Saturday, May 2, 2009

Experiencing China.... With Fifth Graders!

When I was first hired by IAB to come and teach in China, I was so excited to learn about enrichment week. This is basically a week of the school year that is set aside each year for the students to learn about and experience Chinese culture and history. Due to my complete lack of knowledge about most places available for the students to experience, I decided that we should just go with the same general itinerary last year's class used.

I was blissfully enjoying a generally stress free year until about a month before the scheduled week. My principal (who is also new this year) and most of the staff were led to believe that a great deal of scheduling and planning had been done by other staff members. 3 weeks before the trip it became clear that the only planning done had been a schedule on paper of where each class would go each day. We had no hotel reservations for our two day overnight trip, we had no idea what any of the places we were supposed to go cost or anything. Suddenly what had seemed like a great adventure became a nightmare. Each grade was assigned an extra teacher and one Chinese speaking staff member to help with the trip. Thankfully both of our extra helpers were extremely helpful. Nikki, an ESL teacher has lived in China for several years and speaks quite a bit of Chinese. Lisa, the receptionist is willing to do anything we asked. We had to plan a budget for each day, figure out where we could get meals (not always easy when traveling in China) and where we could find a reasonably priced hotel that would take 35 5th graders. After 3 weeks straight of planning, calling, and dealing with a travel agent, everything was set.... sort of. I wrote earlier about the phrase "This is China!" Well if I have learned one thing it is that the best laid plans will fall apart, so don't rely to heavily on them. Plan on being flexible!

Day One- Lama Temple and Confucius University and Temple

In fifth grade we study ancient civilizations and cultures. In each unit I have enjoyed looking at the religion and comparing to Christianity. It has really generated great classroom discussion as we learned about the many different religions that developed. I had several parents who were very concerned about us going to the particular temple, but the former classes had gone so we decided to go through with it. I spent a lot of time preparing my students for viewing Buddhism as a false religion and seeing the worship of idols for what it was. I think even though there are Buddhist temples and shrines all over the place in China, for many of my students, it was the first time they saw it for what it was- lost people worshiping false gods. I really felt like God used the opportunity to reach my kids hearts with truth.

Following the Lama Temple, we visited the Confucius Temple and University. When we arrived the workers decided to charge our students even though we had been told that students were free. Unfortunately this is quite common especially in Beijing. They see an International school and decide we are rich and can afford to pay more than Chinese school students. After arguing for quite some time they finally let the students in for 10rmb each and adults for 15rmb each. The cost is normally 20 for adults and free for students. Here it was great to discuss with the students how people took a normal man and turned him into a god, through ancestor worship. There was a huge temple that was built specifically for the emperor to come and worship Confucius. It was very sad to see how prevalent this worship is still today.

Day Two- Service project and team building games

This day was the one I was most concerned about as far as planning. We were taking 35 kids to a foster home for children who were waiting for or recovering from some type of surgery. It turned out to be the best day of the week. A British couple opened this home to rescue orphan babies who would die without treatment. They had three nurseries and split the kids into three groups. The kids each spent some time playing with the babies, and some time learning about stories of kids who had been rescued and are now healthy and living in adopted homes. My students were really touched by the experience and were so sweet in their interactions with the babies. It was a really sweet time.

After leaving the home we went to a park near school. We had lunch and then spent some time playing team building games and activities. The day that I was most worried about ended up being the sweetest time of growing together.

Wednesday- Friday -Qinhuangdao
We left for our overnight trip Wed. at 9:00. We drove 4 hours stopping once at a reasonably decent bathroom. I could actually breath inside and it appeared to be cleaned on a regular basis. This is unusual for public bathrooms in China. We arrived at "The Dragon's Head", our first stop of the day. This is where the Great Wall goes into the sea. The highlight there was a replica of a maze that would have been used to confuse the enemies trying to get to the wall. The kids were finished with the Wall part in about ten minutes and mostly just wanted to climb on the rocks on the beach. Next we went to some old city walls. Again we had a difficult time purchasing tickets, but eventually they did give us the student price. I was actually quite disappointed with this place. Most of the walls were closed off and we were only able to walk on a small portion. We ate Chinese food at a restaurant near the city and finally headed for our hotel.

