Democracy, and Other Hot-Button Issues

Next week is final exam week at our college, so Justin and I have been wrapping things up with our students and saying our goodbyes. I really wanted to do one more “fun” American culture lesson with my students before getting them into their final exams, but I wasn’t sure what to do. Usually I just tell them about western holidays, and we make something crafty (like hand turkeys or green shamrocks) and watch some video clips that I download from the internet. We really didn’t have any special holidays this late in the spring, though (except for Mother’s Day, but the Chinese also celebrate Mother’s Day, so that wouldn’t be very exciting. By the way, after hearing about all of the over-the-top things Chinese children do for their mothers on Mother’s Day, I think mom’s everywhere should be jealous. I asked them if they take their mom out to a restaurant, and they said, “No! Of course not! The children make meals for their mothers themselves. They cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner!” I can’t see that happening in America).

After perusing the textbook a bit, I saw a lesson in which they suggested holding a class election, and I thought, “Perfect! We have Election Day coming up in November! I’ll tell them all about elections!”

I had my PowerPoint all planned out, including some fun facts about our first president and first election, and downloaded some campaign ad videos and presidential candidate debates from the internet. I was all set to go when Justin walked through the room and saw what I was working on and said, “Whoa! You’re going to teach the Chinese about democracy? Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

Shoot. I hadn’t really thought about it that way. My PowerPoint was entitled “All About Elections!” but honestly, elections are the cornerstone of democracy, right? And preaching the wonders of democracy in Communist China is about as dangerous as declaring yourself a communist in America was during the 1940’s and 50’s (if not more dangerous).

So, I was going to have to be very careful with my wording. I made sure to never say anything about Democracy being “good” or “better than Communism.” I made sure to just stick to the facts– “This is how we do elections in America. Strange, isn’t it?” and that sort of thing. Even so, I was feeling a little bit nervous the day I went to teach my “fun” American culture lesson. (Thanks, Justin!)

I was feeling even more nervous when a man I’d never seen before showed up in the back of the room and took pictures of each slide of my PowerPoint. But I don’t think he was a government official (was he??). I have no idea who he was or why he came to my class…but he was smiling and laughing during my presentation, rather than looking disapproving and offended, so I took that as a good sign.

All in all, I don’t think I had anything to be nervous about. Everyone seemed to enjoy learning a little bit about how mysterious American elections work, and some students were even a bit bored by it, just like any American student sitting through a civics lecture might be. Everyone got excited when they saw Obama’s picture on my PowerPoint–they really seem to like him! Whether they like him because his political ideals are so closely aligned to the Communist party’s, or because his name is just really fun to say, I still have yet to determine.

After the lecture/lesson part of the class, we held our own class president election, and it was really fun! My students nominated two people in each class to be presidential candidates, and I had them choose colors and political party names and everything. I had students making campaign signs and slogans, and I had the candidates weighing in on pressing school issues such as, “Should we ban homework?” and “Should cell phones be allowed in class?” Then I had everyone do a secret vote for their favorite candidate, and we collected all of the “ballots” and did a tally up on the blackboard to declare a winner. The students got really into it, even heckling candidates as they made their speeches (all in good fun) and demanding that the winner say a few words by chanting, “SPEECH! SPEECH! SPEECH!” It was really cute.

Here’s a video of my student Russ giving his campaign speech in class. I only caught the last half of it or so. Even if you can’t understand everything that he’s saying, you have to admire his conviction and his ability to really captivate the audience!

During the same week, I did another lesson entitled “Agreeing and Disagreeing” in which the students had to take a stance on different controversial issues such as, “Should China set an age limit for drinking alcohol?” (right now they don’t have one), “Should public smoking be banned?” and “Should China have more population control?” I swear to you, this was straight out of the book! I’m not trying to get arrested right before I head back to the U.S., I promise!

I was surprised to discover that my students held such drastically different opinions on these issues. I’m so used to everyone in China standing together and being united in everything; but in their hearts, they are still individuals with very different viewpoints. I found out that many boys enjoy being able to smoke in public places (restaurants, hotels, buses, etc.) but many girls would like it to be banned. That’s a no-brainer…in traditional China, it is usually only the men who smoke anyways, because it is not a very “feminine” activity and not acceptable for the ladies. Banning public smoking would be a huge lifestyle change for many of the boys in my class. I can’t tell you the shock I had the first time I held class and called a ten-minute break, and all the boys stepped outside the door to light up, right in the hallway! (And then I saw the same boys throwing back beers at lunch time in the school cafeteria!) It took some getting used to.

