Monday, October 20, 2008


this week, i was responsible for teaching about one hundred and twenty children about body parts. it pretty much resulted in the most fun saturday and sunday i have ever spent teaching. on saturday we played the hokey pokey for hours, and i took them all outside into the courtyard in the front of our school building and we made a huge huge hokey pokey circle. on sunday, we drew MONSTERS! then talked about their body parts
i think my favorite thing about these past few days of teaching is that it was so encouraging.  sometimes i get really nervous about the kids not having much imagination because so often they are taught like robots, and praised exclusively for being able to regurgitate information. i shouldn't have worried, because they LOVED dancing outside and singing the hokey pokey (maybe because i was pretty much making a huge fool of myself in front of a bunch of adults, maybe because the hokey pokey is awesome), and their MONSTERS! are incredibly individual. i was rather expecting them to copy the basic boring monster that was in the book, and i think only one or two kids did. 
this week is my teacher observation, where i will prepare a lesson and teach it to all of my coworkers- both the foreign and chinese teachers- and then they will critique me. i'm a little nervous, because i am not really confident in my ability to teach a cohesive and interesting lesson.  after watching one of the veterans last week ( a man named jim who has an incredible amount of wisdom) i have become even more aware of my lack of things that take age and experience to accumulate. 
i have been responding to my lack of experience by being slower, not rushing, and not letting myself feel harried by my students. i am trying to change the way i present myself, and i think that my past attitude has been one of "you're going to learn english OR ELSE!" and now i think i want it to be one of  "hey, i want YOU to learn english if you want you to learn english". i am working on letting kids have a bit of leeway when they are goofing off, and having them adapt to more of a team mentality. this is the first time in my life maybe that i have felt like i need to become more consistent and reliable in my attitude and treatment of situations in order to be fair to people around me, especially my students. 
i think this past weekend they really did well with my change in attitude. we were able to do fun learning things, then calm down incredibly quickly and get back to  less fun, but necessary stuff.  i am getting more and more hopeful about these kids and my ability to teach them, i really hope that the observation this week does not shatter me. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