I have stayed at several hotels in China that have all been very "Western" and quite comfortable outside of the rock hard beds. Well, I and my students were in for a very rude awakening. It was dark when we arrived at our hotel. The weather had been very cold all day and with sun down it was just miserable. None of us were really prepared for that cold as it had been quite warm in recent days. From the outside the buildings looked like a really nice modern resort. There was a main lobby and then many separate buildings. On arrival we were told that we were the first guests of the season!!! Let me just say that we did not have to worry about the kids destroying things or taking things. The rooms were just bare. No decoration of any kind. There were beds and a dresser and that was it. The bathroom was separated with a glass partition. Inside the shower head stuck out of the wall right beside the toilet (Thankfully there was a toilet and not just a squatty potty!!!!) We had to move the toilet paper out of the bathroom in order to take a shower! My mantra became... I am a spoiled American, I am a spoiled American, I am a spoiled American! Everything was badly stained and mildewed. Several kids had to be moved to different rooms due to water problems and broken locks. But finally we settled down. I am still torn between how uncomfortable it was for me and how good it was for my students to see a different side to life in China.

The next day it was frigid and raining as we went for a very Chinese breakfast of congee (a kind of rice and bean soup) and rolls. Thankfully they did provide some fried eggs when we told them that the kids would not eat the congee. Our plan for this morning was hiking outdoors. Since the weather was so yucky we found an aquarium in town and were able to get reasonably priced tickets. The kids really enjoyed the aquarium, especially the seal show! We had lunch at McDonald's (my first time eating McDonald's in China!) and then went to the beach. Even though it was freezing, the kids played on the beach for hours and had a great time.

The town we were in does not have many foreigners, so the people were very interested in our kids. The older people especially would come up to them and talk to them. The blond haired kids are the favorites, and they would reach out and touch their hair. An old guy who worked at this beach saw the kids digging in the sand, so he went to the tool shed and got out about 8 shovels for them to use. Not little kids sand shovels. No, these were big adult sized work shovels. It was hilarious. If we had let them keep going, there would have been another Great Wall of China, right there on the beach. The boys especially had a major construction project going on with the use of the shovels.

One highlight for me was playing Frisbee. I was playing with some kids for awhile, but then everyone wandered away and left the Frisbee lying in the sand. A group of Chinese men had been working on a construction project on the beach. I noticed one guy was really interested in the Frisbee. After awhile he walked over and picked it up. He tried throwing it. It wobbled through the air a short distance. Another guy came over and they were both laughing away. He picked it up and tried again. I noticed that he was turning his hand backwards, So I picked it up and showed him how to throw it correctly. He tried a couple more time and finally started getting it. By now all the workers had stopped working and were surrounding him. We threw the Frisbee back and forth several times while the crowd looked on in apparent fascination. Finally they went back to work. It was fun for me to see this old guy completely enjoy a new experience.

After the beach we went back to the beach and everyone got cleaned up. After dinner and some more games we went to sleep for a few short hours. Breakfast was at 6:30 the next morning with departure at 7:00. We drove about 4 hours to the Eastern Qing tombs. It was very interesting to see the tombs of the Emperors and Empresses of the Qing dynasty. Unfortunately the bathrooms here were just foul. The smell was so bad I could not go inside without gagging. I ended up holding it all the way back to school (another 2 hours)

And that was the end of the week. This has become very long and I applaud you if you actually read the whole thing. For me it was definitely experiencing a new level of China. Beijing has so much foreign influence and we have most of the comforts of home. Outside of Beijing it is quite different. A much truer picture of China. While to a degree it took me out of my comfort zone, it also makes me embarrassed at how much I have and how high my expectations are for my comfort. It is a humbling thing to realize a little more how really spoiled I am. Hopefully the lesson will stick and cause me to be more grateful for the blessings I have in my life.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Xi' an Sites and Sounds!

Several years ago I was watching an episode of the Amazing Race and the contestants were in China and had to find a clue at the Terra Cotta Warriors. That was the first time I saw or heard of them. Ever since then I have wanted to see them. When we decided to go to Xi' an this weekend people said there was not much to do there... I beg to differ!!!! We had a long weekend due to having Good Friday off, but I really wanted to be back for church on Easter Sunday. With the help of Sri we found a flight that left Beijing at 7:30 Am on Friday and a return to leave Xi'an at 9:30 PM on Saturday. We thought with most of two days we would have plenty of time.