I was also surprised that my students were split down the middle in their opinion of the one-child policy in China. Many students claimed that it is really necessary to keep the growing Chinese population from getting out of control. Others said that it really isn’t fair, especially since the specifics of the law keep changing every few years. I was proud of the students who spoke out against the law, but I also need to remind them to be careful of what they say in public. What kinds of crazy ideas are they learning in that foreigner’s class? 🙂

During my last classes this week (before the final exams), I got the chance to say goodbye to my students and take some pictures with them. I had a little heart-to-heart with my student Caster during the ten-minute break, and he told me how much the students in his class had improved their English since I became their teacher. He said, “Before your class, their English is all very poor. But now that you are here, they want to talk to you. They study English so that they can say some things and make a good impression on you.” I’d noticed a marked improvement in several of the students in that class, but it was nice to hear Caster really confirm it! I’m going to miss my Chinese students!

Playing a listing game: My students are racing to list English words ending in “ch”

You’ll have to forgive me for teaching in shorts…I usually stick to a nicer dress code, but with no A/C in our classrooms, it is SO HOT!


Our Trip to World Joyland (a.k.a.- A Chinese Rip-Off of Islands of Adventure)

I mentioned in my last post that I was needing a little distraction from my job-application blues, so I promptly planned a trip to Changzhou to visit World Joyland! I’ve been wanting to visit this place ever since we first arrived in China, due to their extensive advertisements on bus-stop billboards and TV commercials. However, I was a little dubious about how good it would be, considering the only pictures I’d ever seen of the place were computer-generated. But Xixigu (pronounced “she she goo,” the Chinese name for the park) actually ended up exceeding my expectations.

I did a little bit of research about Joyland before our trip, to figure out how to get there and to make sure it was really worth going. I was surprised to discover that Joyland is a World of Warcraft themed park, and that die-hard gamers all over the world have been saving up their money and dreaming of making a trip there.

If you don’t know what this is, that’s okay. It’s probably because you HAVE a life…

I wouldn’t recommend this park to those gamers, though, because there wasn’t really a strong World of Warcraft presence there. In fact, I think I saw more Hello Kitty than World of Warcraft…sorry to disappoint the uber-nerds out there. At one point, Justin was searching the gift shops to buy a WoW figurine to bring home to one of his gamer friends, and he only found two in the ENTIRE park, both of which were a little too big for our suitcases (and too expensive!).

But if you’re like me and you’re just looking for some thrill rides and some fantasy/sci-fi atmosphere, then Joyland will not disappoint. Also, if you’re like me, and you’ve frequented the theme parks in Orlando quite a bit (especially Islands of Adventure), you’ll notice some striking similarities.

Start with the logo:

It’s a blatant copy, right? And when we first stepped into the entryway of Joyland, I definitely felt like I was in Islands of Adventure:

Joyland’s entry is on the left, Islands of Adventure’s Port of Entry is on the right.

Some Chinese executives who were a little more than ordinary tourists have definitely taken a visit to Islands of Adventure. And they took some EXTENSIVE notes while they were there. Every time I turned a corner in the park and saw something new, I was amazed (and impressed) by how similar the two parks are. So as far as copyright infringement goes, nice work guys! You did a pretty decent job. Here are some of the major similarities I noticed:

Both parks contain several “islands,” each with their own theme, arranged around a big lake in the center. Joyland’s map is on the left and Islands of Adventure is on the right.

Here is Islands of Adventure’s Seuss Landing…

….and its Joyland counterpart, Mole’s World, complete with fuzzy lollipop trees and everything.

Here is Toon Lagoon at Islands of Adventure…

..and here is Comic World at Joyland. They even have the dogs around the fire hydrant!


Superhero-themed restaurants: Joyland’s on the left and Islands of Adventure on the right.


They even stole the Epcot dome?! Though it’s obviously much smaller than the real one, pictured on the right.

From an engineering standpoint, Justin was pretty impressed with the structure of the buildings in the park. They did have all of the signs of being hastily constructed, but he was half-expecting to see cardboard cutouts of buildings instead of real ones. Everywhere we looked, we saw castles and spaceships made out of real stone and plaster–so they did a pretty nice job! Here are some ride comparisons:

Joyland’s “Anger of Thor” on the left, and Islands of Adventure’s “Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall” on the right. Though the only real comparison here is the happy blue Orlando sky to the dismal gray Chinese sky…

Joyland’s river raft ride on the left, and Islands of Adventure’s Popeye river raft ride on the right. We can hardly call this copyright infringement though…nearly every theme park has a ride like this now. I love how the Chinese tourists are all suited up in blue ponchos!

Joyland’s “Splash of Monster Blood” ride, a copy of the Jurassic Park ride at Islands of Adventure. The drop on this one was not quite as far, and the buildup to the drop was not as dramatic, but the splash was pretty big!

