Tuesday, September 23, 2008


So this weekend as some of you may already know, Rachel, Olivia, Lucy, Eliza and myself (Karrin stayed back and made sure Qufu didn't miss it's foreign teachers) all hopped a Friday afternoon bus and took the five hour ride to Qindgao, the famous city by the bay. What we had heard about the Qingdao up to the point of us actually visiting, was that it was very famous for beaches, it was beautiful, the Olympic sailing events took place there, and last but certainly not least, that it was the home of Tsingtao beer. Additionally we had heard that the city, formerly a German occupied city had an interesting blend of Bavarian and Chinese architecture, which proved true for the most part. As we walked through parts of the old city, the European influence was unmistakable.

Oh, and one more thing - our brief visit to Qingdao mysteriously coincided with the opening of the 19th annual Qingdao International Beer Festival, but we'll get to that in a minute.

First things first - getting there. Earlier in the week we all took students to the bus station to help us buy tickets, without any real trouble. I went last and was lucky enough to snag the last ticket for the 2:30 bus. We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare - we were all in the terminal ready to go by 1:50, which by Chinese standards is ludicrously early for a bus (...so we were a bit nervous, it being our first bus trip without a translator). At any rate, as we sat in the station, watching everyone around us hurriedly get in lines at terminals and get on buses which didn't leave right away, we of course became worried that we wouldn't get good seats if we waited until 2:20 to board like our students had said. After fumbling with phrasebooks, pointing, grunting, and pantomiming our destination and time of departure we established that we should be leaving from terminal two, however the woman at terminal two kept telling us to sit down and wait, which got us even more nervous. Was she that person we had read so much about, trying to stick the foreigners with the bad seats? Knowing we didn't speak Mandarin, trying to squeeze the extra dollar out of us? Lucky for us, she wasn't pulling a fast one on us (that comes later in the trip) - she simply knew something we didn't. At about 2:20 (go figure) she comes over to the group of us, and says "Qingdao this way please" the five of us, relieved that we would finally be on our way, walked up to the gate, handed our tickets, walked outside to the buses, and continued to walk past all the buses... over toward the gate... and right for an old, rickety seven seater van. If only I had taken a picture of the van. At this point of course we were all thoroughly confused as to what was happening - were we really taking this rickety old thing all the way to Qingdao? Were they kidnapping us? ...oh well, no time for that now, everybody in the van. Luckily there were two other Chinese travelers with us, so we were generally sure they weren't in fact attempting to kidnap us, but it was still a bit unnerving. Turns out, the 2:30 Qingdao bus doesn't leave from Qufu, but rather it swings past on its way from another town. The rickety van pulls off the road next to the highway, the bus drops off the interstate and picks you up, and away you go. We of course took the last five seats on the bus (at least we had them was the feeling), and I ended up stuck in the very back with the middle seat (the one that opens up into the isle so when the driver slams on the breaks you fly all the way down the isle because there isn't a seat in front of you...), with two people on either side of me and no air vent. Did I mention it was a five hour ride? So it goes.

When we finally arrived in Qingdao after our long, terrifying ride (the driver was insane - even the Chinese passengers were angry and cursing under their breath) at about 8:15 at night. Our destination was a youth hostel we had located on hostel world international, however we neglected to have anyone translate the address and location into Chinese (why would we need to do that? It's just an address...) Taxi was the logical method of travel, and upon exiting the bus station we were greeted by a sea of them who we happily approached and began attempting the translation of our destination. Luckily Olivia's Lonely Planet guidebook had the address of the hostel in Chinese, but the cabby's didn't seem to have any idea on WHERE exactly the street was (this later made sense, once we realized exactly how massive Qingdao is...). Finally one of them seemed to understand our destination and held up a 5 and made the sign for 10, meaning he wanted 50 yuan to take us in his cab. Now is a good time for a brief lesson in the golden rules of Chinese cab drivers - always use the meter. always make sure they start the meter when you ENTER the cab (not keep it running from the previous fare). Make sure they actually know where they are going so they don't decide to drive around in circles to run up the meter. Upon realizing this guy wanted a very large sum of money for the ride we promptly walked away from the group of about 10 or so drivers who were all haggling over our fair and went to the street where other cabs would pull up every ten or fifteen seconds or so. Getting these cabs to take us was equally as difficult, but thanks to a very nice Chinese family who volunteered their English speaking daughter to translate for us, we made it (if i haven't mentioned it before now is a good time - in general, Chinese hospitality and kindness is unrivaled) to our "hostel."

I hesitate to call it a hostel, because as soon as we saw Kaiyue Youth Hostel, we knew it was going to be a good trip. The building itself is an old Christian Church from the 1920's - a five or so story building in the heart of old Qingdao. It was most a hotel attempting to disguise itself as a hostel, and charging you hostel rates. We had two rooms to our selves which were very comfortable and fully furnished, and we had our own bathroom (nicer than all of our bathrooms back here in Qufu). The picture is the room which Olivia, Rachel, and I stayed in. As you can see, not huge, but for a "hostel," it was fantastic.

The lounge/restaurant was the highlight a mood-lit room with big couches and personal booths, with a pool table lit with chill European style hanging lights, playing good ambient music, which blended well with the very relaxing water feature on the back wall made for a great atmosphere. The fare was the best part however - not only did they serve REAL drinks (not just Baijiu and beer), but they had pizza, french fries, western style breakfasts, the whole nine yards. We of course immediately ordered four pizza's which we promptly devoured, laughing hysterically. The hostel was full of other waigoren who were visiting for the festival and I'm sure they thought we were crazy - the pizza wasn't really that good, but to the five of us who had been away from anything resembling comfort food for almost four whole weeks, it was heaven. On Sunday when we left I took several photos of the lounge and upon returning to Qufu I attempted a Panorama of the lounge. It came out okay - well enough for you to see what the hostel lounge looked like.

After our pizza we decided to check out the nightlife and took a taxi across town to a place called The Lennon Bar" which apparently was where a lot of westerners liked to visit. It was pretty empty but there was a live band playing decent music, so we hung out for a bit before heading back to the hostel and eventually on to bed.

Saturday morning we woke up around 8:3o or 9 after sleeping peacefully. I tried the "American Style Breakfast" down in the lounge which was mediocre at best... the sausage was more rubber than meat, the "hash brown" was a silver dollar sized portion of something out of a freezer (which I found ironic because potatoes are abundant, and hash browns are one of the FEW things which they could very easily cook from scratch), but the eggs and toast were good. After I filled up on breakfast and the girls had their coffee we headed out to see the sights of Qingdao. We had a map with us and decided to try our luck at walking for a bit, and wound our way through the streets and eventually made our way to the coast. Qingdao has some cool things to see, as witnessed below: I Think my favorite is the sign explaining that it was in fact a "European Style
Street..." The picture of the skyline doesn't do the city justice - this is actually only a small section of the western part of the city. The much newer and much nicer central part of the city isn't pictured. I did However very much enjoy the stark contrast of the mountains rising high above the city just minutes from the water. I also really, really wish I had had climbing shoes, a week, and a whole lot of gear with me when I saw some of these mountains...

