about) and I was checking out another street chef. Each one has a large assortment of ingredients behind glass to choose from for your stir fry...this one had long necked clams, mussels, calamari, beef strips and...what is that? I look closer. Bullfrogs! And yes, they are still breathing. And that is where my sense of adventure ends!

"Carol LeGore" and I then went to the foot massage place two others had experienced the night before. That word again, unbelievable! We walk in to the smell of bamboo and are taken to a private room with reclining beds and a tv. We are given sliced watermelon and crysanthemum tea as two young men dressed in white shirts and black ties enter the room with big wooden bowls. What followed was a combination of reflexology, massage, stretching, acupuncture and pedicure (and to think I thought I needed one before leaving Seattle!). The guys were so polite; they left the room about ten times to fetch different things and each time they returned they tapped three times on the door and kept saying something like "shi shi lou." They wanted to communicate with us, so we tried for a while but then succumbed to the hot rock treatment at the end. This entire treatment cost about six dollars and we were there for over two hours. My feet have never felt so good!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


This is the longest I have had to email in the last four days; I love getting your individual messages, but I hardly have any time to do any specific replies at this point. Hopefully this weekend I will have a chance to figure out my picture situation and will be able to answer some of you!

I'm staying here

I have been in China for six days and I have gotten three massages. I read about them before I came...hour and a half massages for about five dollars. Last night, Kim and I were treated to a shampoo, head massage, Q-tip treatment, arm/hand/back/leg massage (but no feet!) The salons here are ubiquitous...all filled with twenty something girls dressed in frilly cute clothes with perfect hair and nails just hanging out with a few guys sprinkled here and there; I have heard that they go to training schools for this profession. Last night the girls had never seen foreign women in their shop, so they giggled and wanted pictures, etc. Mine was doing a good job, and then I sensed one hand doing the same motion on my arm...I opened my eyes from the coma I was in to see that she was text messaging with one hand and massaging with the other! After the massage, there are men who blow dry and style your hair. I repeat, all of this for five dollars!

Two others in my group found a place for a "foot massage" which was everything but the shampoo. We are all trying to try one new place per day!
Seems like everyone has a job here; I have seen only a few beggars and every hotel or restaurant has tons of people just waiting to serve.


The pakistani men shooting little pink and green balloons
On my first morning here, I discovered the canal, which is about two blocks from the hotel and has a beautiful path, landscaped to the last inch, with art, rocks, flowers and lighting all around it (Im guessing at least five miles). It looks like a huge lake, bigger than Green Lake. I decided that I would run there in the morning, and what an experience! The people here live in the morning, when it is cooler. There were tons of people running (in the equivalent of Keds), doing Tai Chi or, in one case, there was a female boot camp of sorts, but the women were wearing colorful silks and were carrying long swords. There were groups of women just waking up their bodies...hitting their legs, stomachs and arms while sporting two-piece flowered outfits. One group I will call "The Dragonfly Group" because they were exercising among about one hundred of them. The men were doing tai chi, swimming or just looking out at the water. At one point, I thought I heard an ambulance, then another. I looked to where the noise was coming from to see a man simply yelling "AAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH" at the top of his lungs, waking them up!
Later that night, we went back and there was an entire night life. Huge groups of all ages doing what looked like line dancing or the Electric Slide, people playing badminton, people napping on the benches, games set up like shooting bee bee guns at balloons. There are a lot of Pakistani men here doing textile business (the suburb we are in is the "polyester" suburb, we discovered) and I have a great picture of them all shooting guns at the little pink and green balloons in their Muslim dress. Here, like Mexico and some places in Europe, I think the night life in the pulic squares is so great and family oriented!

Where the noodles are

Noodle last! (please forgive this entry and the last...three keys don't work well (b, y and u and I keep having to retype them!)
Miguel's assistant told him about a famous noodle place about five minutes from our hotel so we all went the other night. It was amazing...he stretched, pulled and shaved the noodles right in front of us, in fact he allowed me to take a video of it. They were AMAZING. The food here is just unbelievable; lining the streets are vendors with bamboo steamers containing buns and dumplings, then there are tons of long grills where they offer kabobs or stir fry all kinds of creatures and things in huge woks. Then they all sit under cover at plastic tables and eat from large shared bowls. Across the street from the school is a woman who makes crepes filled with eggs, hot dogs and fried bread. I am in heaven. Another thing about Deqing...we were required to eat at the school cafeteria for EVERY meal!! And the food sucked! Here they give us money to go where we want. I think that was the thing that completely sent me over in Deqing; in fact I am sure of it.
By the way, I am trying to save Annie. I think there is a good chance that she will be transferred here this weekend. If so, I will feel that I have emerged from the projects and then saved someone else from them!

I need your help!

