Sunday, January 30, 2011

Giving In

               In a last minute attempt to save my sanity, I have booked a last minute trip to South Korea.  Saddened that all my fellow Concordia classmates have 3+ weeks of holiday for Spring Festival in which many are traveling to cool places,  I along with fellow Shane teachers are stuck with only 7 days of holidays from Febuary 2-8, which limits my travel plans.Contemplating what to do,  I refrained from making travel plans as ticket prices went up.In typical Shane English fashion at the last minute, We were presented with another opportunity to be Slaves to the company. Since Shane does not have enough work for us to do during the upcoming weeks since all but 2 schools are closed until Febuary 14th, rather than giving us that time off like a normal company, Shane has to milk every penny out of us, even though it is their fault that there is not anything for us to do. Shane has so kindly offered that we have the choice of using some of valuable holidays/ sick days to make up for this extra time off, or we be "Scheduled but not working" which means somewhere down the line, on some of our days off, we will get a nice phone call telling us that we have to will have to work to make up for these days, or lastly we can take a pay cut that will be about a 1/4 of the months salary. Biting the bullet I have taken the pay cut to enjoy my freedom.
              With that freedom I have booked last minute tickets to go to South Korea with fellow classmates Miles,Kirsti and Paullete from the 3-13. During this time I will also get to meet up with another one of my Oregon friends, Miles Robinson in Seoul and when we visit Busan, where he is teaching English. While In Seoul, we will be staying with Sewon, a couch surfer that we hosted  last month. Not only will this save us money, but it will also be nice to see her and get the favor returned.
             In another turn of events, I have finally splurged and purchased a nice fancy digital SLR camera.  I have been contemplating getting one since the Expo but after recently playing around on my roomate Mikes camera, I decided I need one.Although big,I have accepted that they are bulky to carry around but hopefully the pictures will make it worth it. I figure since I am traveling and seeing all these wonderful things, this would be a good investment to make.  A special thanks to Jim Rowland, who so kindly took the time  out of his busy schedule to find me the camera for me. According to him, he got me a 40D cannon with a 18-55lens, which means absolutely nothing to me but considering his a professional photographer, I think that it must be something good, which is exciting. I am having the shipped to my classmate Monisha who will be coming back to China the day before I leave so I will get to play with it when I go to Korea, Hopefully I will come back with some good pictures!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Another year under the belt

           It's official, I am getting old. I just turned 23, and I am already reminiscing about how I will be 5 years removed from graduating high school come this spring.  I remember the days when I would be up all night playing video games, with minimal sleep and be fine the next morning, but these days anything under 7 hours of sleep and I'm dragging the whole day.
         Unlike all my other birthdays, when I was in the same time zone as all my friends,to my surprise, I woke up to birthday messages both via phone and on Facebook even though technically it was the 25th back in the States. I appreciated the kind gestures of both my friends and family for realizing the time zone difference and wishing me a Happy birthday.
          Since the kindergarten I am teaching at is on Spring Festival holiday,  this week I have been teaching a Star testing class for the school, which students are tested on their English vocabulary by using flash cards and reading short phrases. I am teaching two- one hour classes, Star 1, the  beginner class  and Star 2, the more advanced class. Each class has about 12 students,most of which are  the students I teach normally,  making it more enjoyable.  In the First class Star 1, I am assisted by the infamous Teacher assistant Hannah. Essentially for the hour class I flip threw flash cards and ask them what is this? and they give the answer. Some of these cards are pretty ridiculous and even I have difficulty trying to  identify some of them based off the picture.

Take a Look at some of the cards, can you guess what it is?

Top Left : Pupil
Top Right: Math
Bottom Left: Cock
Bottom Right: Cool


         As you can imagine this is horribly boring to teach so picture what it is like for 5 and 6 year olds.  For some odd reason Hannah is a slave driver in the class and works the kids to death. She believes that the students are perfectly OK to sit in their chair without getting up for the whole class, but obviously they have a short attention span.  Like a mad woman she yells at the kids if they get the answer wrong and scares the kids out of there mind making one girl cry the whole class period.  Questioning my authority, I even had to yell at her  in front of the kids to tell her to sit down and shut up as she was out of control. Although only an hour class it seemed forever.
         My other class, Star 2, which is filled with all of my students and my normal Teaching Assistant LuLu is by far much easier to teach  and more enjoyable  to be around because they are more verbal and have better personalities than the other class. Knowing that it was my birthday, Lulu, got the class to sing me Happy Birthday which is one of the many reasons she trumps Hannah.