After a very fun afternoon enjoying the waterfront and surrounding parts of Qingdao, and after getting a delicious lunch at a place we found on the street, we decided it was definitely time for a visit to the beer festival. Who doesn't love international beer festivals? On our maps was the location of the "Qingdao International Beer City," which appeared to be a bit of a drive away, so instead of paying high taxi fares we took the number 4 bus which took us all the way across town to the beer festival - about a 45 minute ride. It was a very cool drive which ran along the southern border of the city (right on the water for parts) and gave us a very good feel for the layout of Qingdao and what it had to offer.

The beer festival was, in a word, fantastic. The "Beer City" is much like a fairground. Massive, filled with carnival rides, over priced food vendors, cheap fair goods (like hilarious beer hats), a giant statue of the world announcing your arrival at Qingdao International Beer City, and beer tents. Lots of beer tents. It was interesting to see the parents walking happily with their children to all the fair rides and events while being feet away from a MASSIVE tent where people were drinking themselves silly listening to techno at volumes beyond comprehension. There were about seven or 8 different German beer companies there, and we chose which ones to visit based partly on how loud it was inside their tent. We arrived at the festival at around 1:30 and wandered around for a bit, sampling food and just taking in the festival before exploring the beer tents themselves. There were a good number of westerners at the festival, however many of them European. The only other Americans we ran into were mostly college students studying abroad - however we never actually hung out with any groups of foreigners. It is important to note that the only beer you can get with any frequency in China is a half dozen very light lagers, much like a Budweiser. The Chinese beer tends to be better than that, but it's all the same style, so a change of pace was greatly appreciated. I sampled a delicious stout (well more of a brown than a stout) as well some delicious hefeweizen. We slowly tried different beers and enjoyed the stage shows of different tents for the better part of the afternoon, until about 5:00 in the afternoon or so, at which point we were all a bit weary. This turned out to be only the beginning of our experience at the beer festival - when it seemed as if we were all getting to the point of retiring back to the hostel for a nap followed by an excursion exploring the other nightlife options of Qingdao, a funny thing happened... Walking through one of the tents, we began to notice a startling increase in the crowds. Tables were filled - everybody was drinking. And sure enough, exactly what we had read about began to happen... tables of Chinese businessmen, in varying states of intoxication, began standing up whenever we drew near, began shouting and waving at us at the top of their lungs, and immediately either pouring us glasses of whatever beer they were drinking, or just skipping the middle man and handing us the pitchers and running off to buy new ones. This went on from about 6 to 10. I danced alot, Eliza was interviewed by some Chinese news station, we were challenged to more gambei's (bottoms up toast, usually put forth in a very loud yell, kind of like GAMBEEIIIII!!!, which it is of course extremely impolite to refuse, especially if your host is providing the drinks...) than I'd care to count. we somehow managed taxi's back to the hostel, the girls stayed down in the lounge talking with some people from Shanghai, I went to sleep, and that's all that needs to be said about the Qingdao beer festival...

The next morning Lucy and Eliza caught a 7:50 am bus back to Qufu, due to obligations back at Qushida. Rachel, Olivia, and myself slept in and took the 3:40 bus, after visiting "technology street" so Rachel could get an external hard drive (a ridiculous street dedicated to back alley computer vendors selling motherboards out of piles on the street mixed in with big box stores featuring name brands such as Lenovo, Apple, Dell, etc.). The bus ride home was in itself uneventful - long, however not as painful (we all had decent seats this time). The fun began when we arrived in Qufu...

Or at least the outskirts of Qufu. Remember how the bus picked us up before on the side of the road on the outskirts of town? Well this time we were prepared - we figured they might pull the same stunt on us, and sure enough the bus pulled up along side the side of the road and the driver and his assistant gruffly pointed out the door and made grunting noises indicating we should get off. The only problem with this however, was there wasn't the rickety old van to take us into the city. There was however a single car with a driver who came over and began gesturing at us to come over and get in, and the bus driver(s) almost insisted that we do so. Our initial thought was that there were only three of us this time, so why send a van when you could just send a car? But wait - what about the other seven Chinese passengers who just got off the bus too, and who after a heated and angry discussion with the bus driver decided to walk into the night toward the signs pointing for Qufu? Oh hell...

By this time of course we were already halfway in the car with our bags in the trunk and before we knew what was happening we were driving away, luckily toward Qufu. The driver of course wanted 40 yuan to take us the remaining distance into the city. Rachel called one of her students who has been extremely helpful at a variety of different times here in Qufu, and we handed the phone to the driver so we could figure out what the HELL was going on and to figure out whether or not we had just been kidnapped.

She talked him down to 30. He took us right to the front gates of the college, probably would have been about a 15 - 20 yuan cab ride, so it wasn't terrible... but we definitely got the shaft. The bus was supposed to of course drive us all the way into the city, which was why the Chinese passengers were so upset. John, our guru and all knowing master when it comes to Qufu (graduated Skidmore in 2004, has been in China off and on since, however now he works about 45 minutes away in another city), said it was probably sketchy bus drivers and the guy in the car was probably a friend of theirs. So not everybody is all about showing hospitality. All in all though I've had FAR more positive experiences than negative ones, and it makes for a good story. The weekend as a whole was amazing - I loved traveling and can't wait for next week when the six of us will travel to Shanghai and meet up with Travis and Carrie for the week.

Well that's all for now, sorry this was such a long post! Gives you all something to read off and on for a few days... keep you busy.

p.s. We're actually teaching and working hard during the week - despite what all our posts may make it sound like... It's just more interesting to write about the travels!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

