Saturday, October 30, 2004

Today marks one year of blogging here. I'm averaging a little more than five posts per month. I expect to improve on that number during the next 12 months, especially as I try to appeal to my growing fan base. *coughs*

I've probably been blogging for about four or five years in different locations. Sadly, none of the previous posts are available. I may be able to dig them out of some cyber blackhole, but it's just not a crucial task for me.

I have lots of projects planned for the next twelve months, one of which is to write 50,000 words online next month for National Novel Writing month. I will post a link here when I settle on an idea so you can check my progress. I still have a little more than 24 hours to nail down a topic and secure webspace to post it. I'm not sure if I have the time to do it, but it's worth a try. It's simply a contest about the power of a deadline as there are no other rewards for my effort.

Talk to you soon.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Went to Yunmeng Shan National Forest Park on Saturday. The trip was arranged by my school for the teachers and their guests. Angela went with me and we had a great time walking along the mountain paths. We were skeptical, at first, about the intensity of the adventure, but as the day unfolded, we quickly dispelled those thoughts. Apparently, my school occasionally hosted trips of this sort, which I thought was a nice benefit.

Originally, the trip coordinators were taken aback when we accepted their invitation to join them. They thought they wouldn't know how to take care of or communicate with us if something happened, but I did my best to reassure them that we would be fine and, eventually, they relented. Perhaps, they were simply extending the polite gesture, but how could we pass up an opportunity to do some sightseeing? They were going to provide us lunch and we didn't even have to plan anything ourselves! We just had to get ourselves out of bed and onto the bus by 7 AM.

Here we are gathering at the front gate of the school. I didn't expect such a large turnout, but there were well over 100 people to fill four tour buses, Angela and me the only non-Chinese among them. At some point, unidentifiable by me aside from the obvious general motion of the group, everyone started taking their "lunches," plastic bags piled in large plastic bins near the gate, and moved to board the buses. We did the same and found seats next to three of the assistants who work in my department. We were ready to go!

On the journey there, a full two-hour drive, we thought we saw part of The Great Wall, which I have yet to personally visit, but we never checked our facts. I don't know what else it could have been, though. I began to realize, as the bus climbed ever higher along the winding road, that we weren't just going to a city park. We were heading for somewhere deeper among the great rock peaks and crags that were beginning to form a gorge around us. We crossed a river and continued climbing.

After arriving at what must have been the entrance of the park, we mulled around the buses for a few minutes and then slowly began filing up a long flight of steps. It was a crisp, clear mid-October morning with lots of sun, but not too cold. The mountains were really beautiful, lots of unusual rock formations, the trail was not too strenuous, and we could still see what was left of the fall colors on the trees.

Near the end of the long main path, along which many other paths and resting places branched off, we came to a small village. We thought it was a nice place to rest and enjoy some of the lunch we had taken with us. Two donkeys munched some grass nearby. Our lunch bags contained two bottles of water, two rolls (one filled with sweet bean paste), two tangerines, a pouch of spicy mustard root, and a stick of what I called a pork snack, which was a soft hotdog-like sausage. I thought all of it was quite good, although Angela was not too fond of the rolls. We added sunflower seeds, which we purchased from the restaurant in the village, and relaxed under the great trees that were all around.

Eventually, making our way back to the entrance, we stopped to enjoy a beer before boarding the bus again for the return trip. We'd had a fantastic time on the mountain walk and were happy that we'd done it. The bus finally left, but after about 30 minutes, it pulled over to the side of the road near an apple orchard. We were getting off the bus to go pick apples!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Ambience...

Fluorescent windows stretch to infinity and the orange lights of the city shine up into the sky, bright holes and well-ordered eyelets in the blackening evening. The moon is an orange smile in the sky tonight, setting slowly and fading. That Cheshire grin looking down on me again in my 16th-floor wonderland apartment where I blow smoke through the screen. "It's me," it seems to say through its teeth.

The street looks orange from the lights and everything is filtered through the dust and pollution which continues to create the new illusion of Beijing for the world and, at least, for the time being, for me. The indefatigueable noise of traffic and reconstruction dulling another cold senseless night waiting for my love to return.

Monday, October 18, 2004

I really enjoy my job, teaching elementary school in Beijing, and finally got around to taking a few pictures of the campus and my kids to share with the nonexistent masses who will never find me. For those of you who do return here to check me out, keep up the good work.

The school is quite nice, which makes it enjoyable to go there everyday, and the kids usually make the job fun. Here's a picture of the entrance to the campus. I work in that building on the left with the large silver orb (observatory?) atop it. Those are actually two of my co-workers, Carol and Maile, walking through the gate on their way to prepare for their morning classes.

Every morning, the kids line up around campus to do their morning exercise, which is akin to a dance routine or light aerobics, accompanied by music. It's as close as they get to a recess of any kind. You can see them here, with their arms extended, mid-routine, wearing their various uniforms of which these are only a few examples. The younger kids stand in front of the school here, while the older kids line up on the basketball courts behind the school.

Although they can play after lunch for a short while, and occasionally at other times, there isn't a playground like you would find in American schools and they don't have scheduled recesses. During my lessons, we have short breaks in which the kids are fed fruit or sweet bread, and usually they find something to do in the hallway. The more studious of them will write or draw on the blackboard.

