Happy Chinese New Year! The holiday usually translated into "Spring Festival" here. Chinese New Year has a "season" much like Christmas in the West. People are cheery and everybody is shopping (apparently, folks buy a ton of candy during this holiday, if what I've seen in the check out lines is any indication). Most things are closed right now except the big corporate stores and they will be until the 6th or 7th. The government gives folks an 18 day window to buy and shoot off fireworks in their neighborhoods. It's been crazy! Last night was the peak, of course, but the booms, pops and crackles are still going steady outside.
I took this picture last night from our laundry room window.
It's been noisy, but cool (except the air, of course). I've learned to sleep through it. Poor Reeves refused to go out last night during the height of it. I went to bed a bit earlier because I had a phone meeting for WGU to wake up for (though I woke up to the commotion at midnight and watched from the window). But Ian took some photos and video from the roof when the clock struck midnight.
I'v begged Ian to stop with the awkward "Dad commentary" in videos, but alas, you have that to enjoy as well. I suppose his hilarious premature agedness is one of the reasons we keep him around.
Our school has a really strange semester system. We have two long semesters (about five months for Fall and Spring) and two short, optional semesters (one month for Winter and one for Summer). Ian, being the super-driven-working-pony that he is begged and begged for winter classes. I was luke-warm on the topic, since I was hoping to start prerequisite online classes (for my future Masters) on February 1. I have a phone meeting to discuss my transcript evaluations tomorrow morning. We shall see. But, back to the Winter Semester, so, Ian pushed and pushed for classes and was initially given several at another campus just to have them cancelled the next day. I was also given classes (at our campus), but they weren't cancelled, of course. I like my classes, but, honestly, I was hoping for the time away from work. They jerked me around a lot with an incredibly confusing schedule during exams (causing me to miss two classes and reschedule one) and it left me feeling a little burnt. Granted, our class coordinator sincerely apologized and I know they didn't mean to make it a difficult few weeks. They've gotten progressively worse about giving us enough notice for classes and extracurriculars. I hope they give us our Spring schedule soon.
Ian and I had a great night out last night. We had dinner at the vegetarian Buddhist place we love with Matt, an expat and new friend who lives in the same complex as we do (but up the hill, the complex is huge) and then we went over to Hulu Bar to celebrate Kathryn's birthday (one of our new friends from the Dubious Movie nights). There was a small group of us there (many of the same people that attend the movie nights). We played a couple of games (namely, "Jungle Speed" and "Celebrity") that I'd never played before and it was a fantastic time.
I've been asking Ian to write about this interesting expat we met at Starbucks a few days ago. He hasn't, so I'll give you an abridged version. His name is Eddie (from Atlanta, originally). He walked up to us and asked us where we're from and when we told him "Portland," his response was that there's a lovely truck stop there. There is a nice one, actually, but it's not what I would call out about our fair city. Turns out, he owned a trucking business, but sold everything, put his money in various off-shore accounts and bailed when "Obama became president." He now runs an English school in an adjacent city. We spent about an hour with him and his wife, who happens to be Chinese, at a table and the conversation weaved from me defending our TEFL certificates (our TEFLs are not your average TEFL), to politics (Eddie, a self-proclaimed Southern Democrat who is extremely fiscally conservative but also says he is socially liberal, believes the states should stop "fucking the rich" and turn to a national sales tax instead and that Obama hasn't done enough for "brothers" and has, instead "fucked them over." It's worth noting that Eddie is a white man.) He was very friendly, but, as you can imagine, it was tough to get a word in edge-wise. The most interesting thing that's ever happened to me at a Starbucks, by far.