We had a smooth flight and arrived in Xi'an with no problems. Our first glitch came when we tried to hire a car to go straight to the Terra Cotta Warriors. Unlike other places I have traveled where you can walk out of the airport and negotiate with any number of drivers to go places, the travel agency at the airport had some type of monopoly on this. Our only options were a one way trip to the Warriors for 300 rmb or a driver for 8 hours to the warriors and then around town for 500. So we paid the 500. I I return, I will make arrangements ahead of time for a driver to pick me up.

Anyway, we got to the site and were immediately accosted by an English speaking guide who wanted to give us a tour. She was charging 100 rmb so we decided to go for it. Her English was excellent and she did share lots of very interesting information with us. The site of the warriors was every bit as amazing as I expected it to be. I just could not get over the power that emperor had over the people, that he command them to build all of that for his after life, and he was obeyed, this is the same guy who had forced hundreds of thousands of guys to leave everything and go build the great wall. He wanted his burial plans to be so secret that he actually had 700,000 workers buried alive after they built the warriors. It was really amazing.

After the warriors we went on a tour of a silk making factory. It was really nice and interesting. The tour was free, and they really wanted us to buy something, but all the things there were quite expensive. After the tour we had our very expensive driver take us to our hotel and got checked in. We were upgraded to a super deluxe room and ended up having a really nice view of the bell tower and drum tower outside our window.

After settling in we went exploring and looking for lunch. We first went to restaurant which proclaimed in large English words their famous dumplings. Upon arriving, we found out they did not have an English menu or pictures on their menu. So we left there and entered the Muslim district. We searched for awhile and finally found a hole in the wall restaurant where they assured us they did have an English menu. When Tiffany asked for it they said, just a minute, someone else is using it now! That gave us a good laugh. For just under 5 dollars we filled up on noodles and meat skewers. It was very yummy! After eating we meandered through the streets of the Muslim District buying a few souvenirs and enjoying the sites. Some things were very similar to Beijing, but other things were quite different. We ended our site seeing for the day with a tour of the drum tower. We got to the hotel and crashed for the rest of the evening. I did go out on the balcony and take pics of the towers lit up.

On day two we began with a tour of the bell tower and a performance there. Next we went to the City Walls were for 3 dollars you could rent a bike for 100 minutes and ride the perimeter of the city. Tiffany and I loved this, and Shawn humored us by being a very good sport about it even though biking is not her thing. After the city walls we went searching for lunch and found even more of a hole in the wall restaurant than the day before. This place had a guy pulling noodles out front. They did not have an English menu, but did have picture menu on the wall. We stood in the middle of the tiny restaurant and pointed at the picture that looked good to us :) It worked out because we got really huge portions for less than a dollar each!

After lunch we toured a display of Steles- huge plaques with writing on them. Lots of them were copies of Buddhist teachings and historical writings. They also had an interesting display of stone carvings from several ancient dynasties. We ended the day with a tour of the Small Goose Pagoda and a really nice historical museum. After a quick meal at the hotel that was much more expense, and much less tasty than our other meals on the trip, we headed back to the hotel for our trip back home.

I love history in general, so seeing things that were made by people who lived thousands of years ago was awe inspiring for me. I was amazed by the extent of Shi Huangdi's power, and also his fear of death. His belief in the after life led him to build this huge army to protect him and also caused the death of hundreds of thousands of his people. How sad that he did not understand God's truth. Even more heart breaking for me was the influence of Buddhism in this area. I see Buddhism here in Beijing often, and it makes me sad, but as I read about the history of Xi'an, I saw the rise of the religion. I also saw hundreds of statues of buddhas that have been found and preserved. Even more heartbreaking was the site of people kneeling and worshipping theses statues. If you are a believer, please join in my lifting up these individuals that they may come to an understanding of the one who can give them true peace and true salvation!

That's all for now. I have more travels coming up soon. In one more week I have a week of field trips with my class that involves a three day trip to the coastal city of Qinghuangdao. I believe I am finally going to see, for the first time, the Great Wall!! I will keep you posted!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Speedy Trip to Qingdao

I have now been in China 7 months. Many things that seemed so strange just a short time ago are now normal. Taking the bus to work, shopping at open markets, having an Ayi clean my apartment have all become normal. But I still have occasional moments when I am amazed at the difference. Last weekend I planned to go on trip with some friends as we had a long weekend off school. It was ideal for travel as it was not a Chines holiday so we would not be traveling with a millions of our closest Chinese friends. We decided on Qingdao, a city on the coast along the Yellow sea. Chris discovered that we could fly cheaper than we could take the train. The flight was actually about 90 US dollars. It was so bizarre to me that I could fly away for a weekend, stay at a nice hotel, eat great food, and do lots of touristy things for a very small amount of money. I thought of all the scrimping and saving I would have had to do in the US to take a similar trip. It was so nice to just be able to afford it.