I could really use some very simple rhymes...I brought Where the Sidewalk Ends, but I could use some other simple poems.  I could also use ideas for activities...anyone?

Thank God for Simon

Me and my assistant, sunny
Ok, where was I? It seems like twenty years ago I was writing about winning the million dollar prize and leaving the toaster oven we are in day four of teaching and I am experiencing sensory overload as to what to write about.

So I walk into three different classrooms the first day, and we are told to give them English names. Dr. Lee (The Farter) told us at orientation that they may be very very quiet and shy. Another interesting thing to say! They did not stand when I entered, but they did clap. They are energetic and friendly, and TALKATIVE. They must be engaged, just like any students, anywhere. So just let me say that there are many Chinese children with YOUR names now...I used the name of every person I had ever met to get through that first day (the cutest kids were named Megan, Nolan and Devon). Some of them already had English names, but we are curious as to who named them..."Rucy" was one and "Qi Qi' another. Rucy was having nothing to do with the correct pronunciation of her name. Most difficult name: Troy! They could not say it! I was told to use a lot of repetition, so we practiced names and went through "Hello my name is______" Honestly, it is all a blur! At the end of the first day we were told that our schedules would be different the next day and that the "curriculum" was not ready yet; "just make up some fun things" we were told by Pamela, our Chinese coordinator (we all think she is loaded because you should see what she wears!)

So I just have to say "Thank you to Simon" whoever he is...I played Simon Says with every class and they loved it! One class' air conditioner was broken, so who needed an aerobic work out? My assistant, Sunny, is very helpful and translates for me. In Deqing (Chichalashitty equivalent, Karrie) they have no assistants and classes of 50! We have a break room where everyone, teachers and assistants, congregate to say the equal of "holy______!" between classes.

So this week, we have had six classes of 30 kids each. Today we were told that our schedules change again tomorrow so that we have only three classes, two times. I am disappointed with this as I LOVE my third and fourth graders and I have lost all of them and gained only fifth and sixth graders. I am quite sure that sixth graders are universally a bit nasty (but I will not actively research this theory).

We finally got our "curriculum yesterday; we were so excited for it because we thought we could finally relax and not have to make everything up. Well, it is a stupid curriculum so I guess we will continue to pull things out of whevever we can!

The kids are eager, cute and friendly. Today I asked them if they had any questions for me..."Why are your eyes blue?" "Are you of the yellow skinned people or white?" "What do you do in America? Is that your natural hair color? What does your family do?" I told them my brother worked for Bill Gates and they all said "Ahhhhhh!" (well, he used to!) I told them he was my neighbor in Seattle but that he had more money and they laughed. I am utilizing pictionary, charades...everything, in fact:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Why Door #2 Rocks...

OK, here is an outline, and if this works, I will write about it AGAIN

1. I LOVE the group of teachers here
2. I am teaching SIX grade school classes, between 3rd and 5th grade.
They are sooooooooo cuuuuuuute! (add more o's and u's, they are
worthy of them)
3. Three words: Noodle Performance Artists...there is a famous one
here and I ate of his art last night!

Hotmail doesn't work!

I've run into a doesn't work from many of the
computers here; I mean, it works to receive messages, but not to send
them. It did work from the cafe I found when I first arrived, but how
do I find that again? So keep writing and I will try to work out this
problem. Last night I spent an hour updating my blog and it was erased
when I sent it! I will try again later, this is just a test...let me
know on my hotmail account if you got this!

Door #2 Rocks!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

What's Behind Door #2?