          After work I went home and took a nice long nap which was much needed. I then went to the gym and then came home and did some homework.   I wanted Teppanyaki, so Kirsti did all the planning and invited people and organized for us to go to a place called Kegans, which was one of the more expensive places, but it  got great reviews. Unsure of how many people were coming, we didn't make reservations since it was a Wednesday night, but unfortunately when we got there it was booked. We walked down the street and went to another Teppanyaki place called Natural Point, which one of my friends suggested, as she had gone there before and said it was good. The food was real good and the beauty of it ,was that food kept getting cooked right in front of our eyes. There was 10 of us that went to dinner, which was a great turn out considering that most of my Concordia friends are off traveling for Spring Festival. All in all it was a wonderful day spent with good company and friends. As I get older I have started to appreciate the little things in life that make life so wonderful and today I was blessed with  some of the best presents you could ever ask for, caring friends.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Run While you still can!

In the final days leading to Spring Festival, equivalent to  America's winter break, students are starting to disappear out of my classes as they travel in one of the worlds largest migrations.  The Chinese spend this time traveling all over and going to their hometowns to visit family and friends. Shanghai is filled with almost 24 million people, this means that a large portion of these people will be traveling outside of shanghai. Riding the metro has been a nightmare as they are completely filled to the brim. In the past few days during the morning. I have literally had to run full steam like in football to get out of the metro since their are so many people in the way.

Rather than teaching the kids new vocabulary, I have spent this week doing bookwork, where  the kids are able to color and  do "Challenging" activities over vocabulary that they just learned. While I find it boring, the kids love it and it makes it so I don't have to teach so it is a win-win situation.

On Wednesday the students had their huge  Chinese New Years performance in front of their parents where the classes choreographed dances and had special outfits to go along with it. To top it off EVERYONE, including BOYS and girls were covered with make up,little jewels and eye liner. I felt like a proud parent watching all my students dance from the front row but that glory was taken away when the actual parents rudely got out of there seats and crowded around the stage to take pictures and record with their phones,cameras, and camcorders. Like a mad crowd they pushed their way trying to  capture their kids dancing.














Once again Shanghai has been hit with another snowstorm. I woke up today surprised to see that the snow had completely covered the ground inches deep.  Shanghai supposedly never gets snow,but it has snowed here multiple times since  I have been here. Wanting to play in the snow myself, I decided that rather than doing bookwork and teaching them English, I would take them outside  and have a snowball fight instead.   I somehow managed to convince the teachers to let me take the kids outside and let them play in the snow. I thought it would be fun but I did not actually think I would be able to do it. the kids LOVED the snow and were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. The kids  were throwing snowballs left and right and of course they thought it would be fun to chase after me and bombard me with snowballs. Although they are little, I must admit that multiple times I was hit in the face or head with snowballs that tempted me to shout profanities. In pure entertainment, there is not many things better than watching the  dainty Chinese teachers try to throw snowballs or better yet try to avoid the snowballs.  the teachers tried to get the students to throw snowballs at me but that quickly changed as the students ran around getting snow for me to throw at the teachers. Overall I was the winner for the day, I avoided having to teach, got to play in the snow and got the throw snowballs at little kids and the teachers. Talk about a successful day.

100 Shots.....no problem


          After starting a few months ago, I have finally finished the 100 Shot Challenge at Blue Frog. On this past Monday, Mike and I completed our last  shots to end this horrible burden weighing over our shoulders and wallet. My roommates and I started this challenge at the same time but after various events and conflicts we have ended at different times. Let it be known that these shots are not completely filled with alcohol and in a sense are like a mini cocktail in a shot. It is safe to say that the combination of these liquids would upset your stomach before it got you drunk.  

           Through this challenge, we have gotten to become great friends with the manager, Jason, and the staff who knows us by name and even will call us on Mondays to make sure that we are still coming. Not sure if it is because we are cash cows and  they can count on us to drop large sums of money on dinner or we just come there so often, regardless, we are kinda big deals at Blue Frog.  Right before our 100th shot. Jason took a spoon and banged it against a metal cup to get the attention of the crowd. In his broken English he told everyone that we are finishing our 100 shots and what a big feat it was. As we took our final shot, the staff dimmed the light and blasted “Celebrate good times” as everyone cheered. . As a gift Jason handed us a shot, scotch and drinking glass as well as a hat and umbrella. After the much-anticipated wait, I am finally one of the  few elite members that will be forever engraved on the Blue Frog wall finishing the Challenge.
                                            



            The ultimate winners though, were a Russian couple that decided to finish the challenge in well, one day. To bring in the New Years the couple, completed all 100 shots in one sitting and to top it off, ordered a bottle of Champagne to celebrate. Now that’s bringing in the New Years in style.