So the city we chose is known for three things. Beautiful beaches in the summer (it is still quite cold here), a famous brewery (none of us on the trip a beer drinkers), and a big mountain not too far from town (I am the only one of the group who really enjoys hiking). So we arrived in Qingdao with a very fuzzy idea of what we would do there. We did have a few suggestions from the teachers who went there on a field trip with the 8th graders earlier this year. We found a tourist magazine that listed 20 things to see in Qingdao. It was so much fun trying to find and see all twenty things on the list. It included a pagoda, a pier, beaches, several different buildings famous for their architecture, several high places that you could see a great view, and the brewery. We managed to see all but the brewery. We also included a couple things not on the list such as the Olympic sailing venue and the underwater world aquarium. We managed to pack a whole lot of stuff into a very short three days two nights. It was such a sweet time hanging out with friends, exploring a strange city, and trying to achieve a fun goal. What a great blessing this trip was. I can't wait for the next long weekend. My goal is to visit XiAn and the famous Terra Cotta warriors!

The rest of my life is going well. I am blessed each week by my small group. We have started meeting at my apartment for the past few weeks and it has been fun getting to open up my home on a regular basis. I am staying on track with my plan to read the Bible chronologically in a year. I am doing this with a group of friends that I teach with. It has been great accountability and made for good discussion as we read the same plan together. I feel like my life is so full here. Most evenings have something planned or spontaneous. I rarely spend an evening home alone. My circles of friends are growing larger and it is great to have such diverse groups of friends. I am enjoying getting to know Chinese friends as well as colleagues from many countries around the world. I feel like all these relationships are causing me to grow as an individual.

My class is doing well. They have definitely shown signs of turning middle schoolers on me, but I am trying to reign them back in fifth grade for a bit longer. They are a really great group of students and I am regularly impressed by the effort they put forth in everything they do.

Well, I feel like I am rambling a bit so I will go for now. Time is flying here in China. It is so exciting to be part of this land, this people, and this work at this time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Night at the Improv

Recently I had the opportunity to take several of my students to an improv workshop hosted by another international school here in Beijing. My kids loved the experience and we all learned a lot about improv acting. The classes were taught by members of the Beijing Improv, an English speaking theater group here. I thought it would be fun to go see them perform and I found a couple other girls that were up for it. I hoped that it would be a little less raunchy than a similar performance in the US. We started the evening with food at a new Russian restaurant that Tiffany really likes. Unfortunately I had several misses with my ordering. I ordered a salmon dish that was not at all what I expected. The real dissapointment was the dessert. I ordered cheese crepes thinking that it would be a sweet cream cheese filling. Sadly, it was a crepe wrap surrounding melted mozzarella Cheese. This would have been good with tacos or pizza, but when I was looking forward to a sweet dessert, it did not satisfy.

After that we went to the hutong where the theater was located. On the way we checked out several interesting shops located in the hutong. One of the funniest things I saw was a doll of Obama. The intereting thing was that it was in a shop full of communist wares. The Obama doll was in a superman costume. And his neighbors on the rack were Fidel Castro and Chairman Mao. I am just going to leave it at that.

When we got to the theater it was almost full. The event was a charity, so there were no advance tickets. We found seats, but many more people still came in. At one point a guy asked all the rows of seats to move back so some people could sit at the front on the floor. I kept picturing maximum capacity signs in every store, restaruant, and theater in the US. Maximum capacity and fire hazards are apparently not of great concern here. We were packed in that theater like sardines.

The first half was absolutely hilarious and really quite clean outside of some tasteless audience suggestions. There was quite a bit more crudeness and language inthe second half and I found that dissapointing. Overall it was a fun night and something different. I enjoyed it overall and was glad for the night out on the town.

In other news it snowed in Beijing this week. It was exciting for the students but also frustrating as it meant three days of indoor recess. Apparently the school rule about no outdoor recess when there is snow is very firm. I did get the opportunity to take one of my friends kids out back of my apartment and build a tiny snowman. We also had a snowball fight which fulfilled my inner craving to play in the snow. Thank goodness I had an 8 year old available. None of my friends were interested.
In general it was life as usual in Beijing with the snow. I kept thinking how school would have been cancelled in South Carolina. THe interesting thing was there were no snow plows, and very few shovels. Apparently the snow removal tool of choice is a large broom with long plant fibers on the end. Basically the same thing the street sweepers use to clean the streets. It did not seem like a great way to clear the streets and sidewalks, but that is what they used.