The last ride pictured, called “Heaven Ride of Demogorgon,” didn’t even come close to the quality of the Spiderman ride. They were really trying their best to copy Spiderman, with the way that our little cart would whirl and spin from one movie screen to the next; however, there was definitely something lacking. For one thing, they didn’t really add much decoration to the tunnel that we were traveling through. A couple of times we saw some spider webs and some shabby cloaked skeletons hanging from the ceiling, but for the most part, we were just traveling through a lackluster brick tunnel. There was also either something wrong with my 3-D glasses or something wrong with the movie screens inside of the ride. Every time a monster would reach out towards my face, I would see five fragmented arms coming my way. It made me feel a little cross-eyed, and I kept having to remove my glasses because it was giving me a headache. Also, the ride was really lacking a storyline, which is something I’ve really come to expect after growing up going to Orlando theme parks my whole life. It was difficult to determine who was a bad guy and who was a good guy, and what either group was attempting to accomplish in regards to the city we were “traveling” through. Between the strange lack of dialogue (all evil laughter aside) and the excessive slow-motion effect (applied every time a character decided to throw a knife through the air, or every time a glass window was shattered into a million pieces), when the ride finally came to a stop, I was left in complete confusion, wondering, “What just happened?”

I had a good time reading the signs posted around the park in all their Chinglish glory, describing different rides and attractions. The sign in front of the “Heaven Ride of Demogorgon” read: With thousand years of unstopped wars, this place is forbidden to losers and cowards. We are looking forward to a hero to bring back peace with his sword! We also enjoyed the chance to take some pictures with some World of Warcraft-looking stuff:

Throughout the entire day, as always, we had tourists in the park pointing at us and screaming, “Laowai!” (“foreigners”) and taking photos of us, all of which we handled with dignity and grace (for the most part). So I was a little bit peeved when I finally spotted a park employee wearing a pink wig dressed as a video game character, and I wasn’t allowed to take her picture. I politely approached her and asked if I could have Justin take a picture of the two of us together, and she muttered, “Buyao,” (“Don’t want”) and walked away from me. Um…isn’t that what they’re paying you for? Whatever.

Many of the gift shops around the park were selling generic items and were completely bereft of people. We saw several store cashiers throughout the day glumly leaning over on their cash registers and playing games on their cell phones, looking hopelessly bored. I put it down to the fact that they haven’t tried hard enough to create a unique storyline for any of their attractions. People go to Universal Studios because they want to “ride the movies” and then buy memorabilia from the gift shops to take home. People don’t want to buy from the gift shops if they don’t connect with what was happening on the ride. So to generate a little more income for their gift shops, the Joyland executives decided to do this:

They’ve done so much copyright infringement already, what’s a little more, right? I’m sure Disney would be upset if they knew that Joyland was selling their beloved characters without paying for the rights and without selling them at “Disney” prices (the animals on these shelves were all $10 or less, except for the giant Mickey). Pictured on the right, they also hijacked Pluto, colored him white instead of yellow, and started calling him “Bobdog”–something they’re marketing as their own original Joyland character. These were only a few of the characters they were selling without the rights; I also saw Winnie the Pooh and all his friends, Warner Brothers characters like Tom and Jerry, Snoopy, Hello Kitty, and several popular Chinese cartoon characters.

Justin holding a pillow that says “R.I.P. Steve Jobs 1955-2011” with the famous profile/apple silhouette pictured on the back. Chinese people love Apple products!

There were several aspects of the park that were not copyright infringed, however, and Justin and I were pretty impressed.

This castle tower is the main feature of Joyland, pictured on every poster and every TV advertisement. Unfortunately, it was closed when we went. Now I’ll never know what secrets lie beyond those doors!

This was our favorite ride in the park, a roller coaster called the Sky Scrapper (obviously, it’s supposed to be named “Skyscraper“). There wasn’t a huge line for this ride, which is always a big plus. We also had the opportunity to sit in the very front of the coaster (everyone kept giving us front row seats on every ride, all day long!), which had Justin really jazzed. Most of the Chinese tourists were flocking to the less intimidating kiddie rides instead. I’ve noticed that Chinese people tend to scare easily–it doesn’t take much for them to shriek, “Wo hai pa!” (“I’m scared!”) and go running in the other direction (which we saw many people do while they were standing in line, creeping ever closer to their turn on the roller coaster).

As you can see pictured on the right, this roller coaster was different than anything else Justin and I had ever ridden. They actually situate riders so that they’re facing the ground, flying like Superman! We’ve been through drops, loops, and corkscrew turns before, but everything felt more intense when we were riding suspended to the track with our bellies facing the ground. The ride lasted just long enough too–any longer, and I might have passed out from all the blood that was rushing to my head. It was a physical relief when the attendants put our seats back into the vertical position. As I exited the ride, I saw that I wasn’t the only one wiping snot and tears from my face, and that’s really the trademark of an excellent roller coaster, isn’t it?