Today is low key. The air is terrible and it's my first day off after a week of early (-ish, next week is earlier) morning classes, so I allowed myself to sleep until 10. That's quite late for me, so it was great. I am really enjoying my classes. Especially New Parade, which I have again right now. I wish all my classes were New Parades (to refresh your memory, New Parade classes are smaller and I get to set the curriculum [based upon the outline from the book, of course] much more than I do in Sticker or Interchange classes). Here are a couple of photos from the end of Fall and beginning of Winter classes
Below is Tyler, one of my Winter Semester New Parade students being the silly dude that he is. He's got some boundary issues (Dad lives mostly in Beijing for work, and I don't know what his relationship with Mom is like, but I can tell you that he needs a lot of hugs and attention in general). He's a good kid, even if he is a handful. He brought a little RC car to class one day. I didn't see that he had it until (after Belinda [the CET] and I turned our backs on him for about 5 seconds, she was hanging up the pictures and I was sounding out a sentence with another student) he managed to get the antenna (basically a piece of wire) stuck in the skin on the inside of his lower lip. I felt terrible for him, but after Belinda had to retrieve Billy (the principal) and Lisa (head teacher/ class coordinator) to help get it out, he got in pretty big trouble.
Ian and I have been making a strong effort to make it to the gym four or five times a week. I find that, for me, getting "regular exercise" is pretty crucial in maintaining a positive mental space (especially when I'm living abroad). The gym we go to here is pretty much like any small gym in the West. It doesn't have any of the amusing contraptions that our gym in Korea did, though it does have a room with a couple of ping pong tables that is always hopping.
iPod picture, sorry. The treadmills face these huge windows so that you can look out at the smog while you run. Delicious!
Another blurry iPod picture. Me, post workout. I know, I know, I took a selfie at the gym. Sorry.
It's Year of the Horse, guys!
He was hanging out in front of a shopping mall. You can't see it, but he's super fuzzy with his winter coat (and a little thinner than I'd like to see, but not skinny). Folks were excited to see him, but not as excited as I'd expect. I was surprised there wasn't a crowd.
Reeves got a new bed!
The old pile of blankets wasn't cutting it.
Reeves is still looking for his forever home. As a reminder, he is our foster dog and we won't be adopting him. With Ian and I living worlds apart next year (and especially with me living at my parents'), it's not a possibility. I say this because folks seem to be under the impression that we will (or should) take him. But, the reason we chose to foster, and not adopt, was to help a dog while we can because our lives aren't conducive to full time dog ownership. At this point, I'm not sure what will happen to Reeves this summer if he doesn't have a home lined up. He won't come home with me unless he has a destination because I won't be in the position to care for him once I start school and student teaching. We can get him to the states, but he needs somewhere to go once he's there. Remember, guys, fostering isn't about the long term, it's about making an animal's life a happy one during an interim.
Reeves' walking gets better everyday. I'm amazed at how far he's come. He only "scoots" inside our apartment and he's begun to use all four legs more consistently even inside. I have high hopes for the future of his mobility. He likes to wrestle, though he's gentle to a fault and he likes playing tag, as well. We're working on getting him leash trained, though he could use some more training. He listens well, but, in all honesty, he's not the cleverest of dogs, so it takes a bit of effort. Luckily he's food driven and he'll do just about anything for a treat. We've actually had to reduce his food a bit because he's starting to get just a tad portly.
He's a good boy and he'd be a great fit for any type of family. I know his disability is a drawback, but (especially with the wheels and booties available stateside) it doesn't have to be. He likes exploring the small green patches outside our apartment more than just about anything else, he doesn't let his mobile awkwardness get in his way.
If you're at all curious about him (regardless of where you are in the world), let me know. Don't be afraid to ask questions, you won't suddenly be responsible for him if you show some interest!
You've probably seen this graph via Buzzfeed based on the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development's international survey. The survey uses test scores and asks students to answer "yes" or "no" to "I feel happy at school." So, it's a little simplistic, but still very interesting.
Personally, it's plainly obvious to Ian and I that kids are happier here in China than the kids were in South Korea. Our students there were miserable there (which made us miserable). It was deflating to be a part of a system that was so detrimental. My students in Korea were always exhausted and starving. They spent the entirety of each school day on their own; we basically never saw parents pick their kids up or drop them off.
Here, on the other hand, parents are incredibly involved. They pick their kids up and drop them off. In fact, if they're not busy (I guess) they stick around the school for the several hours that their kiddo is in classes. That's a little strange, but it's better than the alternative (I think). Kids here get spending cash for snacks or their parent's bring them lunch or dinner. The only time that kids tell me they're hungry is occasionally right before lunch break.