As I have bad days now and again, but some of my students also have bad days. Zack, which is his English name, shown here, didn't get off to a very good start on this day, but eventually relinquished his grip on the pole and came back to class. All of our students have Western names, which I find strange, but so be it. It's easier than having to butcher their Chinese names, I suppose.

Generally, things go fairly smoothly, as you can see from this picture of my studious third-graders, working hard at their desks. Chinese kids are about the same as American kids. You can also see that my class is not that big. One of the benefits of working at a private school where we are teaching an experimental English program.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Last night, Jean Michel Jarre played a concert in The Forbidden City which, I heard, was an invitation only gig. The concert was being broadcast live on giant video screens in a few other locations throughout Beijing, as well as on local television. Me, Angela and a few of my coworkers made our way to one of the locations to observe the free broadcast. It was a reason to get out in the city, take in some free entertainment, and check out something new.

Not really knowing what to expect, I was surprised to enjoy the music so much, which one might classify as ambient. The show and visual choreography were amazing. The set was quite a spectacle, especially behind the backdrop of the Forbidden City. Displaying large cones, orbs and cubes around the back of the stage, these geometric shapes were used as video screens for complementary imagery displaying various colors, dragons, weather patterns, fireworks, French painting and many other things.

My favorite part of the show, and something I had never seen before, occurred when he, by blocking a laser light, created various tones, which he could modulate by vacillating his hand in the beam of light. I was impressed and, even if it was a stunt, that's what he's supposed to do. Entertain. There was no question about it.

After finishing his set, he hopped into the sidecar of a motorcycle and made his way to Tiananmen Square where he gave an encore performance to the crowd that had assembled there: these folks who weren't the privileged spectators granted permission to witness the show from within the storied walls of The Forbidden City. As we were within a subway station of the encore performance, we decided to try to make our way to his new location. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the show had ended. We weren't too disappointed and made our way to a nearby watering hole to water ourselves a bit before returning to our apartments.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Well, my vacation is over and it's back to work again today. I'm not ready for it to end, but I suppose that's always the case. They have a strange policy here regarding vacations. For example, we have to work this weekend, rather than keeping our normal days off. It's a way to make up some of the time we missed during the vacation. From what I hear, from some of the people who live in my building, most Chinese will be working this weekend, also. Eight days off and now eight days on.

Angela and I went out for dinner yesterday evening, which was perhaps our way of celebrating the end of my vacation (Angela had to work all week as she doesn't work for a Chinese company). We had a nice dinner near Tiananmen Square and then took a stroll through some of the sidestreets in the area where many vendors sell typical Chinese souvenirs. Sitting down to enjoy a beer, many young Chinese people started talking to us (Angela's Chinese is quite good) and we were temporarily a popular showcase in their little Avenue.

It's really difficult to travel within the city, especially because we don't live so close to the city center. We have to transfer from a bus to the subway and, like yesterday evening, another subway line, the entire trip totaling about one hour. The time it takes and the transfers we make are not so problematic, but the people themselves make it very difficult. Whenever there is a line for anything, like buying a ticket or waiting to get on the bus, there is simply no order. All people shove their way forward or cut in front of each other whenever possible.

It's quite frustrating. It makes me want to act the same way, but I am trying to be a decent human being, a good American, a good representative of my country, which is, unfortunately, in dire need of proper representatives. I can't let that rude behavior rub off on me so I never force my way onto the bus or cut in front of another person to buy my subway tickets. Blame it on good parenting. I'm not above wielding an angry expression and positing a few choice expletives in rugged situations. Even if the Chinese people don't understand my English, I'm sure they understand my tone.

Friday, October 01, 2004

I have a vacation from work now, missing Thursday and Friday of this week, as well as all of next week, to observe the mid-Autumn or Moon Festival, celebrating the season, and National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Earlier this week, red and yellow flowers appeared along the side of our apartment building, which I recently learned symbolize the events.

It's a nice break from my first month of uninterrupted teaching. I don't think I have another long holiday until Spring Festival, when we will have, at least, three weeks of vacation. Unfortunately, Angela, having started a new job during the past week, has to work during the holiday so we won't be going anywhere unusual, although we had tentatively planned to travel. "Mooncake" day, as my students called it in English, occurred on the day preceding the mid-Autumn Festival, which also corresponded with the full moon. Many people distribute the sweet cakes, filled with figs, dates, bean paste, eggs and other things, as gifts.

A student's parents had given my boss tickets to a magic show at Capital Stadium, which she gave to me, Angela and two of my other coworkers, Maile and Carol. It was a nice opportunity to do something out of the ordinary. We attended the performance with little expectation, and it was what you might expect from a magic show. Lots of sleight of hand, silk scarves, playing cards and levitating women. The performance showcased magicians from around the world and there were many entertaining acts, particularly the couple from Spain, in which a demon crawled out of a man's chest. Also, our seats were quite good.

I believe our highlight of the evening came after we left the stadium and went to find something to eat. In considering one of two restaurants that we had discovered a few blocks from the stadium, we noticed a few magicians entering one. Angela noticed the Argentinian magician, whose performance we liked the best, told him so, and he responded by raising his arms and smiling. Upon looking inside the restaurant, we noticed that many of the magicians from the show were all eating together and it was surprising, but nice, to see them in their street clothes.