I am definitely in China now...I am writing you from the textile captial of China, Shaoxing, and this is where I will be teaching.  Here's how it happened:
Sabrina told us that Dr. Lee, the Chinese affiliate with ACT, would be in Deqing to meet with us at 5:30 ("don't be late!"  she said). At 5:30 we were told he was "running a little late"...when he finally arrived at 9:00 with another teacher who had just arrived because he had missed his flight and another associate, they were hungry for dinner so they said they would "be right back."  Annie and I jumped on this opportunity to go with them because our dinner at the school had not been so good.
(Sidenote: we went for hot pot...a steaming cauldron in the middle of the table, half spicy broth, half mild broth, and plates and plates of goodies to dunk in and then scoop out with chopsticks..."grass" noodles (glass), mushrooms, thin rolls of beef, cabbage, meatballs, was delicious. By the way, my brother told me it was polite to burp after meals. Well, Dr. Lee, a very refined man who was very excited to tell me he knew Gary Locke because he had opened a language school in Beijing with him, well - after hot pot, he let out three rather sharp farts.  Annie and I just stared straight ahead, and when we got outside, we just busted up.  Brian, is that polite too??)
Anyway, back to our meeting, which finally happened at 10:30.  We were told that they were just informed that the school in Deqing had very low attendance for the summer and that they only needed seven teachers (eight of us were in Deqing) and that they were "figuring it out" (they had been involved in much conferencing in Mandarin during hot pot). We also found out that we would be teaching 14 days straight, only two hours per day. These facts, among others, did not thrill me. Most of the older, professional teachers had been placed elsewhere and I was with mostly college students and Annie, and this very cool new guy, John. So after the meeting, I told Dr. Lee that I wouldn't mind switching schools if they needed a teacher in another location.  His eyes lit up.  "Can you pack now?"  By 11:30 I was on my way to Shaoxing. 
It was like I was experiencing Door #1, and knew that Door #2 had many possibilities...much more possibilities and a better fit for me.  I had been reading about Shaoxing earlier in the day and had felt regret that I had not been sent there.  I was sad to leave Annie...we had just had a great couple of days. Yesterday we rented "used" bikes (ten cents for an entire day's rental) and rode all over Deqing, even out to the mountains where a couple of scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed. Talk about getting stares!  People would just stare and then laugh out loud at the two Americans riding old bikes with baskets, holding Sprites with straws in one hand (the brakes didn't work well anyway). Here in China, every city I have seen so far has a partitioned part of the street just for rickshaws, bikes and parking...very civilized! Anyway, Annie and John are planning to come stay with me in Shaoxing during their three day break and at least they have each other.
So now I will see if my gamble has paid off...the hotel is much nicer, out of 10 I will give it a 7.  In Deqing, the hotel was a 0. It is the morning, and I haven't seen any teachers, and don't know how to get into contact with them (they just dropped me off at 1:30 am and I fell into a deep sleep), but I guess, like everything else, I won't rush it and will just find out what is what when it's time.  I do know that none of us will begin teaching until tomorrow and that there is a good chance I will be teaching small children)!  I have been walking the streets all morning...textiles everywhere.  Unbelievable.  I am hoping I can find a seamstress to make me a dress, since seamstresses are lining the streets; I would have EVERY style/pattern to choose from for sure.  As a city, Shaoxing is much more exciting, and much more CHINA! I hope I chose the right door!
if you are having trouble accessing the blog, write to my brother Brian at


It's 2:00 PM and I am sweating sweating sweating, taking refuge in the cool, dark internet cafe with the rest of the town's teenagers playing their video games!! Rivers are pouring from me...I look at the others and they are perhaps a bit moist, but I am drowning and my hair is very curly! My favorite person in this Deqing group is the dancer from LA, Annie. She got me to sign up for a month at the large swimming pool down the street, and came to get me for my first swim this morning. That felt GOOD (she told me not to think about the "skin" particles floating in the water ("do you think they are washing their fish in here?") and is going to train me to do marathon swimming, supposedly). Then we took a long walk through the city and bought some interesting breakfast...rice wrapped in leaf packets- very tasty- and took a rickshaw ride. I still don't feel like I am in China. I wonder if it is because we are in an extension of Shanghai, which seemed a very modern European city. I have seen no spitting in the streets yet.

We both just laugh at our contact person, Sabrina (her American name). She does OK with English, but most of her answers include the word "maybe." Yesterday, she told us she would be leaving us today (Sunday). Then she was staying until Monday. Then just an hour ago she told us she would be with us all month. Same with the teaching schedule...we can't get a straight answer. This morning she told us not to swim because we were meeting with the headmaster in the morning. Then we were told to be back by 9. Then we were meeting him at 10. At ten,we were told 11:30. At 11:30, we walked to the school where we are famous and made our way through throngs of teenagers (yes, they go to school on Sunday...they have only Saturdays off as do we) giggling and pointing at us and some bravely saying an English "hello." We never met the headmaster, but were brought a lunch of egg drop soup, chicken and watermelon. At the end of lunch, Sabrina said, "OK, well, we will meet for dinner at 5:30." What? What about the headmaster? Where are our classes? How many students will we have and what are we supposed to teach? "You will do fine," she says, "Just introduce yourself!"


People here just stare and stare, nudge each other to look and whisper as we walk by. We are strange, very strange and I am tall, very tall.