Xi'an


In another weekend excursion, I have found myself going to Xi’an with my New Zealand mate Jackson, and his girlfriend and a few of her classmates at school. In large group of 8 we were made up quite diverse group; 2 Australians and New Zealanders, a Korean, Japanese, and one from Ghana and myself. Xi’an once the capital of China is known for being the Eastern terminus of the Silk Road and home of the Terracotta Army.  Faced with the brutal winter conditions, we were hit with negative 5-9 degrees the whole trip. Bundled with thermals, sweatshirts, coats, double socks, beanies and gloves we made an adventure out of it. Arriving Friday night, we took a bus into the city where our hostel was, literally across the street from the Bell Tower.  We trekked around for a little bit but decided to call it an early night as we had big plans for Saturday. Running on about 5 hours of sleep we were up before the sun was, and ready to see the Terracotta Army, which was about an hour outside the city.

Just some background on the army

        This Army was discovered in 1974 by local farmers when trying to dig a water well. There were no records of the army but there were records of the king’s tomb near by.
         The figures vary in height 1.83–1.95 metres (6.0–6.4 ft), according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pit. Each figure is different from the other which and the details on each soldier are very intricate, which makes these soldiers even more impressive.  The king started the project when he was 13 and had hundreds of thousands of workers constantly working on this project until he died randomly in his 50’s. The most impressive feat is that all of these soldiers are hand painted using 13 different colors. Unfortunately, the technology is not good enough to preserve the colors when they are unburied, which causes them to loose color instantly and completely vanish within 3 days, which is why many of the soldiers are still buried. The Army is dispersed into 3 different pits with pit one being where all the rebuilt soldiers are, there are roughly 2000 soldiers in pit 1 and it takes about 6 monthes to put back together each soldier with a crew of 50 people working on it. In pit 3, this is were most of the solders are preserved, pretty much meaning that they are still buried.

While I have seen a lot of impressive things in my life, this could single handedly be one of the most impressive things ever. The time and details that were used to construct this army blows my mind. The amount of work and labor and thought put into this project was a bit over the top but that is why it is amazing.

Lucky for us, we visited the Army on a weekend, which meant that one of the local farmers that found the army was there to take pictures and sign books. We took a group picture with the farmer but unfortunately it is on one of the other people’s camera, which I will get soon hopefully.

After visiting the Terracotta Army, we walked around Xi’an and explored the e Great Mosque, Bell and Drum Tower and then went to the night market, which was filled with tons of various street foods and other goodies.


Bell Tower

The Group in front of the Terracotta Army Museum

Terracotta Warriors



In front of Pit 1



After the King died, the project stopped


Still uncovering remains


The "Hospital" where the soldier are put back together

You can see a little bit of the remaining color, also how detailed the soldiers are

impressive detailed hair


What the warriors look like when first unburied


Drum Tower

Garbage on the Street


Masque

Little boy gettin his grill on


The next morning, we go up early and took a bike tour on the Great City wall. Jackson and I rode a tandem bike, and we rode across the wall for about an hour before catching our flight home.

Guy with a Camera Box as his hat


Prepping for Chinese New Years


Xi'an Wall






Monday, January 10, 2011

We goin to the Ship what?!


Today is the biggest day in Oregon Football history, when the Oregon Ducks take on the Auburn Tigers for the 2011 National Championship. While I will unfortunately be at work when the game is shown live, let it be known I debated calling in sick so that I could watch the game. Instead, I will have to watch the game on replay after work with my fellow Oregonian  Kirsti at a bar. To show my support, I taught my kids the Oregon Cheer, as you can see they still need a little practice.

Gooooooo Ducks!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Chinese Lessons for Mac and Cheese? Sure!

          After living in China for almost 4 and a half months, I've realized  that my Chinese is beyond horrible and that I need as much help as I can get. During my lunch breaks a couple times a week I sit down with  one of the Chinese teachers at the Kindergarten I teach at  and try to pick up a few new words each time. While, my Chinese is very minimal,You best believe that I use my limited vocabulary whenever I can. To further enhance my Chinese,  I convinced the teacher to teach me for an hour,  in return for some American food. Just days away from Payday and saving the remaining money from last months paycheck for  rent and my trip to Xi'an this weekend, to see the Terracotta warriors, I was stuck in a predicament; take her out to dinner and spend  money or cook it myself. Sitting on the metro coming home, I debated what to cook her since I am not a good cook by any means and I'm ballin on a budget so I  did not want to have to go to the store to make a meal. Thanks to my wonderful friends Scott Rowland and Jenny Chen, they each brought me a few boxes of Mac and Cheese to fill my cravings among other things. Within 15 minutes I was able to whip up this fine cuisine and impress her with my cooking skills. As if Mac and Cheese wasn't already good enough since she had never even heard of it, to compensate for the freezing cold weather, I also made some Hot chocolate, courtesy of my wonderful sister Gabbie, who sent me enough hot chocolate to feed an army. All in all it was a successful night, I got  to eat some  Mac and Cheese after going almost 5 months sober, got free Chinese lessons, and to make things that much better she said I was a  good cook! 'Chenggong!(Success) look my Chinese skills are already kicking in.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Welcome Freya Grace!

