Adventures Abroad: Devil’s Choir

Adventures Abroad: Devil’s Choir

transformers_g1_prowl_by_tsaisin

You’ve been running for so long still breathing

Hoping soon to find a song worth singing

Every chapter of this note they’re reading

But you’re slowly losing hope on bleeding

I’ll carry you

My darkest desire

When life sings to you through devil’s choirs

Fear won’t steal what burns in you

I’ll carry you a

Away from the fire

My desire, devil’s choirs

My desire, devil’s choirs

Raise another broken glass to failure

A simple promise of a crimson savior

Take a look into the life you’re leaving

I promise you this isn’t pain you’re feeling

I’ll carry you

My darkest desire

When life sings to you through devil’s choirs

Fear won’t steal what burns in you

I’ll carry you

Away from the fire

My desire, devil’s choirs

My desire, devil’s choirs

My desire, devil’s choirs

Black Veil Brides, Devil’s Choir

Well holy hells boys and girls. Today is my last day in Yan’An. Tomorrow I’m setting off for Xi’an to get a quick look at the Terracotta Warrior Army and then I’m heading back to Japan for about a month.

It’s snowing right now, actually, it’s been snowing since early this morning. I spent the morning packing my big bag, cursing myself for bringing dress clothes. Seriously, I wore them in Cambodia and I wore them a few times last semester but the school was fine with jeans and their t-shirt. If I wasn’t looking to start a job in the States that requires some formality in the clothes there’s a very good chance some of those things would’ve been ‘donated’ to the next teacher.

China wasn’t what I thought it would be, which is neither good nor bad, it’s just different. I’ve visited a few neat local places like Ho Kau Pu Bu, the waterfall, and WanHua the peony mountain. I’ve had a ton of fun trying different foods I’d never have considered in the States; chicken feet, stinky tofu, mystery meat on a stick. I’ve picked up some Chinese, though my listening comprehension is much higher than my speaking, I want to keep up with it. I’ve always wanted to be a polyglot and I’ve got the basics of Chinese already. So I’ll either find a class or pick up a Rosetta Stone program when I get back to the States.

But I got everything crammed in my bag and my backpack is filled to bursting with souvenirs for family and friends. It’s so strange to think tomorrow is the last time I’ll be on a train leaving Yan’An. This year has gone by so fast. There were a few days there in July where I thought this year would never end, but here we are.

This time last year I had just arrived in Xi’an. I was nervous about teaching, a little overwhelmed with culture shock, jetlagged, and missing my friends from Cambodia. Now? The sun is starting to peek out and I think I’m going to go down to one of my favorite street vendors and pick up some noodles one last time. I’m excited to see the Warriors and get a better look at the Big Goose Pagoda and I can hardly wait to get back to Japan.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this year, which is a scary/exhilarating feeling when you’re jumping straight into a new place and new job. But that’s life. And teaching here has given me the experience and credentials to keep teaching—preferably older teens and adults—all around the world. I still want to teach for a year or two in Japan. I know that whenever I get back to the States I have plans to start teaching Microsoft programs and who knows, maybe I’ll find a company that will happily send me thither and yon for a week or two at a time.

I was listening to music while I tetrised my clothes into my big bag and a song, Devil’s Choir, by Black Veil Brides popped up. I could remember so many days listening to that song at full volume driving to my fast food and restaurant jobs and hating everything about my life. I had a POS car that was turning into a money pit, I wasn’t making enough money to get a place of my own, I had—still have—student loans due for a degree that was turning out to be more useless than the paper it’s printed on. My depression manifested as insomnia, wild mood swings, and periods of rage so intense I have gaps in my memory. I hated everything.

I started looking at jobs out of state, I started looking at jobs in state parks, government jobs. Anything my ridiculously narrow skill set and degree could get me. And then I had that conversation at the pumpkin patch that kick started the search for TEFL certifications. I found the one thing my degree in creative writing might actually be good for. It took about two years, but a year ago today I was boarding a plane to come to China after spending an incredible month in Cambodia.

It wasn’t easy to get to that point, and it hasn’t been easy being here pretty much on my own with a language barrier the size of the Great Wall. But I made it to that plane a year ago and I made it here for a year and even managed to make a few friends along the way. In two days I’ll be on another plane to Japan, a country I never thought I’d see in person and I’m going to be there a month.

So if you’re stuck and you’re angry, I understand. I won’t say it gets better because it doesn’t. You have to make it better. You have to be brave enough to get yourself unstuck. That’s the hardest part, being brave. Sometimes you have to be willing to jump into the fog even if you can’t see where you’re landing.

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Adventures Abroad: Christmas

Adventures Abroad: Christmas

(Picture by Liam Shalloo)

‘Tis already December 26 for me and it’s the same sort of Monday I’ve had for the last ten months or so. There is some Christmas in China, but it’s more akin to say Catholics trying their hand at Chanukah. They know there are some candles involved and it lasts for a few days and something about a top, but they have no idea why they’re doing these things or what they mean. Same thing for China and Christmas. There is a giant inflatable Santa outside one of the stores and a few Christmas trees scattered about and—for whatever reason—many, many, people walking down the street dressed like Santa Claus. But there’s no spark to it.

When you walk down the street in the States during December there’s a low key buzz in the air. People are excited, they’re stressed, they’re happy, they’re a roller coaster of emotions all focused on this one day. My family doesn’t do the religious aspect of Christmas; it’s a time for family for us. We have a big get together with my aunts, uncles, and cousins over at my grandparents’ house the Sunday before Christmas and have dinner and exchange a few gifts and catch up on everything that’s happened. Christmas Eve my mom makes a ham and we do a big dinner and watch A Christmas Story until we can recite the movie verbatim. Then Christmas day Grandma and Grandpa come over and we do a special breakfast and exchange gifts.

There’s none of that in China. Christmas Eve and Christmas day are shopping days like Black Friday. The only part of Christmas that has trickled into Chinese culture is the commercialized and materialistic part of it. We had to do a Christmas party for the kids which was a waking nightmare for me, I’m pretty sure I still have a headache, but the school wanted either myself or Roommate to dress up as Santa Claus.

Uh. No.

They spent half an hour trying to negotiate with us on dressing up instead of shrugging and moving on or, you know, telling the guy who stays and the school and doesn’t do anything else to dress up, because for them Christmas is all about Santa Claus. In their imaginings of Christmas, not having a Santa Claus is like not having a Christmas tree. Sure for little kids Santa is a pretty big part of Christmas, but with all the holiday movies we have the idea that this is also a time for family gets through a bit.