New Friends, Old Habits

As I write this, Rachel, Olivia, Nick, Eliza, and Lucy are enjoying the last bit of their Qindao adventure. They spent the weekend there for the International Beer Festival. I stayed here for the weekend to save money for our Shanghai trip and to force myself to survive independently in Qufu. So far, so good. 
Friday evening I left the comforts of my apartment for a brief dinner run. As usual, I ordered dinner on the street from my noodle man (or so I call him). He's a very animated and friendly guy who stir fries homemade noodles with some veggies in a bit of vinegar and about a quart of peanut oil. I have decided this year is less about eating healthy and more about eating to survive. When I am hungry, I eat whatever I can get. I intend to do a year of detox upon my return home. After grabbing my bag of greasy noodles and a side of greasy, freshly-made bread I scurried back to my comfortable little hole. I entertained myself for the remainder of the evening with some episodes of Rescue Me and Sex and the City.
 Saturday was a productive day. I spent a the morning hours preparing for my first elective lesson on Monday. I am making a lengthy powerpoint show, which I am filling with photos to keep my students entertained. I anticipate a large class of about 100. Yikes!
In the afternoon I met up with one of my students, Yolanda, who has been kind enough to show me around Qufu and help me purchase a cell phone (which I did yesterday). After cell phone shopping, we went to a large department store to get some groceries. Yolanda suggested that we cook some traditional Chinese dishes in my apartment, which of course I was all too excited for. We invited her best friend (another one of my students) to join us for cooking and dining. The girls happily made themselves busy in my kitchen for about an hour, preparing 5 dishes. Among my favorites was a cold bean noodle dish with thin slices of ham, cucumbers, and carrots, tossed in a spicy mustard oil and vinegar sauce. I also thoroughly enjoyed the warm scrambled egg and tomato dish and the tofu soup. We ate and talked for at least an hour, then after digesting a bit, we did what most students do after dinner: walk the track. We did several laps, chatting all the while. At one point we got on the topic of homosexuality and the issue of gay marriage. I had expected it to be a rather touchy subject, but we enjoyed a brief, mature conversation about it. 
We closed the evening with promises to cook again, and with a plan to watch a movie together in the near future. Yolanda and Mika love horror movies (perfect)! It was a wonderful evening, and I now feel less lame for having skipped the trip to Qindao. 
I just spoke to Rachel, and she said they will be back to Xingtan around 9pm. That leaves me around 9 hours in which to keep myself occupied and entertained. I plan to heat up the leftover tofu soup for lunch, then spend the rest of the afternoon finishing my powerpoint for tomorrow's fashion class. I'm sure there will be some episodes of Rescue Me and Sex and the City tossed in their somewhere. What can I say? There are some habits from home I just can't bring myself to break. Watching comfort movies and TV shows is definitely one of those.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

time flies

I have been in China for 4 weeks today. It is hard to believe that almost a month has passed since I first arrived. It feels like only yesterday that I wandered off of a plane in Jinan and onto a van to Qufu. Yet, after only 28 days I feel incredibly comfortable in my life here. Today is grey and humid. My students are writing away this morning in my Postgraduate class, fanning themselves in the thick ari. I am definitely ready for the fall to come.

For the past two days I have been teaching my postgraduate students how to write a paragraph and how to write instructions. The first half of the class--paragraph structure--has been very boring an quiet. I've yet to learn how to make topic, support, and concluding sentences fun. But each time I get to instruction writing, the students seem to become a bit more lively. Perhaps it is easier to understand. Perhaps it is that they think I'm an idiot when I ask them to write instructions for how to make a cup of tea. Stupid American who only knows coffee. teaching writing has been challenging though, especially with my postgraduates. They are all very smart people, they have taken numerous test that have allowed them to continue their studies and so it is difficult to gauge what is helpful and new to them and what is simply pedantic and condescending. I am looking forward to moving beyond some of the more "practical" writing subjects and into narrative and descriptive writing where hopefully my skills as a native English speaker--and writer--will be more overtly helpful.

This weekend the Qufu crew and myself will leave Qufu for the second time. As Rachel recently told you we went to Jining for an afternoon last weekend. It was nice to see a larger city and something other than Qufu and Confucius. Though Jining is a bigger city, it has very little tourist appeal and so I can understand the increase in Hallos and stares. Tomorrow we leave for Qingdao, a much more economically developed city and a city with a rich history since the end of the 19th century. Germans occupied the city in 1897 until the end of World War I during which time the city underwent rapid development with the introduction of electricity and a railroad connecting it to Jinan, the province's capital. And so because of its German heritage, Qingdao is known as "China's Switzerland". It is a strange, but apparently very beautiful mix of architectural styles. It is also home to the world famous Tsingtao beer. And it is not coincidence that we are going for the first weekend of the International Beer Festival. As much fun as Qufu has been, it has little in the way of nightlife so it will be a nice change of pace.

When we return from Qingdao, I will have seven straight days of teaching as we have to make up classes for the time we have off during National week (Sept 29-Oct 5). During this time the Qufu crew will head to Shanghai and meet up with Carrie and Travis. It will be a busy, but exciting few weeks and so it's time for me to get ahead on lesson plans. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mid Autumn Day

On Saturday night, all six of us, along with two of our students, went out for one of our favorite meals: hot pot. In case it has not yet been explained, hot pot entails a large soup pot in the middle of the table with a flame under it. You order food such as vegetables and raw meats which cook themselves when added to the boiling broth. It is delicious, it is fun and the best part...it is unlimited. A waitress repeatedly checks on you to ensure that you pot it always filled. At dinner, Lucy and Eliza's student, Mike, invited us to visit his hometown of Jining the following morning. We had the upcoming Monday off due to the holiday, leaving us Sunday to work on our lesson plans. We happily accepted his invitation and the next morning met up around 11:00.

For 12 yuan we were able to take the bus from Qufu to Jining, about a forty-five minute ride. Jining was a great city, bigger than Qufu but certainly not as large as Bejing or Shanghai. We had lunch and walked around for a few hours. I had hoped that because it was a larger city perhaps they more more used to foreigners and we would have less "halloooo!" encounters, but alas, we were not so fortunate. I liked Jining because it was greener than Qufu, trees lined the streets and there were spacious parks, one which even had a large Ferris wheel! Maybe I am speaking too soon because I still haven't had time to sufficiently explore Qufu, but I can't remember the last time I saw a tree here....but Qufu is home and I love it just the way it is.

We closed our visit to Jining in the perfect way: at a coffee shop. Aside from the just add water Nescafe that was given to us as a gift on Teachers Day (because every Chinese person knows just how much Americans love coffee, KFC and Walmart!), we have yet to discover real coffee. Spotting this coffee shop was like finding an oasis in a desert. We were thrilled and couldn't order fast enough. The coffee shop had much higher prices than we were used to, but Karrin, Olivia and I had to splurge. We ordered a "pot" of coffee, thinking we would each get about two large cups out of it. Turns out the pot consisted of three shots of espresso. It was still delicious and satisfied our craving. We were extatic for the next seven minutes and couldn't stop laughing. Luckily Nick caught the whole thing on video...