Well that's all for now. Hopefully I will have something much more interesting to write about soon.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chinese New Year- fireworks and fires.

After this week I have much better understanding of Chinese New Year. I would have to equate it to Christmas in the US, but maybe a bit bigger. Maybe it's just because there are more people living here, and all of Asia celebrates this particular holiday. Maybe it's just because I live in Beijing, but I have been blown away by how the Chinese celebrate this holiday. It's called Spring Holiday as well as Chinese New Year. It's hard to wrap my mind around how it can be "spring holiday" when it is still freezing cold outside, but that's what it is. The Chinese teachers at school had 3 weeks to pull together a program for our celebration there. I was amazed at what they accomplished. All the classes sang two songs in Chinese. Some students did amazing recitations in Chinese. It was really beautiful. Even us teachers managed to sing a verse of the Olympics theme song in Chinese. (I think there were enough people to cover my horrific pronunciations.)

After school on Friday we had an entire week off. Saturday night I went out with friends to a Russian restaurant. It was my first time riding the subway. I have heard nightmare stories about the subway being so crowded that you could not force your way through the mass of bodies to get off when you needed to. So we get to the subway, and it was completely empty! Apparently everyone was out visiting family. It was unbelievable.

A few weeks ago, I asked my friend Sri where a good place to go and watch the New Year's Eve fireworks would be. In my mind I was thinking of 4th of July shows in the US. She kind of stared at me blankly and then said, everywhere! I was a bit confused by her answer until Chinese New Year's Eve. I went to a party at the home of my school headmaster. There had been fireworks going off here and there throughout the past couple days. But they really started going Sunday evening. I really don't have words to describe the fireworks at midnight, but they definitely put everything I have ever seen in the US to shame. They were unbelievable! Everywhere you looked, in every direction low and high, there were fireworks going off. It went on for hours. I will never forget walking home in the madness. Firetrucks and police cars patrolling the streets were almost the only vehicles out. People were everywhere watching and lighting the fireworks. It seriously sounded like a war zone. It went on for hours.

But they did not end there. The fireworks continued for the next 5 days. There is apparently now safety concern in the people putting them off. People set them off of balconies on apartment buildings, roofs, right next to buildings and cars. I saw to fires. One in bushes near the mall. The worst one I saw from Chris's apartment on the 21st floor. We were standing in her window watching the fireworks and commenting on how stupid it was to set them off so close to the buildings, when I thought I saw a fire. Sure enough, about two stories higher than hers there were flames coming out from around the air conditioning unit. It was a very helpless feeling seeing it and not being able to do anything. It was such drama though. We saw a guy in the apartment above notice the flames. We watched him run and get water and try to pore it down on the flames. After awhile the guy in the burning apartment saw the flames to and together they got it out. What a crazy thing to see. The whole thing had made me much more grateful for and understanding of safety laws concerning fireworks in the US. There have been lots of other fun things that have happened over the holiday, but I will save that for another day in the near future.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Still saying "I can't believe I am in China."

Well time is flying by. I can't believe I have been in China for five months already. Tonight I was thinking about how I still have these moments where it is just so surreal that I am really on the other side of the world. I wish I was more faithful about getting on here and sharing my experiences, but I will try to catch up.

Christmas was great. I expected to be very homesick. While I had a few moments, for the most part I was ok. Skype really helps me keep connected with everyone, and I was able to call home on skype and see the whole family gathered for their celebration. A friend of mine who went home for the holiday was able to deliver my gifts, so it was fun watching everyone open the stuff I sent.

For the first time in my life I spent the holiday on the beach. To escape the cold of Beijing, a couple friends and I flew to Hainan, a small island off the southern tip of China. There I spent Christmas day lying on the beach, getting a massage in an open air hut, drinking coconut juice out of a young coconut, and eating fresh pineapple on a stick. I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience in a truly tropical environment. We also visited a minority village and rainforest. I really enjoyed seeing all the tropical fruit trees with fruit growing on them. One of the highlights was our visit to the Hot Springs. I felt so pampered as I went from the coconut milk pool to many other lovely springs. The most interesting was the "Fish Therapy" pool where little tiny fish eat the dead skin off of your feet and legs.