So it was yesterday while I was at school, as usual, while 7000 miles away my mom and sister went through our Christmas Eve routine that I had my first true moment of homesickness. My sister commented on my FB page that she had said or done something weird that reminded our mom of me and that now Mom was missing me more. I was sitting in the office five minutes from starting my next class where I spend just as much time trying to keep the kids from fighting and screaming as I do teaching them basic English words, I had just finished giving one of my older kids a dressing down for spreading pro-Nazi propaganda during class, and the lobby was full of kids screeching and running back and forth. And I really, really did not want to be there anymore. My sleep pattern has been nonexistent and I’m starting another round with this head cold that I seem to remember having in February that is just a perpetual cycle of congestion, sinus headaches, and a sore throat most likely caused by all the coal dust in the air. I miss the cats and dogs, my dad has a new puppy I haven’t snuggled, and—seriously—thirteen months without any sort of animal nearby is a goddamn crime. I was done with all of this and ready to be home.

If that is true homesickness then I’d like to have a word with some of the authors who have written their characters being homesick because they dropped the goddamn ball. I can understand why people would up and leave short notice, because if I felt like I did during those few minutes in the office all the time I would have left in July. Actually, I would say Laini Taylor in her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy captures the feeling pretty well. Those books gave me so many feels, you guys. So. Many. Next trip I make out of China I’ll be adding them to my kindle so I can put all my feelings through a shredder again.

Great books, cannot recommend enough.

But, I didn’t get on a plane and head home. I went to my class, stopped the kids from fighting, might’ve taught them a word or two and carried on with my day. I have twenty-five days until we break for Spring Festival and after I get back from that planned excursion I have only eight straight days of teaching to get through and then I will be on my way to snuggling kitties and puppies.

And getting some goddamn peanut butter.

Adventures Abroad: Roommate

Adventures Abroad: Roommate

(picture: Mechs of Law by Popetti on Deviant Art)

 

Ahh yes, took about ten months but I have acquired a roommate and thus the school has acquired a secondary foreign teacher. So I only have fifteen classes this semester instead of twenty-two. Roommate has been here for…two weeks now. First week was a bit rough since I was dealing with both a chest/head cold and my own agonizing brand of cramps. I can honestly say I don’t recall much from that first week.

But, I lucked the fuck out in the random roommate lottery. Roommate is a Brit with a masters in writing, which is cool. He’s also a science fiction and fantasy writer who dislikes the “classics” as much as I do. I don’t care what you say; Great Expectations is a fucking bore.

And neither of us likes The Beatles. Deal with it.

He also has a minor in politics and we’ve had several long talks about current US politics as well as UK politics. Last week we spent about five hours discussing superheroes and feminism. And I’ve also convinced him to watch Transformers Prime which is a huge boon for me. It’s become our nightly thing where we do our own thing during the day but about sunset make or get dinner and watch an episode or two.

Seriously you guys, I cashed in every scrap of good karma I had for this roommate.

I’m still a bit feral, I mean, ten months with no one’s company but my own, we’re lucky I didn’t try to bite him when they introduced us. But I’m slowly remembering how to function with another person in my space. Good news is both of us are fairly introverted so we don’t see much of each other during the day when we’re off. Sounds weird and kinda rude, but it works. Then we emerge and say hello and grab dinner and see if we can get the internet to work well enough to stream movies or shows.

I’m doing what I can to give Roommate a fighting chance for the next year he’s here. He’s already agitated and annoyed with the total lack of organization with the school. Not much I can do about that except tell him it’s not going to improve. He’s taught before, but that was at university level. He was quite irritated with some of the kids this last weekend which was his first real class. I’ve shared some of the discipline tricks I figured out the last two semesters so hopefully he can use those this week. We shall see.

There’s also all the little things I don’t think about anymore. Such as, in Asia, if you want to be polite you use two hands when accepting or giving people things. I learned that way back in January in Cambodia and I’ve been doing it ever since. I don’t think about it now and wouldn’t have thought to tell him that until I saw him hand money to someone.

That’s the hardest part of trying to pass on survival tips. Some of these things are so ingrained I don’t think about them anymore. Things like the using two hands or even how to cross the road. Again, I learned how to do that in Cambodia where there were no rules just suggestions on traffic flow. Roommate has come direct from the UK. He tries to stay on sidewalks and uses zebra crossings and I hardly give traffic a glance before stepping off the curb. It’s a hard habit to break, but you cannot stop once you start across the street or you’re going to get hit or cause an accident. The drivers see you and are already making course corrections to go around you. If you stop you throw off the whole system.

Roommate doesn’t have any Chinese which has thrown me for a loop because while I arrived equipped with only numbers and a few polite phrases I still came with something. So I’m trying to teach him helpful phrases and numbers while he also has Chinese lessons with one of the Chinese teachers.

I have no idea if another teacher is arriving after I leave or if Roommate will be on his own for a semester like I was so I’m just throwing all the knowledge I can at him. The one thing I’m trying the hardest to impart though is the knowledge that the school is going to tell you about important things days or sometimes hours before they need to be done. The ability to roll your eyes and deal with it and then bitch about it with friends and family later is the only way to stay sane. And that, I’m certain, is going to be the hardest thing to teach.

Adventures Abroad: Thanksgiving

Adventures Abroad: Thanksgiving

It is officially post-NaNoWriMo for me. Although if you’re still writing, Keep Going! You’ve got five or six days left, depending on where you are in the world.

Today is also Thanksgiving for me, which kind of snuck up on me since it’s a purely US holiday and no one here knows what it is. Currently, I’m no more home wistful than I was a week ago, which will probably change tomorrow when I see everyone posting about their meals—I really like my mom’s mac n’ cheese recipe—and the parade and football. But since I’m not inundated with delicious pictures of food and snarky parade comments I’m feeling pretty good. My mind keeps flashing back to a Black Veil Brides interview where the band is asked if they miss their families while touring during the holidays. Ashley Purdy kind of shrugs and says they miss them a little, but they’d all grown up doing holidays with families and while they might miss home sometimes, what they were doing was fresh, new, and exciting.

And I can’t agree more. No matter how much this school irritates me with their total lack of organization and qualified managing personnel, this is still an adventure! I was reminded of that last night when I went to the big supermarket before—the Gods’ cursed—English Corner. I am making a new dish to celebrate Thanksgiving and needed to find some ingredients not at the small market down the street.

Turns out, in the three or four weeks since I’d last been to the supermarket they have done a massive remodel. The top floor is now nothing but winter clothes with the walls stacked with heavy jackets and giant bins of leggings and slippers and I don’t even know what else in the middle of the floor. All the household supplies that were upstairs are now downstairs and the downstairs has been radically reorganized. It took me ten minutes to find the milk and since I was on a time crunch I went over to the produce section and picked up what I needed there and abandoned the rest of my list. But now it’s like the first week I was here. I have no idea where anything is and they’ve both reduced the number of available goods and added new things I hadn’t seen before.

According to one of the Chinese teachers, Xi’an got their first snow yesterday and it was a pretty good dusting. At some point this mountain city is also going to get snow and I can decide if I want to tackle Satan’s Stairmaster and climb Feng Huang Shan to get some pretty panoramic pictures.

Even now, ten months into this contract, I still catch myself walking down the street and thinking Holy Shit, I’m in China. Again, the sheer inefficiency of this school makes me want to punch things, but I’m still in freaking China surrounded by mountains.