Eventually we made it back to Qufu where we stumbled upon a song and dance performance for Mid Autumn Day. We ran into our students and decided to go for a walk on the track with them. On our way over, we were caught off guard by a freshman who came running up to Olivia, asking her if he could chat in order to practice his English. The boy walked the track with us and eventually confessed that he had heard that the foreign teachers enjoy walking the track at night. I guess Liz, Chelsea, John and other past foreign teachers made this a hobby which the students soon caught onto. He said that he had been coming to the track every night and was thrilled that he had finally located us. It was hilarious. I am still not used to the fact that people want to chat with us and take pictures with us, but I certainly don't mind it either. Though we didn't celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival in the traditional way, we put our own Western spin on it and truly had an enjoyable weekend.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Contrast

For the past few days I have been trying to figure out how to capture an image, a moment, an event which exemplifies my new Chinese life, and I haven't been able to do it. There are so many small things which, after experiencing them once, it is difficult to remember why we ever noticed them in the first place. Adaptation has been paramount to survival - which is something that I think we all knew coming into this, and really, is one of the reasons we agreed to take such an adventure, but there is no preparation that can be done for this adventure (Well okay, learning Mandarin would have been moderately decent prep, but such is life). I know that myself and the other waigouren (foreigner, for those who don't know) are loving every minute, and because of that I've been trying to capture why it has been amazing but I'm really not sure it can be done.

On our way to the second banquet of the week last night, I decided that the best way to show my life was not by taking pictures of the strange juxtapositions of old and new, wealthy and poor, familiar and unfamiliar, which I encounter on a daily basis, but rather attempt to describe the few things which have become commonplace in my life day to day and week to week, in a feeble attempt to show you all a bit of whatQufu is like.

The daily lunch routine which the four of us have slipped into typically involves an array of street vendors located just outsideXintan's main gate - the same carts are there day in and day out, a large cluster of push carts, three wheeled bicycles with large coal cookers on the back, tents with tables and stools (I'l l have to take a picture of a Chinese stool, they're about a foot off the ground, hardly large enough for your butt, and somehow comfortable), fruit dealers, women frying strange looking spam skewers, a cart with about 10 soup pots, and a random smattering of other foods. An interesting side note - all things are given to you in a small plastic bag.Imagine when you go to the grocery store - the little bags which they put the meat in so its separate from the other food? yeah, imagine a clear bag a bit thinner than that, and there you go. And when I mean you get everything in these bags, i mean EVERYTHING. including soup. We don't buy soup on the street, mostly because it comes in plastic bags. Anyway, so the four or five different options which we have deemed safe to eat (this is an arbitrary distinction, based mostly on taste as apposed to any health concerns which may be present) have become a constant rotation. First and foremost is what we endearingly call the "bing," or more accurately, it is a "Jidan Bing." It consits of an egg scrambled in a wok with green onions, carrots, and cabbage placed inside a warm piece of flat bread (very similar to a pita) with a red bean sauce on the inside - it costs about 1quai 5, or roughly 21 cents. Another staple is bao zi (pronounced kind of like "bowza"), which is similar to a steamed dumpling - they come in a wooden tray called a jin - 10 pieces to a jin . Along with it comes a bowl of soup which we have named "snot soup," because it has egg in it which resembles snot, and the first time we ever ate thereKarrin and myself witnessed the lady making the dough blast a big snot rocket onto the sidewalk in the middle of kneading dough. You learn to ignore the little stuff that normally would gross you out, I guess. Third, there are two carts which sell what we have dubbed the giant spring roll. It's like a burrito, but filled with shredded vegetables, very similar to a spring roll. Finally, one of my new favorite vendors is a noodle and fried rice guy - he has his coal heated wok, a bucket of noodles, a tub of rice, and three bags of vegetables - usuallyshredded carrots, potatoes, and cabbage. You point to which one you want, he fries it. Can't go wrong for 2 quai.

The downside to street food is the oil. Everything is oily. At the banquet last night the president of the college asked us if we thought Chinese food was too oily - I responded by saying if you seek out balance with fruit it'smanageable, but there is no denying the excessive amounts of oil which you find in everything.

Dinner typically is a much more complicated affair - most restaurants, however delicious they may be, have old menus written entirely in Chinese. Luckily, we have a conversion chart given to us by one of the foreign teachers at Qushida who has been here for 15 or so years. Even still, pointing to dishes they may or may not have, stumbling with the phrase "what do yourecommend?" (also very dangerous to ask, we've decided - you never know what you're going to get)

Then there is the ubiquitous Chinese banquet. We've had the pleasure of two of these this week, and they consist mostly of everyone sitting around a table filled with enough food to feed the party three times over (this is the tradition, if the food gets anywhere near being gone, they immediately order more - leaving food on the table is polite and indicates you are full, so the more food which is left the more satisfied you must be... we try not to think about waste), eating and consuming largeamounts of either Chinese Wine ( Baijiu), or beer. After the first banquet this week, I decided to make a permanent transition to beer only - I will quote one of our closest Chinese friends for anexplanation as to why: "Drinking is very important to Chinese culture... it's almost like a competition, wouldn't you agree?" ...Yes Peter, I would agree. The good news was that I was much more composed at the second banquet - after four years of college you get good atskulling 5 oz containers of cheap, light beer.

These banquets are usually held in very nice establishments, however one thing I have noticed they tend to be kind of sticky - the lazy susan's especially (everything here is served on lazy susan's by the way, and I highly recommend Americans adapt this concept because its amazing), and many of them have flies buzzing around them. The room last night had a beautiful vase off to the side with a fly swatter sticking out of it.

These are the types of contrasts I've become accustomed to: the snot rocket next to the dough, the flies buzzing over our heads at dinner with the president of the college, the peasants weldingmattress frames on the street next to the hair salon, the fine layer of coal dust coating the window sills of the classrooms, the Audi whizzing past the three wheeled tractor spewing black smoke and pulling a trailer full of mortar or hazardous materials or apples or some combination of the three. I don't know if this really does any justice to daily life inQufu, but hopefully it's a glimpse.

So that's all for now - we just got paid yesterday (I'd like to point out that I have lived comfortably on the 100 dollars which I converted in the airport until now), so a grocery shopping expedition is in order. Happy Mooncake Festival!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Teacher's Day!

When I walked into my early morning class today, I was pleasantly surprised to find a rose on my podium. I was also greeted with 35 smiling faces and 35 voices cheerfully wishing me a Happy Teacher's Day. Peter had told us about this, but I had forgotten. Since teachers are highly respected here, it's a holiday that is actually observed and celebrated. So Happy Teacher's Day to all of my fellow Laoshi!
Last night the six of us here in Qufu were invited to a banquet to welcome all of the foreign teachers. It was a very nice dinner, and the food was delicious. I especially enjoyed the deep fried shrimp, which closely resembled popcorn shrimp (only they were much better). For the most part, the girls sat at two of the tables, and the guys sat at their own table, so as to engage in their custom of many toasts=heavy drinking. We girls sipped some very concentrated juice and Chinese tea. I met one of the ELIC teachers from Qu Shi Da, named Lisa. She was very friendly, and I enjoyed talking with her. I also heard about Lucy's speech, given to over 10,000 people. I really wish I could have been there to witness it. Kudos to Lucy for maintaining enough composure to carry out such an honor!
I now find myself with a stack of over 60 notebooks containing the most recent HW assignment from my writing classes. Needless to say, I have plenty to fill my "idle" hours.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Thank goodness for the group

Much like Karrin, Olivia and Rachel commented before me, I have been experiencing the same, cries of haaaloooo!!!, the awkward stares, and the mild culture shock (Although I will say the attention certainly plays to my narcissistic side...). As I read through their posts and hear their interpretations of the events I remember from any given day, it has really struck me how much we are going to rely on each other as a group this year. As amazing as this experience is, when it comes to moral support and needing someone to understand, we are hopelessly alone in this foreign place. The good news is we all get along great and for the most part have similar interests - although being the only guy between Xintan and Qu shi da (Qufu Normal where Eliza and Lucy are) has definitely been interesting at times - my off color jokes and obscure movie references just don't mesh as well as they used to with "the boys."

