Saturday, July 30, 2005

Back in Beijing and fresh from dropping my parents at the airport. We all had a great time touring around some of China's most famous places. I will disclose more revealing information and photos later, but I just wanted to get in here and let you know that I was back in cyber-action.

Returned to an old friend of Angela's, Sylvia, staying in our apartment. She will be with us for a few more weeks. Our string of visitors should continue over the next two months. It's fantastic when the things we love come to us.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Me and the Foreign TeachersI went to school last Friday, returned some of my books, and hung about until lunch time. Our boss, Ms. Wang, was taking us to Korean BBQ for a farewell meal. Most of the teachers would not be returning next year, and one of us, Alex, seen here with red hair, would be leaving the next morning. Unfortunately, Leanne and Carol, another two foreign teachers, could not join us for the celebration. After eating a great deal of meat and talking about our summer plans, we took a number of photos and then went our separate ways. I think we were all happy about reaching the end of our contracts.

Angela & Me at the Top of Ling MountainThe next day, Saturday, Ms. Wang had invited all of us to go hiking on Ling Mountain. 22 of us altogether, including Angela, a couple students and their mothers, and a number of our Chinese teachers, departed at about 7AM. The drive was beautiful and peaceful, with almost no other traffic on the roads. Our destination was quite remote and we didn't have to contend with too many tourists. About three hours outside of the city center, Ling Mountain is Beijing's highest peak at 2303 meters above sea level. Here's a picture of Angela and me at the top.

Chinese CampgroundAfter a brief walk up some bright white cement stairs, past a Chinese campground at the foot of the mountain, we arrived at a lift, which took all of us about halfway up the mountain. Angela is afraid of heights, but it wasn't too scary. From there, we had to walk the rest of the way. When we had arrived, it had been wonderfully sunny and clear with a few random white clouds, but as our hike progressed, darker clouds soon took over the sky. While we were riding the lift down the mountain, it began to shower quite heavily and we got soaked. We couldn't help but laugh at our lack of preparedness, which seems to be a theme of our recent adventures. On the way out of town, we saw a number of sheep being slaughtered. Our bus driver was a little wild, which made the ride home through windy mountain roads exciting, but we all returned home safely, sunburned and exhausted.

This may be my last post for a few weeks as my parents are arriving tomorrow, and I expect to be too busy to update. Feel free to check back and catch-up on all the old posts you may have missed. I'll be sure to post a record of our travels once they return to the states, though, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I thought you might be interested in reading this document. Here's a transcription of the speech from the Headmaster of the school we visited:
Leaders, Guests and Students,

Good morning! Today a group of distinguished guests comes to our school. They are the teachers and students in the Carden Department of Beijing Foreign Language Experimental School. Hereby, on behalf of the Wang Muying Primary School of Jing Zhuang Center, I warmly welcome your coming and express our sincere thanks for your donation to our school.

Students from afar, you come from prosperous metropolis. A great number of tall buildings and a constant stream of cars and buses immerse you in the rich modern metropolitan atmosphere. While, today after you left the city, wisps of smoke from rural houses and stretches of green fields show you another world. Wang Muying Primary School is a complete school of our center with a staff of 15 and 150 students from Dong Xiaoying, Wang Muying, Fang Laoying and Bao Linsi villages of the town of Jing Zhuang. In recent years, under the support and concern of all levels leaders, our school's environment has improved and the teaching quality has come out on top. Wang Muying is a small village against mountains to the northeast of Jing Zhuang Town. The people here are honest and simple, enthusiastic and hospitable. Your visit adds joyful atmosphere to this village. You use your pocket money to equip these knowledge-aspiring children with new motivation and your teaching will influence and help our teachers move upward to a new step. Giving brings more happiness than receiving. They are unified. As we bestow favor upon others, we actually gain more. I hope through this activity, all the students can learn form each other and build a good relationship.

Fellow students, you are the future of our country. In the near future, the heavy responsibility of country construction will fall upon your shoulders. Numerous high-quality talents are needed if China wants to stand steadily among the world nations. This activity enhances the relation between city and countryside: the city students get out of the city and into our country to know the life here; and our students also can learn about city life. During the activity, you enrich your knowledge, broaden your vision and build a relationship. Meanwhile, this activity inspires your passion of learning for China's development. This is our Communist Party and our people's ardent expectation. Work hard, students!

The Carden Department and County Civil Administrative Office has given this activity a lot of support and help. Here again I express my thanks to all the leaders, teachers, parents and students. At last, I hope all the students can make great progress in learning and be healthy. I Hope this activity will come off successfully.


The headmaster of Wang Muying Primary School

Monday, July 11, 2005

The last five days, the time that has elapsed between my last post and this one, have been quite busy for me and I've been neglecting you. Without further delay...