Later, Annie and I are going to rent bikes and get a map of this city. If we get hurt, there is a hospital for women only right across the street, so we take comfort in that! Enjoy the non-humidity of wherever you are!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

In Deqing

Today we had a two hour orientation with Dr. Lee, our Chinese ESL affiliate, a lunch with about 1500 entrees and were told we had a "two hour bus ride" to Deqing.
After our FOUR hour bus ride, we are finally here.  I have yet to experience the culture shock I have been preparing for...I just feel like I am in the international district. I suppose when I can't get out of it, I will feel differently!
Our hotel (which is kind of a dive, but a dive with air conditioning), is right around the corner from the school. In front of the school are banners with the words "Welcome to the famous teachers from the United States!" (our guide, Sabrina, told me this). So not only have I had fifteen frames of fame in the US, but now I am officially proclaimed famous in a Chinese city. It feels great, except that I think -as a celebrity- I should be able to upgrade my hotel!
Some sights NOT seen in Seattle's ID:  men walk around this steamy place without shirts, vending machines offer cigarettes, m & m's, women's underwear and soap (my hotel room has packages of only men's underwear (which should come in handy) and women's socks), a cafe filled with teens and twenty-somethings playing all kind of videos and speaking on screen to their friends through cameras, and street vendors selling dumplings and humbow(should be fun). I have not seen any noodle performance artists yet.
I have yet to hear the specifics of my teaching assignment; I have already learned that the answers will come in their own time.  For now, I will go back to my hotel and lay my famous head down to sleep!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Lawyers, Dancers, Accountants and Ginger Clams

It's 6:30 AM in Shanghai...I am in the hotel lobby and outside I can now affirm that it is monsoon season - it is pouring, which makes walking outside walking into a sauna. The heat hugs you while sucking your breath.

Ten of us from ACT were on the same flight from SF; when we arrived at 10 PM, we took three taxis down to The Bund (term for a muddy Venice, it has sunk many meters and the Venetian threat of sinking remains despite their efforts) - anyway, it is the symbolic mile of Shanghai with its high rises and financial activity, it is China's Wall Street. Driving over the hill in the taxi brought gasps from all of us, looking down at its Vegas-like glory. While on the walkway, one side is a view across the water to the space-age buildings, and on the street side, Neo-classical New York architecture (got that from the Lonely Planet).

Yesterday was a day that unfolded a slow drama. We knew by the time we arrived at our hotel, there would be 40 ACT members who had flown in from all over the US. We were told to wear our nametags; I recognized my first "person" in Seattle...a Cheeto-eating vegetarian writer for Starbucks named Merrilee (she had to take gifts out of her suitcase to make room for her favorite snack.) Then in SF, slowly ACT members found their way to us. "Hi, what's your name? Where are you from? Where are you teaching? How did you get involved in this? Did you think this was a hoax, too..? Yes, but I checked the flight and knew it was going to take me to China..."

A few profiles: Greg is a saxaphone playing criminal defense lawyer from SF looking for a career change. He knows some Mandarin because he was in Beijing IN 1989! in Tiannamen Square (he whispered this). He is planning to stay in China for a year. I made sure I was in his taxi because he knows what he is doing, and because he takes his sax everywhere, hoping to play. Last night he took us to the oldest hotel in Shanghai, the Peace Hotel, where about seven drowning jazz musicians played and he was looking for an opportunity to join in when the group decided to go for midnight noodles (more on that later). Anyway, there is a French teacher from DC, a 4th grade teacher from the upper East Side of NY, a recent college grad (English) whose brother is going to the UW to become a Spanish speaking doctor after being inspired by The Motorcylcle Diaries, a dancer and a representative for McCormick spices.

There will be 70 of us in all; 75% teachers, 2/3 women. I will meet everyone this morning at orientation.

Anyway, a word about the food. We walked the streets for a while, asking for a good place to eat. One Chinese girl, I am not kidding, said "McDonald's"! We looked where she was pointing and saw a packed McD' to it was a restaurant with three red lanterns and only two occupied lazy -susaned tables. Good enough. We sat down and three women became our food advisors, and OH MY the food was amazing! Ginger clams, fried salted shrimp (heads intact of course), braised eggplant, scallion bread, dumpling soup...the ten of us from the plane just hmmmmmed with happiness at everything that she brought out and toasted our trip with Chinese beer. Needless to say, any hesitations I had melted away; it seems to be a great group.

I will try to send pictures of our night later, but for now I need to get ready for orientation, and this keyboard is difficult to use!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

State of Confucian

I am having a very American eve of my departure...eating 4th of July leftovers (a hot dog and watermelon) while watching a rerun of the Sopranos (the season finale) on my comfortable couch. Tomorrow, who knows what I will be doing or eating (hopefully noodles), other than sitting on a United flight for about 16 hours trying to learn Mandarin.

Just wanted to give credit for my blog name. I mixed quite a few ideas; therefore, I will have to cut the Little Red Book into many sections and distribute it by mail. Thanks to my Grandma Willis of Fromberg, MT for calling my blog a "glob" and to my Aunt Lyda of Wolf Point, MT for suggesting its use. Thanks to Jaci and Crystal (both from Lake Stevens) for other slight elements, and to Dennis Hartman (Andhem Sintar) for "State of Confucian." (Dennis resides inside of a refrigerator in Seattle.)

OK, next posting..will it be from Shanghai? Deqing? Concubine headquarters? I can't wait to find out!