That being said, I'm excited what the year holds in store for us and our group - I've always been the type of person to want to venture out on my own; to dive in head first with no safety net - but I've got to say, having people to fall back on has been amazing. We had a venting session last night about how much we miss things like endless stacks of pancakes at IHOP. We went and bought Oreos (I hardly ever eat Oreos in the states). We stumbled our way through a Hot Pot dinner (very amazing, by the way) together. All of these things have been so much more enjoyable with people who you can relate to.

This weekend is the Mooncake Festival (mid-autumn festival) - if you are away from home and family, you are supposed to look up at the moon and remember your family. They also make special biscuity sweet bread called "mooncakes" which you of course eat during the festival, in remembrance. So to everyone back home, happy mooncake festival from Qufu!

I am Waiguo ren & Laoshi

Well, I am late in joining the blogging game, so I will try not to repeat what has already been written. Everyone has been writing such fantastic entries! I find it difficult to summarize the past ten days here in Qufu, so I will try to focus on specifics.
First, I must say that my first week as an English teacher was thrilling. I had expected to be terribly nervous when walking into my first classroom of 35 students (Junior Writing), but they were all so eager and excited. It made my job a whole lot easier. I felt immediately at ease and began the class by telling my students a bit about myself, my home, and my family. I showed them several photos, including one of my father holding a giant fish he caught early on in the summer. The entire class gasped in unison. They loved it. They also enjoyed hearing about all of my pets, especially my imitation of the way my talking parrot says "Hello."  I tried to use humor whenever I could to ease the nervous tension and was surprised to find that the students understood and appreciated my humor. Today, for example, my class was extra quiet. It is Monday, and I imagine they are exhausted from the weekend. Apparently the students here spend their weekends studying and doing work, instead of relaxing and going out. I felt myself becoming a bit nervous and tense, not getting the interactive feedback I got from them last week. Outside the building, in the front of the college, the Freshmen were gathered at a welcome lecture. Someone was speaking loudly, and the noise was a bit distracting. The large crowd burst into applause at the end of one of the speeches and I turned toward the window, facing the applause, bowed, and said "Well, thank you." My entire class burst into laughter and the tension was eased. Whew.
Things around here are a bit disorganized and last-minute, administratively speaking, but we all just go with the flow. For instance, I was told at the end of last week that I would begin teaching my elective course (I have chosen to teach a course called "Who Wore What When: A Survey of Twentieth Century American Fashion") this week. I made sure to get my syllabus to Peter before the weekend and expected to have at least a few days' notice before having to teach the elective. Yesterday afternoon, one of my students approached me while I was waiting for the bus and told me I would be teaching my elective course on Monday at 10:10 (which is when I am supposed to teach a section of Junior Writing). I thought perhaps she was mistaken and told her I was waiting to hear from Peter. Sure enough, around 7:00pm, Peter came to us with our revised course schedules, and of course, I realized that I had to come up with a last-minute lesson plan for my elective course, to be taught the following afternoon. Luckily, the class was very relaxed today, since the students are basically "shopping" for their elective course. I only talked for about 15-20 mins. I showed them some photos of American fashion from various decades and explained what we would be learning over the course of the semester. I did this while standing on a raised platform in front of about 130 students (all 4 Junior classes). They all seemed to enjoy my albeit brief imitation of a supermodel doing the catwalk. I think my theatre and performance experience will come in very handy this year.
On a completely different note, I would like to point out some glaring cultural differences that I have noticed. Perhaps my favorite is the holding of hands. Friends of all ages hold hands here, unabashedly and proudly. Most often I see girl friends holding hands with each other--on the way to class, shopping, walking the street. However, while riding the bus one day, I noticed two grandfatherly men linked arm in arm. In a homophobic culture, it is so interesting to see members of the same gender shamelessly being so publicly intimate with one another. There was something so tender and genuine about those two old men walking together, arm in arm. Now, at quite the opposite end of the spectrum, is a much less endearing cultural difference: the spitting. One must be ready, at any time and in any place, to dodge the mucus being spat--on the street where you are walking, or perhaps my favorite, on the floor of the restaurant, right next to the table where you were sitting and enjoying your plate of green beans with sliced pork and garlic. It's a fantastic way to boost one's appetite. I do not, however, mind the "Hulllooo"s that are constantly shouted at us. I actually like it when it comes from the cute little Chinese children. I usually say Hi back to them. I kind of feel like a celebrity. We have found that sunglasses help. It makes us feel less visible, or at least, less obligated to respond to the shouts.
On a final note, I would like to point out that they do not eat all the dogs in China. (See photo for proof)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A funny thing happened on the way to the university

After a both exciting and stressful first week of teaching, the weekend has finally come. I am teaching seven classes right now, five classes of sophomores and two classes of juniors. The sophomore classes are great. Their English is fantastic and they are enthusiastic and eager to learn. Here is a quick example of just how good their English is. I wrote the word "roommate" on the board but accidentally spelled it "roomate." Within seconds, about fifteen hands shot up to tell me that I had spelled the word wrong. Embarrassed and unsure of the correct spelling, I said "really? Are you sure?" Immidiately fifteen dictionaries came flying out. I was wrong. I had spelled an English word wrong and my Chinese students corrected it for me. On the one hand, I was happy to learn of their finely-tuned spelling abilities, on the other hand, I felt like an idiot. The experience was certainly humbling, but I can't beat myself up over every little spelling mistake I make (after all, I was a social work major not an English major right?)

On Thursday, however, I had my first class of juniors. Unlike the sophomores, the juniors are not English majors, therefore their English is minimal and their motivation to be there is pretty low as well. Most of these juniors are studying international trade and will be studying abroad next year in Korea for two years. Peter, our director and their writing teacher, explained to them that English would be a very useful common language in Korea so it would be an important skill for them to aquire. So hopefully I will be able to do some fun classes with them and raise their engery level. Something interesting though: class with my juniors seemed to be awkward and unsucessful. When I would ask them questions, they would stare back at me like I was an alien. They laughed a lot, and it felt like they were laughing at me. By the end of class, I was discouraged, to say the least. For that reason I was shocked when two of the girls approached me and asked me if I would like to go to dinner with them tonight. Surprised but enthralled, I gladly accepted their invitation. They said they would pick me up at my apartment at 5:30.