And last month I was invited to a wedding. That was a lot of fun. Everyone wanted a compare/contrast with US weddings, but the last one I went to was my dad’s rather non-traditional marriage. But I could still pick out the things we have in common such as bringing gifts of money and the reception. That’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity right there. But it was a lot of fun and I got to try even more traditional Chinese food.

The food is still an adventure. I could 100% do a Travel Channel show where I visit different countries and scope out the best hostels and cheap street food. I love street food, even if it occasionally tries to kill me. Restaurants just can’t compare. I’ve been informed that now that it’s cold, sheep’s feet is available and so I have to try that. Thus far I’ve had chicken feet, pig feet, and donkey. I’ve also had roasted chestnuts for the first time in my life. Holy hells you guys. These things are delicious. That 10 RMB bag has become a weekly expense. I’m like a squirrel here cracking those things open and watching the Daily Show. I hope it’s a winter thing because I might just weep if they disappear before Christmas. I haven’t yet mustered the courage for stinky tofu, but I told the Chinese teachers I had to try it before I left or I couldn’t count this as a true China experience.

So the adventure in China continues and I am thankful today for the many small things that got me to this point. From the speaker in my Anthro 101 course to the chance conversation at the pumpkin patch all the way to stumbling into Language Corps. The road to get here wasn’t easy and sometimes the adventure itself is a trial, but it’s still an awesome experience and next year at the family gatherings I’ll finally have something to talk about.

vaderthanks

Home Wistful

Home Wistful

Today is Mid-Autumn Festival here in China. As with most festivals and holidays around the world, this day is meant to be spent with family and close friends. The traditional food eaten today is the mooncake, and it is delightful. The mooncake is not just a delicious breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack option; it also has its share of symbolism. As my CT explained to me, it’s round to mirror the full moon’s face that goes back to the story of Mid-Autumn Festival, and as none of my CTs seem to be natural storytellers, I’ve had to piece to story together from vague mentions.

oOo

Once upon a time, there were ten suns. The suns took turns being in the sky, until one day they all rose together. It was a disaster. Crops and people caught fire, the rivers dried up, and animals died. An archer named Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns, leaving only one for light and warmth.

The gods were so impressed with him that they offered him a drink of immortal water. But Hou Yi had a wife, Chang’e, he loved very much and didn’t want to become an immortal without her. So he gave the water to her to hide away so they could stay together.

Hou Yi also had an apprentice who knew about the hidden immortal water. He was a greedy man and wanted to be immortal. So, on the fifteenth day of the eighth month (Lunar calendar) he waited until Hou Yi was out hunting and forced his way into the home where Chang’e was working. He demanded Chang’e give him the immortal water.

Chang’e refused and instead drank it herself and then flew away. She couldn’t stay on earth anymore since she was now an immortal, but she wanted to stay close to her husband. She flew to the moon and built a palace there.

When Hou Yi returned from his hunt and found out what happened, he was heartbroken his wife had fled to the sky. So he took her favorite fruits and cakes and left them out where she could see. He also sacrificed animals for her. The others in the village soon learned what had happened to Hou Yi and Chang’e and, being sympathetic to the pair, also began leaving out fruits and cakes and sacrificing animals.

oOo

It’s a pretty cool story. China is rife with neat legends and stories like that. The problem is finding someone who will sit still long enough to tell you the story. Aside from that, Mid-Autumn Festival is a harvest festival and those around the world are a time for families.

So of course my CTs have been asking incessantly if I’m homesick.

Well, if I am, what are you going to do about it?

I’m not, for the record. I prefer the term Home Wistful. I keep explaining to them that I talk to my parents usually once a week. Skype isn’t blocked, so we talk on Monday or Tuesday and I tell them about my classes and they tell me about work and whatever’s going on in the neighborhood.

I don’t require proximity to people. The only time I missed home was the three weeks I was in Vietnam and that was because we were all busy and didn’t get a chance to talk. Let’s be real, I miss the cats and dogs the most. I definitely need to find a traveling companion before my next big trip. A year without little paws padding behind me is unacceptable.

I do miss a few things about home, chiefly peanut butter. But we’re getting into my favorite season: Autumn. I love fall and Halloween and both of those things are not a big deal here. Sure, the kids know about Halloween, but no one goes full on haunted house, there are no skull and bat decorations, no costumes. No freaking pumpkins. No apple cider, which I’m pretty sure is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

In Indiana, autumn has a scent. There’s a shift in the way the air smells as the leaves start coming down. There’s a bite. When you wake up and open the windows you can smell the dew on the leaf litter. It’s one of my favorite smells. There’s none of that here. There are trees. But, there’s not really any green space. No matter how early you wake up or how late you go to bed there’s always a tang of diesel in the air. I haven’t smelled grass in months. When I water my plants I pretty much stick my face in the pot just to smell that damp earth scent I didn’t realize I smelled every morning I woke up in Indiana.

I love going through pumpkin patches. I can spend hours wandering up and down the hills searching for the perfect pumpkin. But my favorite thing to do is curl up on the couch with a mug of hot cider and a Tim Burton movie while the clouds are grey and heavy with rain and the wind is too chilly even for a sweater. There’s always a cat close by, either on my feet keeping my toes warm or on my lap trying to get into my cider.

Or when I’m at my dad’s house and there’s a fire in the fireplace and the dogs and I sprawl out in front of it and watch football or a movie with pizza on the way.

Those are the things I miss. I miss the smell of autumn and I miss having a purring cat on my lap or a big farting dog next to me. People I can talk to, I talked to a friend for almost eight hours this week. I knew way back in January that fall was going to be the time I missed home the most, but being halfway through September and not seeing even a pumpkin window cling I think I might miss it more than I thought I would. So I wouldn’t say I’m sick with missing things, but wistful for my own little autumn traditions.

And peanut butter, dammit.

Teaching Games!

Teaching Games!

Ah, sweet, sweet summer break.

Holy hells, I am exhausted, but my brain refuses to sleep, so I figured I’d check in with all you fine people.

Anyway, I said way back at the beginning of the semester that I’d make a list of the games I used in class to help out any other new teachers in over their heads.