The main difference seems to be that kids here have a support system (regardless of whether or not they're being pushed too hard). Their interests in the arts are encouraged (to a point, of course, though there are parents who don't limit their child's career options to: A) doctor B) lawyer C) engineer.
For me, what's most disappointing about this graph is that when I come back to the states and begin teaching students there, I will be working with kids who are both less satisfied in their academic lives and less prepared for their examinations. The US is behind China in both. Granted, it's important to note that China only releases a certain percentage of it's test scores. None of the "official" information that comes out of the country escapes a retouch.
I hope, though the problems are less obvious (or less emphasized) at early elementary level, that I can be a part of a solution to the US' academic problems. I know that's painfully idealistic. 50% of American teachers quit after just five years in the classroom and I'd venture to guess that it's largely because the realities of teaching don't match the fresh faced, hopeful (read: naive) vision that young teachers have.
I hope, for my career's sake, that my determination is just that, and not optimism fueled by distance. I can't know what the political world of the school system is actually like until I'm knee deep in it, but, with any luck at all, my cranky, pragmatic nature will actually serve me in the field.
Every time I title a post something like "Catching Up" I have to wonder how many posts before it have the same name. My apologies for being so erratic in posting .
We haven't been up to much. We're in exams for Fall semester right now, which basically means that our classes are all over the place for the next couple of weeks. My Sunday is especially great with me giving exams at 9:10am, 2:40pm and 6pm. I mean, I live less than ten minutes from the school by bike, but jeez. On top of that, I still have no idea what my schedule is for Winter "semester" (semester in quotation marks because the term consists of a week of classes, then a week off for Chinese New Year, another week of classes and finally a week break before Spring semester starts).
As I need a clear vision of my schedule to function happily, this kind of thing is a nightmare for me. I'm trying to be flexible. But, I'm looking forward to the end of this. Though, unlike in Korea, it will be very sad to leave our Chinese friends and coworkers. But, that's not for several months.
We've started going to "Dubious Movie Nights" at a bar on Thursday nights. It's pretty great and we've met some awesome people. Basically, we choose a terrible movie and subject ourselves to watching it in it;s entirety. Anghelos, the guy that put all this together, provides us with water-filled wall-stick tomatoes, so that we can act out our aggressions toward the atrocities on screen. It's a very similar atmosphere to the B-Movie Bingo nights we used to go to at the Hollywood Theater.
Last week I got a terrible case of the flu. I spent two entire days in bed. It was rough. I'm a lot better know, but I've still got crap in my sinuses and a residual cough.
Ian and I attempted to get going on our traditional American New Year "fresh start." Monday was good and productive. We got up in the morning and retrieved our package (from Rob and Danie) from the school, FaceTimed with them when we got back and then went to the gym. That evening, even though the air was steadily climbing up the AQI, we decided to try to see a movie. We looked up showtimes on the website and headed over to see the only English language feature in: City of Bones. To our disappointment, apparently the website is incorrect because the theater wasn't showing the movie. We decided to walk over to the Harmony mall to try that cinema. They were playing the movie, but we'd missed the last showtime by about 20 minutes. So we returned home.
The air continued to get worse, peaking at 779 around 9pm. When we woke up today, it was still over 600 and it's been hovering between 400 and 600 for most of the day. So, no gym today. No anything today really. With pollution levels this high, folks are advised to keep even their indoor activities low key. It's hard to "live in the moment" (one of my resolutions, suggested by a loving husband who's tired of living with a sullen couch potato [can hardly blame him]), when one is stuck in a 750 sq foot apartment that is more like a dorm room than anything else.
Luckily Sherlock has come back on air, so we have something to do with our time other than surf Buzzfeed and Facebook.
What's all this, then?
Welcome! This is where you'll read about our day to day lives. It may not always be fascinating, but here I'll discuss our home life, work life, struggles and successes. You know, regular human stuff.