School's EntranceLast Thursday, a day in which I didn't have to teach but had to go to school as a chaperone, our 3rd and 4th grade students took a field trip to an elementary school in a mountain valley outside of Beijing, which I mentioned in my previous post. After a two-hour bus ride through beautiful Badalin with The Great Wall snaking along the highway with us, we pulled the buses over and got out to walk to the school. We walked perhaps a half mile along a dirt road through the village, past farm animals such as sheep and pigs, to reach the school. You can see the entrance of the school in this picture.

Color Guard Raising the FlagWe assembled in a brick-walled (all of the buildings were made of red brick) field behind the school for a flag-raising ceremony, two rusted and bent soccer goals framing the scene. There was a good deal of excitement and most of the students from the school we were visiting were curious about us foreign teachers and stared or smiled at us. Our students were quite shocked at the conditions, which were quite different than those of our school, and I asked some of them if they would want to attend a school like this. Most of them answered with looks of fear or by shaking their heads in the negative.

The students from both schools gathered together in front of a stage, on which all of our foreign teachers were seated, along with, perhaps, the school's principal. We'd come bearing gifts and were additionally making a donation to the school so there was occasion for formality. All of the foreign teachers were introduced and we greeted everyone. Many Chinese speeches followed, none of which I could understand, obviously. While people were talking, I looked around and noticed many gawkers sitting and watching on the wall around the school. This was a big event.

Two SchoolsOnce the ceremony ended, and it wasn't long, we dispersed to the classrooms to participate in what could be considered a talent show. Many students performed songs or dances, and I taught an impromptu English lesson. Their students had given up their desks for our students and I could tell that our students felt honored by the gesture. Following the presentations, we took a tour of the school before saying goodbye and returning to our buses for lunch and the long trip back to Beijing. I believe everyone had fun and most of us learned something, too! To view a number of other pictures from this day, click here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Sweating every moment these days in the hot humid heart of Beijing, presently without a shirt plunking out words on the iBook in a corner of the bedroom. The only relief is waking up before the sun rises to enjoy a coffee in the cool, relatively quiet, morning.

Angela and me returned from eating a little while ago and she's already asleep on the couch. I'm about to sit down with an old-fashioned paper book as soon as I finish this hack job. Recently, all I want to do after eating is sleep, too, but the heat makes it impossible. Besides that, the computer was whispering my name and I had to see what was the matter. Eventually, I will sweat myself to sleep and not too late. I have to catch my ride to school at 6:45AM tomorrow. On a normal school day, I don't have to be downstairs until 9:00AM, but there are no more normal days.

I finished working today, if watching movies with my students is considered work, although I still have one more commitment before I'm actually free to do as I please for the rest of the summer. Tomorrow we will take a field-trip to a countryside school so our privileged students can get a good dose of perspective, hence our early start time. I'm looking forward to the journey and I'll be sure to take some snaps for the curious. Foreigners are not an uncommon sight in urban Beijing, but I know they're much less so outside the city. Should be an eye-opening experience for all. Anyhow, after that, I will really be finished.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Mahjong - Old Man with GlassesThe Chinese love to play games, which is one testament to their social nature. On almost any day you can find groups of people gathered together in their neighborhoods to play them. There are usually quite a few on-lookers crowded around the competitors intently observing the matches. A fairly avid gamer myself, I enjoy watching this kind of activity and usually stop to watch for a moment or two. Unfortunately, I don't know how to play most of the games well enough to get involved, aside from the obvious language barrier. As you might expect, gambling generally goes hand-in-hand with most of the games.

Chinese ChessThere are three popular games: Mahjong, Chinese Chess and Go. I mentioned Mahjong in a post last month, which is a tile game played by four players. A group of women often meet in the mailroom in my apartment building to play together in the afternoons. Chinese Chess is similar to the version we know in America, although the Chinese use large round wooden pieces like the ones shown here, and seems to be more popular with men. Go is a game played with small black and white pieces on a board that looks like a large grid.

Aside from these games, which are the most popular and most often seen, there are often groups of people playing cards almost everywhere. My game of choice is poker and I will attend a irregularly held game this evening with some of my coworkers and a few other acquaintances. It will be the last game with this group as some of them will be leaving after school ends next week. Hopefully, I can resurrect the game with another group in the Fall when the new school year begins again.

Jorge Playing Chinese HackeyThese are the more cerebral games, although there are many other popular games. Many people can be found swatting a birdie back and forth with their badminton rackets in the street or on the sidewalks in front of shops. It's not uncommon to see a group of people playing Chinese hackey, which is a game played by kicking around a weighted cluster of colored feathers. It's like a hackey sack with colored feathers tied to a weight, rather than a small bean bag. Here's a picture of our friend Jorge getting ready to start a round.

Click on any of the pictures to view additional images of Chinese people playing games or click here.