Another first for me was spending New Year's Eve at church. My friend Sri suggested it so we all went along. It was an amazingly powerful experience. The church leaders had people pray from different countries all over the world. Each person prayed in his own language for a different part of the world. Between prayers we sang praise songs. It was amazing to be part of such a passionate time of prayer and hope for what He is going to do around the world in the coming year. It was an amazing way to bring in 2009.

School started again for three short weeks before we break for Chinese New Year. I have one more week until that holiday begins. Tonight I had another " I can't believe I am in China moment." I went to club. Those of you who know me, know that this is not generally my form of entertainment. But tonight at this club, the Christian band Delirious was performing. It was an amazing thing. They were really limited as to which songs they were allowed to perform, and they almost did not make it due to visa "issues", but as I stood in a crowd of 1000 people, I was in awe of my mighty King.The lead singer in the middle of the concert said, "I can't believe we are in China!" And, as we sang "I can sing of your love forever!" I said to myself, "I can't believe I am in China experiencing this!"

Well, It is one week until the biggest holiday of the year here, Chinese New Year. From what everone tells me, that will blow my mind even more. I have some fun adventures planned, and hopefully I will have lots more to share soon.

The adventure continues.....

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Happenings

Well my weekly blog has turned into a monthly one, but hopefully a little news is better than no news to those of you reading. This month has been one of ups and downs. The newness of the adventure has at times worn thin replaced by a lack of appreciation for certain parts of life here. Specifically the cold weather. I have given up on riding the bike and gone back to the crowded bus each morning. The other thing I don't enjoy is the very Chinese custom of spitting. It is unbelievable to me that two cultures could view this habit in such polar opposite ways. I am trying really hard to get over this one, but it's tough!

Anyway, moving on to more pleasant matters. The Christmas season has been interesting for me. Some things were just like home, others sooo different. I made the decision to stay in China over the holidays mostly to save 1,000 dollars. It has definitely been educational staying here. At school I planned to do many of the same types of things we did in the US leading up to Christmas. That bombed when I tried to do a writing assignment about a favorite family traditions. I discovered that less than half of my students even celebrate Christmas. Many of them even being from Christian families, don't actually celebrate in any of the ways that we Americans consider normal. This was a shocking revelation for me. It really made me appreciate so much more the special things about the holiday season that I have always enjoyed with my family. Even the secular things like decorating and gift giving, that have nothing to do with the real meaning of Christmas, are such a special part of the whole backdrop leading up to it. I did enjoy having the freedom for the first time in my teaching career to actually teach right from the Bible the Christmas story.

The pastor at church pointed out that here in China we are more likely to hear the words Merry Christmas than most cities in the US. It is a sad Irony that even though the words are known, the meaning is not. There are Christmas trees and lights and decorations everywhere. (Unfortunately large gaudy tinsel seems to be the decor of choice. The more colors the better seems to be the general decorating philosophy!)But, most people have no idea there is anything more than Santa Claus. At School we had a "Secret Santa" gift exchange among the teachers with a party for the big reveal. I was appointed to the decorating committee and spent quite a bit of time stressing over working with no budget and very limited resources to make the lunch room festive. A bunch of Poinsettias saved the day!

My class chose to have an international pot luck over a pizza party for our class Christmas party. That was a whole new adventure. Apparently the wonders of the cupcake have not yet arrived in China either. I had about 6 kids bring cakes to the party. We also had some Korean Sushi, some Korean Rice Cake and noodles, and some Chinese Dumplings. The only American food represented was pretzels and potato chips. I also had a Christmas party with the group of friends that I have become closest to over the past four months. We had a wonderful time exchanging gifts.

On top of all the Christmas festivities, grades had to be completed for second quarter report cards before we could leave for break. Procrastinator that I am, I had stacks of ungraded papers all over my desk. I could not help but think of my days at Armstrong when Harriet Baker and I were always the last ones to be finishing grades up. My fifth grade teammate across the hall and I were the only teachers left in the building at 7:00 in the evening on the last day of school frantically trying to get grades done. Somethings apparently never change, even if you move to the other side of the world. Well, I finally did get finished and even have plans mostly finished for when I go back to school in two weeks.

In the meantime, I am very excited about some travel within China to a much warmer climate in the southern part of the country. Maybe I will have more adventures to share when I return from that journey!