Congratulations Mat and Oanh!

             So after numerous false alarms,  I am finally an Uncle of 7. My Oldest Sister  Oanh, added the newest addition to the family at 4:54AM  On January 3rd, weighing in at a measly 10lbs 7oz. While I am not the biggest fan of new born babies since they are so boring and just lay there, I am happy to say that when I get back to the States, Freya will have some spunk to her and will be fun to play with.  What a wonderful way to start 2011!



Nanjing


            Since the Chinese like to schedule holidays at weird times, China has a national holiday for New Years on Monday January 3rd rather than on December 31st for New Years Eve. Killing two birds with one stone, I decided to take a quick trip for the day to Nanjing with Jenny and her cousins since I had never been there before.  With an undelightful early morning phone call, the cousins supposedly did their “research” and insisted that the trip took 6 hours and the only trains going to Nanjing went out of the smaller Hongqiao railway station and only a couple times a day, so we should get a move on it, even though they go hourly at the Shanghai railway station. We got to the station and still had to purchase tickets. Considering that the Cousins spoke Chinese, I was hoping that they bought us tickets to take the bullet train which only take about 80 minutes but that would be too much to ask for. We ended up taking the slow train, which took 4 hours and was packed full with people. Unlike in the States, in China you can buy tickets on the train and not have an assigned seat, and have to stand the whole time, which would be horrible, considering that the ticket prices are the same. These people stand in the middle of the walkways and many of them lug around big bags of crap that make it impossible to pass or go to the bathroom

            Although it was a long train ride it was nice to be sitting and to be able to talk with Jenny the whole time. Upon arrival in Nanjing, we were surprised to find out that there would be a family dinner we would be going to.  About 20 people showed up for the dinner all of who thought initially I was Jenny’s Boyfriend. Within a few minutes they all agreed I was part of the family since I looked like them. How that makes since I have no idea but I went along with it. The dinner was filled with great food and people and well.. lots of drinking. In the Asian culture it is a sign of respect to make toasts and they will say “gombay” which means bottoms up or essentially drink everything in your up as a sign of respect. So with so many people making toasts and drinking 3.1% beer in 4 ounce cups, things got pretty out of control quickly.  Happy to say, for some reason I was a huge hit with the main uncle and he insisted on making toasts to me multiple times and ended up talking to me more than his son in law, which I thought was weird but to top it off he was talking to me in a mix of Chinese and Spanish. He was very happy and repeatedly said this throughout the night to me. The weather in Nanjing was freezing cold and coming out of the restaurant it started to snow and began to stick. After dinner, we went to sing Karaoke, which as always is a fun time. After having a few drink in your system people tend to relax and sing their hearts out as if no one was around them which always makes for good entertainment.
Family Dinner
Jenny and I and one of the little Cousins
               With just my luck, I forgot my passport in Shanghai and rather than sleeping at the uncles house we ended up staying at a hotel. In China, if you are not a Chinese Citizen, you must register your passport with the hotel so that they can keep track you. Since I only had a copy of my passport and it meant that I had to sneak into the hotel. As the cousins and uncle talked with the receptionists I stood in the back and waited to go to the room. Since obviously I can speak Chinese I shut my mouth so that I would pass as Chinese and not give them any reason to question it. Its times like this I am thankful that I blend in.
              Once in the room, I had the wonderful idea of Jumping on the beds like I always do in hotels and invited Jenny to join me, after jumping for a few minutes she broke one of the wooden slabs holding the bed up, making the bed slanted, but no worries I slept on the other bed. To add to the ridiculous list of things that the cousins did over the trip, they decided to give us a 7:30 AM wake up call insisting that we need to have an early start. What did that early start include? Getting breakfast and then sitting at the uncles place for an hour, an hour that could have been used sleeping. We went with the uncle and his family to see some of the sights that Nanjing had to offer. We got on a big golf cart and took a tour of the remains of the Ming Dynasty imperial palace (Wuchaomen Park) and then we went to Lunch. Afterwards we went to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall followed by some fabric Museum. Lastly we went to the Confucius Temple. Although it would have been nice to stay another day or two in Nanjing and see the rest of the sites, I had to catch a train back to Shanghai to work in the morning. This time fortunately, I got a ticket for the bullet train that was 3 times as expensive 140 RMB (about $25) but it was well worth it since I was by myself. While my trip to Nanjing was short, it was nice to spend time with Jenny and see new things.
Wuchaomen Park
Jenny' Cousin's Husband@ Wuchaomen Park
Wuchaomen Park
Jenny and I @Wuchaomen Park    
Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall
Mini Sweat Shop at the Fabric Museum 
Wish Tree @ Confucius Temple
Confucius Temple