*Waves to new teachers*

Warmers—Games used at the beginning of class to wake the kids up

  1. Blindfold: Super simple. Have one child come up and blindfold them. Then choose another student to come up and say “Hello, who am I?” They have three guesses and then you reveal.
  2. Dancing: You don’t even have to make up a dance. I taught my kids the Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show and they thought it was stupid/hilarious. I also taught them the Soulja Boy Dance and that took two classes. *Dancing also makes a great low key disciplinary measure. For my older kids, I gave them each three warning for speaking Chinese, after that, they had to stand up and do one of the dances.
  3. Poker Face: Pull a chair up to the front of the room and have one student sit. Their goal is to not laugh for one minute. Meanwhile, the other kids can make faces, sounds, tell jokes (in English) or whatever else. I didn’t let my kids touch the person sitting, but that’s totally up to you.
  4. Hot Seat: Again, bring a chair up to the front. This time make certain the student sitting can’t see the board. Then you write a word on the board like ‘Lion’ and the rest of the class must describe the word without saying it. The student has three guesses and then it’s someone else’s turn.
  5. Number/Shape Clusters: Any class you’ve done numbers in you can do this game. Have all the students stand up and then you call out a number between 1-10 (let’s say 3). The first students to make a group of three gets a point. If you’ve done shapes (circle, square, triangle) it’s a great review for that too.
  6. Alphabet Bodies: This can be done with partners or as individuals. Have the students stand up and then either call out a letter or write it on the board. The first person/pair to make the letter with their body(s) wins.
  7. Telephone/Whispers: This is an old standby, but the little kids love it, especially if you race girls vs. boys. If you don’t know, have the students make two lines. Bring the first person up and whisper a word to them and then they run back and whisper the word to the next person. The word travels down the line to the end and then the end person runs up to you and tells you the word. If it’s right, they get a point, if not, they have to redo it.
  8. Clap/Elimination: Really simple, X=Clap. Have the students count one at a time 1, 2, 3, X, 2, 3, X, X, 3, X, X, X. It’s like the B-I-N-G-O song. If the person messes up have them stand up and do a dance or another funny penalty and play again.

Vocabulary/Sentence Games—Games you can use in class for basic vocabulary identification or having students do controlled practice with new sentence structures. *All of these games are played with teams, I used two teams, but if you have big classes, they all work with multiple teams.

  1. Basketball/P.I.G.: Basketball is pretty straightforward. Have a ball and either a hoop or a small bucket for them to shoot into. I made three lines they could shoot from and based on the line they chose that was the difficulty level of the question. So a three point question I would ask them to make a sentence, a one point question they would have to identify a vocabulary card.
    1. P.I.G: This is a really popular game, sometimes called H.O.R.S.E. Split class into two teams and you can use the same line system as above, but this time if the student misses the shot, their team gets a letter. For the older kids I equivocated the number of letters with the line they shot from—three points=three letters. I also used vocabulary words instead of Pig or Horse.
  2. Ball Hop: This is by far the most versatile game I used. Get two balls and draw a line at the back of the classroom. The students hold the balls between their knees and then hop to you. First student to give you a high five wins, the second student must identify a vocabulary card.
    1. Variation: Same game as above, but they hop directly to the vocabulary card you or a student calls out. First one to tag it wins, the other must identify another word and becomes the next student to call out a word.
    2. Cowboy: Draw a line closer to the front of the room. Place flashcards at the back of the room. Students face the front and when you call out a word must race forward and touch the board/wall with their ball and then run to the back of the class and tag the proper vocabulary word.
    3. Hot Potato: No running in this one, but have the students make a circle. Place the flashcards in the center and introduce one or two balls. Have the students start passing the balls clockwise while you countdown from 10, 5, or 3, whatever you want. When you get to zero, say a vocabulary word and the two students with the balls have to jump forward and tag the proper card.
    4. Vertical: Instead of placing the flashcards horizontally in the back of the room, place them vertically and assign them point value—10, 20, 30, 40, 50—and bring up only one student at a time. Like ‘Cowboy’, draw a line close to the front of the room. As soon as you say go, begin counting down from five. The student has to run forward and touch the board before running back and tagging as many cards as they can while saying the words. Person with the most points at the end wins.
    5. Blocks: No ball in this one, but small foam blocks. Have students either balance the blocks on their heads or hands and either high five or tag the vocabulary card directly.
  3. Chopsticks: *If you’re not in a country with chopsticks, I don’t think this will be an effective game, but you might be able to use spoons.* Get two sets of chopsticks and a couple foam blocks. Set the chopsticks on top of the blocks and draw little circles around them so students put them back in the same place. This game is awesome for practicing prepositions—on, in, under, between, in front of, next to—but if you just want them to find the correct word it’s great for that two. So you give them a word and they run up and touch the card with their block while repeating the word and then they have to run back and reset their block and chopsticks. First one to reset wins.
  4. Castles: Get some building blocks and give each team a place at the front of the room to build their castle. I tell my students the castles must be at least three stories, otherwise they’ll try to cheat and make them one level. Once castles are done, have students either sit or line up at the back of the room depending on class size, and ask them questions. If they answer correctly, they get a ball and try to knock over the other team’s castle. You get the best castles and reactions if you don’t tell them at first you’ll be knocking them over.
  5. Musical Chairs: There is actually no music involved here, but I couldn’t think of a better name. Have students make a big circle with their chairs and put one in the middle. The rest of the class asks them a question and the middle student answers. Once they give a preset answer (i.e. “I’m wearing a red hat.) All the students have to get up and change chairs. Whoever doesn’t get a seat is new student in the middle.
  6. Connect 4/Tic Tac Toe: These games are excellent fillers. Connect 4 is just like Tic Tac Toe/Knots and Crosses but they have to match four instead of three. On the board draw sixteen squares and write in their vocabulary along with four or five penalties—again, my favorite one is dancing because the mortification never ends—and have them make sentences with whichever word they want.
  7. Ostrich: Draw a big circle on the floor and select two student. Each one holds a flashcard behind their back. Their goal is to see and say the other person’s card without being seen themselves. Make sure students understand before the game starts that telling their teammate the other person’s card gets them a point penalty. That includes saying it in their native language as well.
  8. Red Light/Green Light: Have one student stand up at the front of the class with two flashcards. One means Go, the other means Stop. Have the other students line up at the back of the class and either walk, hop, or dance when they are allowed to Go. When the card changes to Stop, they have to freeze and say the word. The first person to reach the cardholder becomes the new cardholder.
  9. Maze: This game is for older kids who are working with directional words. On the board draw a small maze with four or five vocabulary words scattered about. Blindfold one student and give them a pen to draw with. The rest of the team must give them directions to the specified vocabulary word.
  10. Pictionary: Another great game for “What is it?” or “What does s/he/it look like?” Have the students come up and draw animals or people on the board. The rest of the class asks them questions about it and the artist answers.
  11. Board Games: Ahhh, these are amazing. This is a catchall for any game you can draw on the floor or on the board. Get a dice and some little blocks as markers for the teams and let the kids play. They have to answer a question before they roll but they really enjoy these. I had one game I called Mountain Climb where I drew a rough mountain on the floor and made several penalties like Rock Fall, Lose Turn or detours that sent them back to start or bonus trails that got them extra points. I did a shipwreck one where they started on a boat and had to swim to shore. If they landed on a shark they lost a life. Then they had the option of being saved by a mermaid and gaining extra points or getting sucked up in a typhoon land losing their points based on what they rolled. On land they could be eaten by cannibals and lose their points and another life or they could climb a mountain and have an eagle steal their points or get lost in the jungle and lose life and points to tigers and monkeys.
  12. Bag Toss/Cornhole: Get a small bean bag and draw a line at the front of the room. Place the flashcards in a large triangle formation with the closest ones being the lowest points and the farthest one the highest. Students have to identify the flashcard before tossing or make a sentence with their intended word.
  13. King and Queen: Get about a dozen previous flashcards to add to their current lesson’s cards. This game only works with two team, any more than that and it will be a mess. Choose one person from each team and have them secretly choose one flashcard at random. These are your Kings/Queens and they sit on their ‘Thrones’ at the front of the room. They’re not allowed to show or tell anyone what card they choose. Once they put the card back shuffle them and spread them out in the back of the room. Choose another person from each team to be the card selector. Their job is to just pick up cards. Once they do, they need to ask the target question: “Is it his_____?” and then the game proceeds like Whispers with each person on the team asking someone the question until you get to the monarch at the front. They say Yes or No. If Yes, that team wins. If No, the card runner selects a new card and the game begins again. Again, make certain you tell them not to cheat in their native language before the game starts and they know everyone has to ask and answer the question. They can’t just say “Lamp” and pass the card down, they have to talk.