5:30 rolled around, and after gaining the girls' permission to do so, I invited Nick, Olivia and Karrin to come along since I was a little nervous about the communication barrier. We got picked up and the girls said that we had to wait a few more minutes for everyone else. "Who else is coming?" I asked. They told me that other students from the class would be joining us. I was shocked when it turned out that nine students, three girls and six boys, had gotten together to all take me out for dinner. Realizing that this invitation meant that they were going to be treating me to dinner, we decided it would be best if two foreign teachers stay behind and one come for moral support (it was a bit intimidating...) Olivia kindly obliged and they took us to a delicious restaraunt where the food didn't seem to stop coming. The meal was somewhat uncomfortable since we don't speak any Chinese and they speak very little English, but they put so much effort into trying to speak with us, which was very nice of them.

After the meal we decided to walk home in a group from the restaraunt. On the way, the strangest thing happened. These nine students, who had been so quiet and reserved in both the classroom and at the dinner table, suddenly opened up. They were all of a sudden unafraid to use their English and I was amazed to see just how good their English actually was. Maybe it was becuse they were no longer in such a formal setting or maybe it was because they had just learned that we were actually their age, not older than them, but something changed. The walk home took about forty minutes, and each one of them had a million questions for us about America, everything from life at our college to our favorite music groups. I was so pleased to see them open up like this and I was also able to finally learn more about who they are and where they come from. The night out was truly a sucess. My students and I got to learn more about one another and the exchange eased my tensions about how difficult the class might be to teach.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Ni Hao, Jiaoshi !

I am so happy and proud to read your posts and see how well you are adapting to China and your new lives as teachers. What I am most impressed with is your flexibility in the face of such new and ever-changing circumstances. At some level, even with our semester-long orientation seminar at Skidmore, there is really no way to "prepare" for China! Now that you're there, you understand what I mean. Your adventurous spirit, friendly and generous approach to your work, and keen observations about the excitement that your students feel about having you as their teachers make all of the confusions of everyday life worthwhile. I read your posts and immediate feel "homesick" for the China I so warmly remember. Someone has even posted a photo of my old apartment at Qufu!

This blog has now been introduced to the entire Skidmore community in this week's issue of Scope. I received lots of positive feedback, so keep those pictures and stories coming. As you get further into your teaching, I know you'll have some wonderful experiences to relate. Hey, Lucy, I hear you've been asked to give the welcome address to the entire freshman class at Qufu, standing in front of the statue of Confucius! Don't be nervous - whatever you say will be welcomed with cheers and applause, and it's a great honor.

More later. Collectively you're making a huge difference in the lives of thousands of Chinese students, and Skidmore and I couldn't be prouder!

Settling In

I've been in China for over a week now and I’ve finally begun teaching. Life here is slowly starting to take shape. I’m gaining new routines each day, becoming more familiar with the neighborhood and city as a whole. I know that the shop across from my apartment sells delicious soft pretzel-like bread with a sweet glaze and sesame seed that makes a great breakfast—even better  if you put some cinnamon on it. I know that “ji” mean chicken and that if I go to a restaurant and order a dish with the word “ji” in it a may get an entire chicken hacked to pieces. And though I’m not quite used to the chicken head on my plate, I’m used to the fact that if I order a dish it may show up. Life is becoming comfortable here. I no longer feel like I’m halfway around the world; I’m simply living away from home as usual. I’m in love with the midday naps people take and evening communities of families and students that mingle outside in the mild nights here. The children are adorable and if it didn’t happen so frequently their “haaalos” might almost be endearing. I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing them do their ‘business” (number one only—hopefully) on the street, but again, like the chicken, I’m getting used to the fact this is what they do.

I’ve only taught three classes so far—I will have five a week in total—and have found the students incredibly welcoming. They are so eager to please and motivated to learn that it makes teaching them easy and enjoyable. I am teach all writing courses and though my students have goals of improving their skills most have asked me if I think writing courses can be interesting and fun. In learning English they are especially eager to learn more about Western Culture and to improve their speaking. So I will have to find ways of keeping them entertained and enthusiastic about my course—any ideas are welcome.

Life in Qufu, though different in many ways from America, is comfortable. Life is not as rugged as you may think. There are fast food restaurants, though street food is just as fast and often tastier. I can find rice cookers, electric kettles, alarm clocks, sheets, pillows, even Tupperware in many stores including a large and very clean department store downtown. Shops sell trendy clothes in buildings that, though old and rich in history on the exterior, blast pop music from modernly designed interiors. My apartment has strong AC to combat the day’s humidity and heat and I can find all the cold drinks I want. It is an incredibly interesting time to be in Qufu. This city that has been around for thousands of years, whose architecture is six hundred years old is developing. But though its developing, it is doing so in its own way of honoring and preserving its history—hopefully this practice will continue. People text on cell phones while they wait for a chicken to be butchered in the market. There is a wonderful balance between the old and the new and in how people utilize both in their daily lives.

So I am slowly settling in. Whatever anxieties I had about the year I will spend here are fading away. Though interaction is often difficult with the very little Chinese I have, optimism about the language I will acquire, about the relationships that will grow, has taken root and I am excited to see where I will end up.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


It's bizarre to be able to say that I have been living in Qufu, China for the last week. It is an experience unlike any other I have come across. China is completely amazing and ridiculous at the same time. Every day is an adventure, and so far, every day has been a little crazier than the day before. I also find myself in the most awkward situations constantly. It might have something to do with the fact that I don't speak any Mandarin, but I'm pretty sure it's the fact that I'm a waiguoren (foreigner). As a group, we attract the attention of everyone in a hundred-foot radius. People stare, point, laugh, and often scream out "Haaaaalo!" or "Waiguoren!" After one week, I have almost gotten used to it, but there are moments when it's absolutely overwhelming. Because Qufu is Confucius' old stomping ground, we went into the old city to walk around and explore. I guess this area is a big tourist spot, which automatically attracts vendors selling everything you can imagine. As we walked down the streets with vendors, people were screaming "Haaaalo!" at us from every direction and all eyes on the crowded streets were tuned in on us. It was quite irritating, and I don't know if I will ever go back there again.

It's only been one week since we landed in China, but I honestly feel like I've been here forever. We have already established daily routines; every night, the four of us at Xingtan College have dinner together (after a few attempts at cooking, we have chosen to now mostly go out) and almost every other day we meet up with Lucy and Eliza at Qufu Normal. These dinners have consistently been the highlight of my days simply because I don't eat much during the day. It's not that I don't have time; quite the opposite, I have all the time in the world. I just can't eat anymore peanut butter sandwiches (my usual breakfast here) or ramen noodles (my usual lunch). At this point, I would rather just build up an appetite for dinner.