a cloudy day and a warm bed. 一个多云日和一张温暖的床

this is the first complete "day off" that i have had in almost four weeks. no lessons, no teaching, no childcare, and no reason to leave the house. i am reveling.  i am mildly disappointed in myself because it's nine am and after naturally waking at eight in the morning, i can't go back to sleep. does this mean i am growing up? or that my internal clock has been eternally tuned to a schedule of morning work? will i never again be able to sleep in to ridiculously teenage hours of one or two in the afternoon?  it may be a blessing, a delightful turn in events. perhaps i will accomplish incredible things in the morning, or join a gym, or journal in the early hours. this could be the start of something amazing. maybe i will become a regular blogger. 
it has been a while since my last post, and i feel like i have so many things to catch up on. in all honesty, i have been mainly occupied with teaching, babysitting and (bane of all banes) learning chinese.  these things, on their own, are not too enthralling (except for the babysitting, of course) but because i am in qinghai, everything becomes incredible in the right light. 
these past few days at school, i feel like my classes and i have settled into a comfortable routine. we are fun, and we do the lessons and i think they may even respect me a little. i have my favorites, which is probably a bad thing, but they are such sweet kids. 
My Favorite Class (got a little excited about the camera)
this kid with the double victory ears is fantastic. he has the best bowl cut in the world.
i have also been teaching in a small town (effectively called er shi si (24) for its distance away from xining) for one of my co-teachers who is currently visiting america. the classes are small, and incredibly intelligent. i stayed there till about ten pm on monday teaching the older kids slang words for throwing up (puke, upchuck, ralph, blow chunks, hurl, vomit). they ask about things like the civil war and racism in america, and they are starting to understand sarcasm and irony. i love them. from what i understand, their town (24) is a small company town that is a suburb (if those exist in china) of datong, a small city that supports an aluminum factory. when i get into town at 5:30 or 6 p.m. there is propaganda and music being played over the town loudspeakers. i think i am going to try to spend some time exploring that area before it gets too cold. 
i managed to leave town for a few days last weekend. i visited the famous qinghai lake, and met a norwegian man named carl who has a home and tibetan school out on the plateau. i went with my fantastic new friends sara and clara who are from austria and singapore, respectively.  they are pretty encouraging. i've been missing lady time. 
.clara.sara.tibetan plateau.
i think the entire weekend can be summed up by saying that i caught my breath. after driving a few hours out of xining, seeing leaves changing color, yaks and sheep being herded in vast pastures, farms and fields being harvested, and a different pace of life, i felt new and encouraged. i think it is so easy to get caught up in all this concrete and bustle that we make cities into. i have become so intimidated by all of this difficulty surrounding unknown language and the habits and customs of unfamiliar people and cultures, but removing myself from that was the perfect reprieve. i can understand mountains and animals and shepherding and being cold and growing things.  and now, the city does not seem as daunting and overwhelming.  
the morning after we arrived at carl's place, we took off at about eleven to make our way to the lake. as best as we can tell, we walked about 15 kilometers over the day, and after reaching our horizon a few times, we made it to the lake! on the way we saw horses and sheep and goats and yak. it was a cloudy day, but it was such a nice walk. once we got close to the lake, the land turned into this black, muddy, marshy swamp and we trekked through with our pants cuffed and our socks off.  i liked it. 
 qinghai lake is pretty much an ocean. it is the largest salt lake in china, and when you stand on the edge, it's tough to see the other side. it's got black sand edges and the waves make the sand undulate like small desert dunes under the surface of the water. it freezes over in the winter, and i want to go back then and walk across it. there's a famous bird island in the middle, and so many birds were all around while we were walking out.  we only stuck around for a little (we nixed the plan to swim due to the weather) because it was starting to rain, and then we meandered back to the house, hopping fences and encountering high jumping yak and angry dogs.  it was cold, but so wonderful to get my legs moving on something other than cement. 
here are some photos from my weekend:
this is the view from carl's house. can you imagine seeing this every day?
these flowers were like little ground anemones. 
and these flowers were in various stages of bloom all over the swamp 
the brown stuff is mud. deep, slick mud. 
the colors here are so rich.
we helped herd these sheep. the spotted one is my favorite.
prayer flags. cliche. but the interesting thing is this: because the lake is holy to buddhists, they often pilgrimage around it, praying and prostrating and putting up items pertaining to their prayers. thus, the place is littered with scraps of prayers and other things... and actually can get really messy and dirty looking.
this is my friend stuart. carl hasn't named him, but i fed him apples and carrots and bananas. i think he loves me even though he is an ornery old man horse who bit sara on the hip. maybe he was flirting.
sometimes it is easy to forget about the sky.
after we got back, i drank tea near the stove for hours to warm up. 
on the drive home, we could see all of the stalks of different plants, bundled and ready to burn. 
so, that was most of my plateau adventure. then i returned to the city and went on a special secret agent adventure with three of my favorite kids. we were looking for codes.  it's always fun to walk around xining with caucasian children, but it attracts even more attention when there are THREE OF THEM. in a place where one child is the norm, having three shiningly white boys running around is cause for stares and conversation. i can't understand everything, but most of what i can understand is something like "look at the american/foreigner, she has three boys! they are so cute. look at her hair! oh my! three boys!" and then they touch the baby and pat the other kids on the head. it's all very funny sometimes, but eventually we (caleb, jacob, david and i) tire of it. i am developing a disguise for the winter that will allow me to walk around in (hopefully) complete anonymity. now if i could just get rid of my accent.  
the other day i received a fantastic compliment. sara, clara and i were clothes shopping at this market, and i was getting into the bartering groove. first, one terribly intimidating woman clapped me on the back after a bartering banter and exchange (i got her to go down 50%!), then, in the next store, i bartered for a jacket for me and a shirt for sara. then clara, who is pretty much fluent in chinese (because she's so so smart) started bartering for a jacket, and the woman would not give her a good deal. so she was like "why did you give her such a good deal on those coats, but you won't give me a good deal?" and the woman said (get this) "because she (meaning ME!) is so good at bartering"... AWESOME! it pretty much made me happy for three days. sometimes now i sit and think of it and smile.  
i think that is most of it. i'm heading out to mengda nature reserve this week (because i have so much time off) and we might get super adventurous because the boys are coming with us. i'll be back by monday. 
also. happy national day!