 

Phonics Games—Phonics is fucking boring for everyone. But, the kids remember more if you make a game out of it.

  1. Stomp/Clap: Let’s say our two sounds are /b/ and /d/. /b/=Stomp, /d/=Clap. Write a rhythm on the board like B B D B D B B. Have the students practice a couple times and then call on individuals to show off. Don’t forget to have them make the sounds.
  2. Kung Fu: All right, if you have a rowdy class, skip this one. Make it very clear from the beginning if they intentionally hit anyone they don’t get to play. Have them line up facing each other. Let’s keep up with our /b/ and /d/ example: /b/=Right high punch, /d/=Left high punch. Again, make up a quick little pattern: B D B D B D B B and have them say the sounds.
  3. Tongue Twister: My kids loved tongue twisters. “Betty Botter bought a bit of butter” was their favorite. They liked to race each other and race me. If you do this, remember, words aren’t really important, make sure they’re making the right sound. Ones my kids had problems with were /s/ and /sh/ and /r/ and differentiating the vowels.
  4. Chair Race: Place two chairs at the front of the room and mark one /b/ and one /d/. Have two students at the back of the room and then call out a word. Instead of running, have them skip or hop because they will not hesitate to tackle each other to get to the write chair.
    1. Ball Drop: At the front of the room write /b/ and /d/ in separate circles. Just like the vocabulary Ball Hop, have students but a ball between their knees. When you call out a word they have to hop to the right circle and drop the ball.
  5. Which Wall: Assign one side of the room /b/ and the other /d/. Have students stand in a line in the center and when you say a word, they hop to the appropriate side of the room.
  6. Basketball: Have two hoops or baskets, one /d/ and one /b/, choose two students to come up to the free throw line. You say a word and they choose the basket. This game is by far the most popular because you can up the difficulty level by having several point lines or by having them say a word before they shoot.

 

Those are the greatest hits from this semester. After next semester I’ll add whatever else I come up with. Hope this helps, happy teaching!

Adventures Abroad: Mountaineering!

Adventures Abroad: Mountaineering!

20160603_144940            Hey-oh! So two weeks ago, after recovering from what shall henceforth be known as Plague Death, I decided to take my—still recovering—body out for a spin. On Friday, the sun was out and the day was a perfect upper seventies with a nice breeze. Our staff meeting ended early and I had a whole afternoon to myself. So I decided I wanted to climb a mountain.

 

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This mountain.

My target: Feng Huang Shan (Phoenix Mountain). This is the mountain that has lights along its upper ridge that glow different colors at night that kind of look like the dorsal spikes of a dragon. Anyway, it’s pretty and my Chinese teachers told me it was free and gave me some vague directions to the entrance.

I almost walked past the entrance. It’s just a sweeping set of stairs with a little landscaping around them pressed right between a small side alley that leads to homes and a restaurant. I mean, there might be a sign, but I can barely read pinyin, definitely can’t read Chinese characters.

Once you get past the building though there’s more decoration like some rocks with characters on them that might be a poem, or the name of the mountain, or telling people not to litter. I don’t know. You go up a little more and the stairs become a staircase and on the railing are the zodiac animals and peonies and birds. There are a handful of ornamental trees that break up the monotony of stone, but not much. It didn’t look like it was going to be a very interesting walk because those first few levels are mostly stone and concrete.

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But once you get up to the first landing you’re already pretty high. Aside from the occasional car horn you can’t hear traffic or people. I moseyed up to the next level and found a small side path. Bingo. I took off down that like a hound on a scent. The little path was cool and shady and smelled so wonderful. You have no idea how much you miss the smell of grass and trees until you don’t smell them every morning. The one thing I miss the most about home is opening the windows and smelling dirt and grass and dew.

 

The little path brought me back around to the main staircase. If ever there was a Stairway to Heaven, it’s this damn thing. I figured the little trail I was on would get me to the top eventually. Nope! That was just a little side expedition, if you want to get to the top you need to climb the stairs.

I don’t know if you know how many stairs there are to the top of a mountain, but it’s a fuck-ton. My gods. And there are no trees. It’s just you and sun and stone and concrete and a fervent wish for an escalator.

 

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So. Many. Stairs.

I had to stop and enjoy the scenery a couple times, but I finally made it to a little oasis. There’s a small park-type thing about halfway up with benches and big shady trees and restrooms. It was nice to walk more than two steps without having to step up a stair, but it was pretty obvious I wasn’t at the top. I wandered about in the maze of little paths trying to find the accursed staircase.

I stumbled out some gates and found a road with nothing and no one on it. It was really weird because where Feng Huang Shan is, I’ve walked all around this area and I’ve never come across a road that came up the mountain. Because if such a goddamn road existed I’d have taken that and not those bullshit stairs.

I was a little hesitant to explore too far because there were several signs around, but none that looked like they said Keep Out, but I can only assume that a Chinese Keep Out sign looks like a European/American one. Thankfully, a couple came down the road that didn’t look like they were on any official business so I assumed it was safe to explore that direction.

And I found it! Just beyond the curve in the road were a small parking lot and a section of a giant city wall that one of my CTs told me was there. Past the city wall is a new looking park area with beautiful rose bushes planted all over the place. The place smelled amazing. All the roses were scented and there were only a handful of people there so it was quiet enough to still hear the birds. Two of the men there were flying kites. They had these contraptions on their chests that looked like boat wheels. They were really serious about their kites. And from this park you can see the whole city. Yan’an is really cool, people. They way its built between these mountains and the river. It’s awesome. Hard to appreciate from ground level, but way up high where you can see how the streets wind and how the buildings work like Tetris, it’s amazing.

But I wasn’t done! There’s a watch tower still standing on the section of the intact wall. And of course there were stairs to get there. And after a hundred more fucking stairs, there’s a steep ramp to climb and then you’re finally at the watch tower, the highest point on the mountain.

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There were two other people up there with me but the three of us were content to stare out at the city. And just when I was thinking I could stay up there for an hour or two I heard it.

Thunder.