I have only taught one class thus far: Western Culture. Originally, I was supposed to teach five different sections of this course, but of course, those in charge decided it would be better to combine those classes into two sections. This means that the first class I ever taught was 94 students. I can safely say I am not prepared to teach a class of 94 Chinese students. But I don't really have much of a choice. So, on Tuesday, I walked right into that classroom and pretended I knew what I was doing. I was so nervous that I spoke unbelievably fast, which made it difficult for the students to understand me. I realized what I was doing pretty quickly and managed to slow myself down. I would say that the first ten minutes were extremely nerve-wracking, but then everything went pretty smoothly. The students are so eager to learn about western culture and have continually expressed this to me and the other teachers. I'm excited to teach them something they're excited to learn about. I have been planning out lesson plans (I'm trying not to procrastinate) and so far I have some pretty great topics, ranging from geography to film and television. I also really want to do something about the upcoming presidential election; it seems like they would definitely enjoy learning about the candidates, and maybe I could even have them vote! After meeting some of my students, I'm happy knowing that they will be thrilled with anything I teach them.

It's almost dinner time, or at least is for us in Qufu. At 5:30, we're going to take the 5 bus across town to Qufu Normal and have dinner with Lucy and Eliza. We're going to a restaurant they have already tried and gave good reviews about. Apparently, they serve "American" style Chinese food, or as close as it will get for us.

Second day of classes

Today was my second day teaching here at Xintan College in Qufu, and it's definitely been eye opening. I meet with each class once a week for two hours (well, two fifty minute periods with a 10 minute break in between), and the two sections that I've taught so far have gone really well. After introducing myself I had the students interview each other and then introduce their friends, partly to get to know them a bit better, but mostly to gauge their level of English comprehension. Currently all my students are 3rd years, and I've been very impressed with their level of understanding. I can speak almost completely normally - I think the only thing I've been doing different is speaking a bit more formally.

Anyway, so following all the introductions I explained briefly what I expected of them as a class, what they should expect from me as a teacher, and all that other happy fun stuff which never was of much interest to me either. The last half of class was devoted to a discussion of the movie "Sneakers," which I showed as my first movie on Monday. I of course chose "Sneakers" before I realized -- of my 140 or so students in four sections of Movie Class -- only 15 were male... Which is not to say the girls didn't like it, but let's be honest - it's kind of a guy movie (although I highly recommend it to anyone who has not seen it). I had asked them to write down five things which they either had questions about or didn't understand from the movie, and this was the basis of our discussion. You never really understand just how many nuances and small (yet very, very important) plot twists a movie has until you realize someone didn't understand what it meant when Robert Redford asked about somebody's shoes and the kid replied "expensive."

One very interesting comment/question which arose today in the discussion involved the role of a Russian character in the movie. A young girl asked me, "It seems that in many American movies, Russia, China, and North Korea are portrayed as dangerous. In light of this, do Americans actually feel that these countries are dangerous?" I saved this one for last... mostly because I was attempting to think of some tactful way to ease past this direct conversation so early in the semester (Remember this was the first class with this group)... My ultimate comment was something along the lines of, "Well Russia wasn't actually bad in the movie, because Marty (Robert Redford) went to Gregor (the Russian) for help, and if Americans thought China was dangerous they wouldn't let me come and teach here now would they? ...We'll save North Korea for another day."

All in all I think its been going very well, however I think teaching the same lesson plan four times a week is going to get a bit old... Such is life.

On a completely unrelated note, I love my students' names. Aside from the standard names of Lisa, Joyce, Cleo, Flora, Briony, and Melody, are a few more creative names... I'm particularly fond of Freshman (prefers to go by F.M.), Rain, Ashby, and Forca.

Rachel, another Skidmore teacher, definitely wins the name game with "Zero," "Nothing," and "AppleTree."

It's been a great week all in all. We've found several restaurants which I know will become regular haunts (three to four people tend to eat for between 35 and 40 yuan... divide by seven equals awesome). I'm very quickly embracing the Chinese tradition of the afternoon nap (between 1 and 2:30) and I'm getting paid to watch and talk about movies. Awesome!

This is a picture of a shirt we all saw one of the first few days in Qufu... Thought you all might enjoy the catchy slogan of, "WEEBREEZE intheparty SO YOUGET Champagne"

That's all for now!

Nihao from Southern China!

This is my first post on our beautiful new blog. It has taken quite a while to get everything set up here in Zhuhai, but now that Travis and I are settled I am excited to share a little bit with you all.

Our campus is absolutely beautiful. It is large and full of lakes, trees, and mountains. We are certainly lucky to be in such a lush spot. The campus is just a short walk to the bay of the Pearl Sea, which is another lovely sight. That being said, it is so hot--sweltering, even--that it is hard to enjoy the outdoors. Walking to class is even tiring and often leaves me sweaty. It also rains suddenly and viciously here. All my students warned me that I must always carry and umbrella because the sun is strong and the rain is unpredictable.

Even though there are some negative aspects to our location, I am quite excited to be at this University and on this campus. Everyone here has been so warm and welcoming, and I really love the program that we are working for (STI-School of Translation and Interpretation). The school is only three years old, and the dean is hoping to provide a liberal education to his students. We have been encouraged to teach our students to think critically and as individuals. It is very fun to be part of such a new and dynamic team of teachers and professors. It is also fun to have such flexibility. I am teaching Sophomore Writing and Speaking, Freshman Speaking, and American Society and Culture. While there are books for the classes and some guidelines, I have been given so much freedom to pick topics and classroom activities. For my American Society class (which is a lecture to 150 students!!) I had no guidelines--I am allowed to teach whatever I want in class and grade however I want. How fun! My other classes are much smaller (24-27 students) and I have really enjoyed getting to know the students here. They are all so excited to have young, American teachers. It is really wonderful to feel so welcomed.

There is more to say, but I will have to save it for another time.

Everything here tastes slightly off...

So far, life in China is good but difficult. Our school, Xintan College, located in Qufu, about fifteen minutes from Lucy and Eliza's university, is small but fun. There are about 4,000 students here, but the campus is still about a third of the side of Skidmore, I would guess. Our rooms are relatively new and very very nice. We all have spacious living rooms, large bathrooms, kitchens and big bedrooms. Today I used to the laundry machine in the bathroom for the first time, which only has Chinese writing on it....I will let you know how that goes....Each room has a TV but every channel is in Chinese, so I lose focus after about forty seconds.