I had hope for probably twenty minutes that the rain would stay one mountain over where I could see it already falling. And then the sun disappeared. And the wind kicked up. And the thunder was louder.

I started heading back down. It was about five o’ clock and I still had to figure out if I wanted to make dinner or get something from a street vendor. I usually try to be in bed before ten on Friday night because Saturday night I rarely sleep more than a couple hours. So the more sleep I get before the weekend starts the better off I am.

Anyway, most of the pop up storms we’ve had have been over and done with pretty quick. I knew I was going to get wet, but I wasn’t overly concerned about it. A few sprinkles, maybe a little more, but I figured I’d be dry before I got back to my apartment since I had about an hour walk ahead of me.

Haha! No. I made it back to the staircase that would take me to the street and it was like someone turned on a faucet. I was soaked through in less than five minutes. And of course, I was on the stretch of stairs without even a flower to hide under so I just put in my headphones and trudged on thinking it would end soon enough.

When I got to the street it was still raining so hard the street looked like a river. Still a half hour walk ahead of me and I have fully come to terms with the fact that it is going to rain the whole time. So I bought some cherries from a little side shop and some cookies from my favorite bakery.

Walking into my apartment block the rain started to lesson to sprinkles and by the time I got up to my apartment and had my socks rung out the sun was out. Pretty sure I pulled a muscle when I rolled my eyes. But, I did make some tea and cobble together some leftovers and binge watch The Daily Show for a couple hours and eat cookies. So, rain and all, it was a pretty good evening.

Adventures Abroad: Team Building Day

Adventures Abroad: Team Building Day

Friday we had “Team Building” day and I will preface by saying I was not particularly looking forward to it. It’s become abundantly clear that what my fellow Chinese teachers consider fun is radically different from what I consider fun. And I had to be at the school at 8am which irritated me because I knew it would be 9am before we actually started the day. But if I was late I’d never hear the end of it. So I got there on time and proceeded to wait around for everyone else to show up. At 830 I was told I had to do a demo class.

*headdesk*

A high level demo class, so, at least an hour.

optimus

And I knew it was going to be a special kind of day when after my demo the line manager told me she had a near religious experience while doing one of the activities. I split them into groups and told them to make a machine. Any machine, a machine that can do whatever they want, and then they had to tell the class about it. This made her think some deep thoughts apparently and she was quite moved.

But once that was over we were on our way to starting our day for real! I got to ride in the car with the other teachers while the line manager and front desk lady took the bus to meet us there. In my exploration of Yan’an I’ve mostly gone east and west and not so much north and south. So I got to see another part of the city as we drove to the countryside.

I am and always will be a country girl at heart. Cityscapes are not my thing. Give me hills and fields and birds and coyotes. So when we finally left the hustle and bustle of Yan’an behind and got into the country where the mountains and hills where bright green and there wasn’t a building in sight; bliss.

We pulled into a small town, which I’m guessing still had a population larger than my hometown, and they finally told me what exactly this team building day was going to consist of. Up to this point the only thing I knew was that I had to be at the school at 8am and we were going to the country. We are at Wanhua Mountain! This is a place I’ve mentioned before, way back when I was still researching cities. It has the largest concentration of wild tree peonies in china. And they were everywhere. Unfortunately, we were a little early for most of the blooms. Anyone who heads over there on Monday though is in for a show because those buds were just about ready to pop. There were enough open though that the air smelled fabulous. For the first time since we went to Sihanoukville I could smell trees and flowers and not diesel and people.

‘Twas glorious. The trees were cypress as well so we had the pungent peony scent with that sharp pine smell and I about swooned.

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But I couldn’t go frolicking through the hills as soon as we got there. We had to wait for Line Manager and Front Desk Lady. While we waited the other teachers picked up a quick snack, which for me would have been a complete meal. Chinese people can pack away the food y’all.

When the rest of our group arrived I was almost at sprint for the entrance when Line Manager and Front Desk Lady said they wanted to get a snack too. So I wound up getting a little biscuit/roll thing—stuffed with meat and vegetables and deep fried—from a street vendor while they sat down to cold noodles.

And then, finally, FINALLY! We were off!

I’m having fun exploring the city of Yan’an. There are a lot of small alleys and side streets hiding great food and cool things all over the place. But you put me in with trees and flowers and winding dirt paths and I cannot resist. I have to know. I have to know where it goes, what’s on the other side of that hill, and where does the path lead? So while the city has done a magnificent job of creating a wide safe stone walkway with easy to navigate stairs and handrails that winds you around the peonies about ten minutes into this hike I was gone.

I did try at first to weave between staying on the official trail and wandering off on the smaller footpaths. I really did try to stick with the group. But it seemed their goal was to get to the top of the mountain whilst mine was to enjoy the climb. I was taking pictures left and right and just reveling in hearing birdsong for the first time in months that didn’t come from birds locked up in cages.

I gave up about halfway up and set off to follow a promising path and found a big cluster of peonies in full bloom right on the edge of a drop off. What. A. View. You can’t capture these vistas on a phone, you just have to take my word that it was straight drop off the edge and those hills stretched for miles.

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My path got me to the plateau first which I thought was funny because the whole time I was off on my great adventure I could hear them telling me I was going to get left behind.

And at the top we found a whole stretch of peonies in bloom with a clear view of the hills again.

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A little further down there was a huge statue and one of my CTs told me it was Mulan.

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Holy Hells, THE Mulan? Yes! Apparently Wanhua—where the peonies are—has some kind of claim to Mulan. I don’t know how true that is since it seems when exactly and where exactly Mulan was born is a little fuzzy, but that’s what she told me. Whether it’s true or not, who cares, the statue was freaking awesome.

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At this point, only a live Phoenix landing on her shoulder could make this better.

If you don’t know, yes, it is the same Mulan from the Disney movie. She took her father’s place in the army, with a little less fumbling than the movie portrays, her father taught her warfare and how to use weapons. She was a general in the army for something like ten years and at the end of it she refused any and all rewards and instead married one of her generals and retired to her hometown. There is a myth/legend that she gave birth on the battlefield to a son, but the only one who knows if that’s true is long dead.

I was trying to think of any badass lady statues we have in the US and Liberty is all I could think of and she’s not even a real lady. She’s just an icon. We need more Mulan-esque statues.

After we took a couple pictures with the statue the rest of the group was ready to go back down the mountain. I, on the other hand, spied a small side path. I told them I’d meet them at the bottom and took off before anyone could say otherwise. The path I started on was paved and it just led to a bathroom.

But, just past that were a tiny foot path and trees and glimpses of a view that could rival what was on the other side. Boom. Gone.

If they came looking for me there wasn’t a trace to be found. I was in the bushes and ducking through trees without breaking stride. Found a steep drop half hidden by long grasses and weeds.

And I popped out not too far from where I’d gone in and I was about to head back when off to the right I spied a well word track going further up the mountain.

Well, LET’S SEE WHERE IT GOES!

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Nothing bad has ever happened from following a forest trail, right

This is what I needed. This right here. Solitude and silence with a warm breeze and the only evidence of people was the path I was walking. They’ve done a couple studies on peoples’ brains and discovered that even if you were born and raised in the city seeing natural landscapes relaxes your brain. We may have come quite a long way from Lucy, but it still puts subtle stress on our brains to constantly see manmade objects. This is why greenspaces in cities are such a big deal. People need nature. The quantities vary, but we all need to see a flower every now and then to stay sane.

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Pictured: Sanity

I’m so glad I can take a bus to Wanhua because I didn’t find the end of that trail and I want to know where it goes.

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Adventures Abroad: Yan’an

Adventures Abroad: Yan’an

I’m really—really—bad at blogging. I thought that suddenly being thrust into a whole new country and culture I would be better. I’d be one of those bloggers that puts up a new post every week with pictures.

Clearly, this is not the case.

It would seem that while I enjoy long form fiction writing, when it comes to blogging I’m a micro-blogger. But, I’ve committed myself to keeping some form of coherent recollection of this adventure so I will do my damndest to keep up with this thing.

 

The three hour train ride to Yan’an was really fun. I slept for only a few minutes at a time because the landscape had me preoccupied. Just outside of Xi’an the landscape looked pretty similar to Indiana; lots of fields and a few stray trees with farms in the distance.

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I haven’t been to the Southwest United States, so the rugged mountainous landscape coming in to Yan’an was the first time I’d seen that many shades of brown and gold. The sun was setting and it cast this pretty orange glow over these craggily peaks and the scattering of vegetation clinging to them. There were winding rivers, canyons, and small plateaus where people had crops planted.

 

As a rule, I dislike arriving in new cities at night. There’s something about not really being able to see where you are, the shut up buildings and lack of people that makes new places seem like the far side of Mars.

We arrived in Yan’an just after 7pm and the sun had already packed its bags and hightailed it behind the mountains. The other reason I don’t like arriving somewhere new at night, there’s nothing really to look at. The buildings right there by the road are lit up with streetlights and signs, but past that it’s just dark shapes you can assume are buildings or landscape. So there’s not a lot of distraction to keep me out of my head. And if there is one thing I don’t need when I touchdown somewhere new, it’s time in my head.

That reptilian part of your brain, the one that’s in charge of survival, self-preservation—what’s it called, the hindbrain?—starts to wake up and get loud. This is something new. This is something different. Something unknown. And that’s when it starts screaming. WhathaveyoudoneWhathaveyoudoneWhathaveyoudoneWhathaveyoudone WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!

But then there’s that middle part of your brain, the one that balances survival with reality. And the reality is that you’ve gone past a grocery store and a supermarket so you can go there in the morning and pick up supplies. The reality is you’ve done this before, just take it slow. The reality is you know in a couple months you’ll know the streets and bus routes and where to get a great meal cheap. The reality is, this isn’t scary, it’s just new.

And then there’s the small part of your brain, it’s quiet now, but in a few weeks it’ll be louder than everything else. It’s the part that sees the lights winding up the mountains and wants to know where they go. It’s the part that hears the names Pagoda Mountain and Phoenix Mountain and wants to climb them. It’s the part that hears there’s a Kung Fu school somewhere in the city and gets a thrill. It’s just a whisper in the back of your head but when the sun comes up it will get louder. It’s that little voice that pushes you out the door to explore, to find that grocery store and see what else is on the street. It’s that voice that sees the bridge and wants to know what’s on the other side.

One thing at a time. Right now you need to sit for a couple hours so the screaming ape part of your brain can calm down. But in the light things aren’t so bad. And the rational part of your brain gets you moving.

 

I’ve been here three months today and while I haven’t figured out the bus routes—the school is within walking distance—I have figured out where I can get a quick good meal and have made friends with some of the street vendors. I get discounts, people. Discounts. Sometimes the bakery I go to gives me a free cookie.

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Yan’an is built into the hills and mountains surrounding it. They have literally carved this city into these peaks and valleys. From every window in my apartment I can see a mountain. My kitchen and bedroom windows face a sheer rock face. Really, the mountain is about ten feet from my windows.

 

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Yes those are bars. Pretty sure they’re to keep the falling rocks from coming through the windows.

My apartment is becoming closer to home. It’s big, two bedrooms, which if I had my books with me would be great because then I could make a library. But alas, my Kindle is my library now. Anyway, I figured out last month that this place feels so big because there aren’t any furry feet running around. This is the first time in my life I’ve not had kitty or dog paws tapping across the floor after me.

I don’t know how people do it.

I’m at the point where I’m thinking of buying a rabbit from one of the people selling them on the street just to fill up the empty space. I haven’t yet. I’m holding out for an adorable stray kitten. And, well, if that doesn’t happen then my pets back home will have to endure endless snuggles.

Have I mentioned yet there’s a primary school in the courtyard of this apartment complex? Yeah. At 7am sharp Monday through Friday they blast this music to announce the beginning of the school day. I can hear them having their gym or recess right now. There’s a man with a microphone saying something in Chinese.

I don’t mind it. Although it recently became a stress point in my life. Now, you see, I’m a pretty private person and I’m not overly social, never have been. So China is a challenge in a lot of ways for me, because as of writing this, I am yet to see another foreigner in this city. So I get stared at a lot, which most days I can ignore, some days I get a little hostile, but fuckin’ hell, I understand why celebrities take swings at the paparazzi.

Anyway, I’ve been told—and I knew before arriving—that people are really curious because like I said, they don’t see non-Chinese people very often. A couple weeks ago I was coming home from the store during the primary school’s lunch hour and a group of five or six girls ran up to me and tried to start a conversation. Fine, I can play nice with the little kids and it was pretty funny trying to figure out what they were saying because they only know two questions in English and my Chinese is limited to pleasantries and asking where things are and identifying fruits and vegetables. So I tried to answer some of their questions for a few minutes.

Then they wanted to know where my apartment is.

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Ab-so-fuckin-lute-ly not.

Thank the gods for language barriers, I just pretended like I didn’t know what they were saying until I waved and said goodbye while pointing to my bag of groceries. They waved and said goodbye too and I start trudging up the stairs.

They started following me.

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Oh no. Oh hell no. I do not need the 300+ K-5 kids in that courtyard to know where my apartment is. People stress me out enough on the street I don’t need to wonder if when I come home at 7 o’ clock at night there might be a small hoard of people gathered by my door wanting to ask me questions. Fuck. No.

So I faked I forgot something at the store.

Judge me.

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I did pick up some apples, which I realized I needed as soon as I started walking in the direction of the small grocery store. So that worked out and by the time I made it back to the complex school was back in session and the courtyard was blessedly quiet.