Our Chinese hosts at Xintan have been extremely friendly and accommodating. They are all only slightly older than us, yet their English is nearly perfect. Their names are Peter, Connie, Cathy and Li Zhao. On our first day here, they took us out for an enormous dinner and lunch the next day. Soon after, Peter told us he was taking us out for a quick foot massage, at the many local massage parlors (some a bit sketchier than others...) It turned out to be an amazing, two hours treatment consisting of shoulder and neck rubs, hot herbal water to soak our feet in, warm pillows and much more. It was both incredibly relaxing and incredibly generous. We learned that Peter, though he seems to work round the clock, makes only slightly more than we do per month. I have been so impressed with all of their generosity. Similarly, our students have offered to take us out to lunch to show us "traditional Chinese cuisine" despite the fact that most of them have very little money.

Class so far has been interesting. So far I have taught three sections of sophomore oral English. I am amazed at how advanced their English is, however most are very shy and hesitant to speak in class. For the first class, I asked them to all go around and introduce themselves (name, something unique about themselves, their hobbies and goals for the class). To my surprise, they all gave about the same answers. Their hobbies included playing sports, watching TV, shopping and surfing the web. Their goals were to improve their speaking English and learn more about Western culture. What also surprised me is how many of them said that there was nothing unique or special about them. I had to really encourage them to share something unusual about their life. I don't know if this was a case of them being humble or disinterested, or possibly as Sandy warned us about, a hesitancy to stand out from the group as an individual. On the whole, I am looking forward to this class, but am more worried about my two classes of juniors who are not English majors. I have been told that because they are not in the English dept. their English is relatively poor and their motivation level is low. I am nervous about teaching this class on Thursday but Cathy said a Chinese translator can be involved in the class if needed.

We are all now sitting in my apartment watching reruns of the Olympics. I have a student coming over in an hour for some extra tutoring. She came over last night during Sleepless in Seattle and asked if I could tutor her every night from 9:20-10:00. I am going to have to work on setting boundaries I guess. Wish me luck!

Monday, September 1, 2008

It's almost routine

Now that we've been here for almost a week I don't wake up in the morning forgetting where I am. The edges of the campus aren't unfamiliar anymore and I even ventured off campus by myself for the first time today. I walked to the market just outside the east (?) gate. I didn't buy anything but it felt weird not being in a group of foreigners, being the lone laowei, or foreigner, as a little kid shouted at us the other day.

I think what has really helped is having a community where I am living. Joni, who I have mentioned before, has patiently helped us ease into life in Qufu. She lives upstairs and last night she cooked dinner for us in her apartment, which is definitely the most homey of any of the apartments I've been in so far. She lives on the fourth floor where Tarah and Lisa, two American women who have yet to arrive, will also live. On the third floor is Adeline, a French teacher who comes from a town just outside of Paris. We really got to know her better last night and, like Joni, she makes the community in the foreign teacher's building even more homey. Next to me on the second floor is Eliza on one side and a Russian couple with a young son on the other. The son and the mom don't speak much English, but the father does. It feels strange calling them parents because they can't be much older than Eliza and me. They are friendly but communication is a bit difficult. It is kind of nice knowing that there is a family with a little kid next door just like any other apartment building around the world.

Outside of our building the campus is bustling because the students have returned. I don't start teaching until friday because most of my students, the first years, have registration and mandatory military training for the next three weeks. Everyone else has started teaching and hearing their stories has made me more excited than anything. I look forward to making friends with my students and comparing our life stories.

Speaking of friends, I literally instantly made one today. A senior whose English name is Mike came to Eliza's door while I was doing my laundry in her room. He was surprised to see me because he was used to a male Skidmore student living there last year. He was sad to hear he had left but came right out and asked if we could be friends. MY FIRST CHINESE FRIEND! He offered to help us buy cell phones tomorrow which will be a very nice thing to have. Everyday it gets easier being here but it still feels funny having every other pair of eyes follow us when we walk by. I've only seen one other westerner that I didn't already know. He was randomly walking across the street near the Confucius temple.

Overall the Chinese people, unless they have reason to talk to us, just go about their business after giving us a lingering stare. Unfortunately we had one bad encounter. John Lenhart, a Skidmore grad who lives in a nearby town, came to show us the ropes. His Mandarin is so good that he understood when someone said something rude. So rude in fact that he wouldn't tell us what they said. The people I have met, both western and Chinese, associated with Qufu Normal, however, couldn't be friendlier. Anywho, I am going to go join Eliza in watching more t.v. we can't understand. Tonight we are trying hot pot for the first time!

It's officially set in

Now that we've been here for almost a week I don't wake up in the morning forgetting where I am. The edges of the campus aren't unfamiliar anymore and I even ventured off campus by myself for the first time today. I walked to the market just outside the east (?) gate. I didn't buy anything but it felt weird not being in a group of foreigners, being the lone laowei, or foreigner, as a little kid shouted at us the other day. I think what has really helped is having a community where I am living. Joni, who I have mentioned before, has patiently helped us ease into life in Qufu. She lives upstairs and last night she cooked dinner for us in her apartment, which is definitely the most homey of any of the apartments I've been in so far. She lives on the fourth floor where Tarah and Lisa, two American women who have yet to arrive, will also live. On the third floor is Adeline, a French teacher who comes from a town just outside of Paris. We really got to know her better last night and like Joni she makes the community in the foreign teacher's building even more homey. Next to me on the second floor is Eliza on one side and a Russian couple with a young son. The son and the mom don't speak much English, but the father does. It feels strange calling them parents because they can't be much older than Eliza and I. They are friendly, but communication is a bit difficult. It is kind of nice knowing that there is a family with a little kid next door, just like any other apartment building around the world. Outside of our building the campus is bustling because the students have returned. I don't start teaching until friday because most of my students, the first years, have registration and mandatory military training for the next three weeks. Everyone else has started teaching and hearing there stories has made me more excited than anything. I look forward to making friends with my students and comparing our life stories. Speaking of friends, I literally made one today. I say made one because a senior who's english name is Mike came to Eliza's door while I was doing my laundry in her room. He was surprised to see me because he was used to a male Skidmore student living there last year. He was sad to hear he had left, but came right out and asked if we could be friends. MY FIRST CHINESE FRIEND! He offered to help us buy cell phones tomorrow, which will be a very nice thing to have. Everyday it gets easier being here but it still feels funny having every other pair of eyes follow us when we walk by. I've only seen one other westerner that I didn't already know. He was randomly walking across the street near the Confucius temple. Overall the Chinese people, unless they have reason to talk to us, just go about their business after giving us a lingering stare. Unfortunately we had one bad encounter. John Lenhart, a Skidmore grad who lives in a nearby town, came to show us the ropes. His Mandarin is so good that he understood when someone said something so rude about us that he wouldn't tell us what they said. The people I have met, both western and Chinese, associated with Qufu Normal, however, couldn't be friendlier. Anywho, I am going to go join Eliza in watching more t.v. we can't understand.