But I have a new rule, I can leave my apartment whenever I want, but under no circumstances can I come back until after lunch or after school is over. It sounds stupid, but if I’m going to endure people staring at me like they’re waiting for me to turn into wyvern I have got to have my Fortress of Solitude.

hiding

 

Adventures Abroad: China-Arrival

Adventures Abroad: China-Arrival

Saturday was my last night in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and it was one of the best days of the whole trip. I helped a couple teachers who are in limbo move their stuff to a hostel. And by “helped” I mean I tagged along so I could go to the little coffee shop just down the street from the hostel and get a strawberry chiller. I did carry one suitcase up four flights of stairs, so I earned that chiller, dammit. But we had lunch at great street food place and visited Wat Phnom, one of the oldest temples in Cambodia.

We’d been to Wat Phnom before, it was the first stop on the City Tour we did the first Sunday we arrived. It’s within walking distance which was great because I was so sick that first tour I didn’t recall seeing a lot of the stuff that was there. And it was really nice to walk through with just the four of us instead of a group of twenty. It felt less intrusive to the people who were there praying and making offerings. I thought I’d pick up some things from the little tourist stand but none of it was really Wat Phnom or Phnom Penh. There were a lot of things with Angkor Wat on them, elephants, lions, and a few statues of Brahma.

At five o’clock we added the teacher with the most nicknames: Aquaman/BoBear/Little Bear/Dread Pirate Robert to our number and set off for a boxing match. Entry to these things is free, you just have to pay for the ride there. It was a broadcasted match and we got front row seats.

The kickboxing was great, make no mistake, I’d love to go to another one, but the star of the show was the zebra print clad bookie taking bets. This woman was shameless and managed to get Jay to wager five bucks on a match which he promptly lost.

There were four matches each match lasted five rounds or, in one case, until a KO in the second round. Dude got his bell rung by a beautifully executed roundhouse. It was incredible, had I not been watching his feet I wouldn’t have seen him move it. It was like a snake strike there and back in less than a blink. And he was one of the slow fighters. There was a fighter in the last round whose kicks were absurdly fast and that fight ended in a draw because the other guy still dodged them. A couple more years of experience and that kid will be undefeated. I mean his footwork was incredible. Still needs work on his punches, but had those kicks connected they would’ve dropped the other guy.

I would say far too soon the fight ended and we went our separate ways for the last time. Three went back to the hostel whilst Aquaman and I returned to the Marady Hotel so we could leave the next morning.

oOo

Yesterday, Feb 21st, Aquaman and I got up at the ass-crack of dawn and headed to the airport. It was kind of nice being on the streets of Phnom Penh at 530am. Not a lot of traffic and the air was cool and cleaner. It was a nice send off from the city that in ten years will be a bustling destination place. And it was nice to take a Tuk Tuk instead of the taxi I was thinking about. As we’d been talking at lunch the day before, Phnom Penh is leaving the age of Tuk Tuks behind. As the middle class continues to expand and more and more people get cars there’s a very good chance Tuk Tuks will be pushed off the roads for the sake of efficiency. They might keep some for tours of the city for foreigners, but they won’t be the staple of transportation.

Which makes me sad for future visitors. I don’t know how you can actually experience Phnom Penh unless you’ve gone the wrong way down a narrow one way bumping over potholes at fifteen miles an hour dodging stray animals and pedestrians only to come screeching out into the street with only a cursory glance at oncoming traffic. I mean, that’s what makes Phnom Penh fun.

Anyway, I digress.

I still hate flying. Only had two three hour flights and it was still miserable. Aquaman and I had the same initial flight so we got to Guangzhou and picked up our luggage, but what should have been a two and a half hour layover for me and a two hour layover for him, turned into less than an hour for him. So he had to book it. I had just at an hour to get through customs and security which was nerve wracking but we lucked out because the security line was the longest and it only took me about ten or fifteen minutes to get through.

Then there was the hike.

So I got through security and there’s this little thing like a golf cart with eight seats sitting there with a sign that says “To B Departure”. And on my ticket it says I need to be at B. So I climb aboard and before I have my backpack settled on my lap we’re off.

I never wondered what it would be like to ride on an indoor Tuk Tuk, but now I have the answer to that unasked question. It could be a ride at Cedar Point. Pedestrians? They better move. I doubt we were going that fast, but this dude had it floored the entire way. It blew my hair back.

It was great and I was glad for it since I found my gate was, of course, the farthest from arrivals as physically possible. They might as well have just put it on the other side of the city.

By the time I got to my gate I had fifteen minutes before boarding.

And I still hate flying.

But the flight was fine, hardly any turbulence and a smooth landing. The real challenge was grabbing my luggage and trying to find who was picking me up. By a stroke of luck, one of the ladies who was here to get me saw me first. Since our ride hadn’t yet arrived we sat at Starbucks and she asked me about the US and I asked her about China. She was really cool and I wish she was coming with me to Yan’an, but oh well.

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These are apartments. This is the fourth block we passed on the way to Xi’an proper from the airport.

I had thought I’d be staying in a hotel or hostel, Jay, the godsend that he is gave me the name of a hostel I could book if I was left to find my own lodgings. Luckily? The son of the lady who owns the school I’ll be teaching at owns a “hostel.” It’s nice, but I’m guessing this is just a place they use for teachers who are doing their training in Xi’an. I think I’d rather stay at the place Jay told me about but how do you kindly ask, “Hey, I know this is free, but I’d like to pay to stay somewhere that looks cooler.”

Anyway, I thought I’d just spend the rest of my night just chilling after all day of traveling, but alas, ‘twas not to be. We went to the house of the guy I’ve been emailing who, while writes English fairly well, can’t speak a word of it. So for an awkward hour and a half I drank delicious green tea and listened to the Chinese conversation going on around me.

Then we went out to eat, this is like 8pm, I’ve been up since 430, because my brain hates me, and I am almost asleep on my feet. You have no idea how exhausting Chinese society is until you’re in it. Every single one of us was performing in one way or another. Always, always, always keep your best face up.

So after a month of somewhat plain Khmer cuisine, I assaulted my body with a variety of spices it didn’t get even in the US. I know I had some kind of fish soup, roasted pig’s feet which were pretty good, some kind of mushroom, potatoes, eggs, and some kind of really rich soup that I really enjoyed.

My stomach is not happy with me.

Then they ordered me some kind of noodle bowl and, seriously guys, I haven’t been eating a lot, like once or twice a day for the last month, this was three times that in one meal and I’d already eaten on the flight. And there was also some kind of mozzarella stick looking thing they told me was rice covered in brown sugar sauce.

I tried a little of each but at that point I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep. Traveling itself is exhausting. Traveling and then preforming for four hours about damn killed me.

Fiiinaaaaalllllyyyy it was time to head to the hostel where I am sharing a room with two of my Chinese teachers. I, according to them, am the only foreign teacher at the school. So it looks like I will have an apartment to myself. Dank Sei Gott.

They’re both really nice, but even with them I feel like I have a face and expectations I have to put on that’s just not there with other Westerners. I may well have to find the ex-pat corner of Yan’an and head down there once a week or so just to relax.

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This is the entrance to the Tang Paradise amusement park. It’s an amusement park based on the Tang dynasty.