Another feature in the park that Joyland executives came up with all by themselves were some of the strangest characters I have ever seen. In the late afternoon, they put on a show using the lake in the center of the park, complete with pirate ships, dragons, and someone in a giant Hello Kitty costume operating a jet ski! The opera singer who rose up out of the island in the center of the lake was a bit too-high pitched for my musical taste, but I think she did help them achieve the dramatic effect they were going for. Overall, it was a pretty impressive display:

Justin and I both give Joyland an A+ for decor and atmosphere, but only a B- for rides (which is pretty generous since half of the rides were closed when we visited). It’s an interesting place to check out, but if Islands of Adventure in Orlando is closer for you to visit, you would probably be better off seeing the original. 😉

I’ll leave you with a fun instructional video about safety while riding the “Heaven Ride of Demogorgon.” Justin and I got a kick out of it:

Forget Road Rage. I’ve got Job-Application-Rage!

All of my students keep informing me that today (in China at least) is Children’s Day! A day to celebrate children and give them gifts. After class today, my student Anna explained to me how she (and many others) plan to celebrate. “I will go to play with some children today. Will you?” No, thanks. I didn’t want to burst anyone’s bubble by telling them that in America, every day is Children’s Day. American children get to sit around and play video games, watch movies, or maybe go on a trip to the zoo and get some ice cream afterwards. In China, it’s much different. I am always seeing little boys in the street, all unbathed looking, playing with sticks and rubbish that they found in the ditch. Somebody give these boys a NERF gun, for crying out loud! However, most of the children I see in China don’t have time to play. Their parents are always putting them to work–washing dishes, waiting tables, etc. Once we went to a store to buy Justin a new pair of glasses, and an eight-year old girl was operating the *dangerous* laser lens-cutting machine! I watched in horror, hoping that she wouldn’t lose a finger. For children such as these, I think holding a holiday in their honor isn’t such a bad idea. They need a break from their forty-hour work week!

In other news, this week I have officially begun searching for a job back in the States.  There’s nothing like a nice, shocking dose of reality to bring me back from the China dream-world I’ve been living in. Getting a teaching job in China was almost too easy, and ever since I’ve been here, I get random people coming up to me on the street and offering me jobs. All the time. I’ve got to resign myself to the fact that obtaining a job in America will NEVER be that easy.

Even more discouraging are the hoops that I must jump through to even apply for a job. Gone are the days of filling out a one to two page application by hand. Now everything is online, and every application is fifteen pages long, with multiple required documents to upload. Gone are the days of writing “references will be furnished upon request.” Even if they’re not seriously considering hiring me, most school districts refuse to even accept my application unless I allow them to send annoying surveys and letter requests to the people I’ve listed as references. I plan on applying to as many places as possible, so it’s pretty much guaranteed that my references are going to HATE me by the time I finally land a job. They’ve had to fill out four electronic surveys already, and I’m only in my first week of searching.

The worst part about these job applications is the ridiculously invasive questions I’ve been asked.

Multiple job applications have asked for “a record of all work experience (not including certified teaching experience) since high school completion.” Really? They want to know about everything? Even the part time job I held the summer after my high school graduation, when I worked for a bookstore? My boss’s name was Debra (I can’t remember her last name), and the store went out of business shortly after I quit working there, so there is no phone number to list. How useful is that “record”? And how embarrassing is it that I have to list my summers working at Tweetsie Railroad on my professional job application? I never knew that would come back to haunt me. But the problem is–what if I was like 60 years old? How would I remember every job that I’d ever worked since high school? “Well, I was the successful manager of a neighborhood lemonade stand in the summer of ’71…”

One job application confused me by instructing me to record all work experience since high school completion, and then further down the page in bold letters, instructing me to only record work experience since college completion. Which one am I supposed to do? Is this part of the test? I ended up following the instructions in bold letters, both because I was too lazy to list all of my silly summer jobs again, and because bold letters make everything seem more important.

Pretty much every job application has the criminal background questions worded in confusing legal jargon. Have you ever been convicted, pled guilty, or pled nolo contendere (whatever that means) to a criminal offense, etc. But the questions have gotten nosier and nosier over the years. Now they ask things like, “Have you ever had a criminal offense expunged from your record?” I’m pretty sure those people pay to have things “expunged” for a reason. “Have you ever resigned in lieu of being dismissed?” You think I’m really going to tell you? And this is the first time I’ve ever come across this one: “Have you ever been convicted of any traffic or moving violations? If you answered yes, please provide detailed information including case numbers, dates of action, dispositions, places of occurrence, and current status of all.” Are you kidding me?! They want to know about every speeding ticket I’ve ever gotten since the age of sixteen? Do they think I’ve framed them and hung them on the walls and cherished the memories? No! I pay them, and then I throw them away. I know there are some smug readers out there bragging to their computer screens right now saying, “Oh, well I’ve NEVER gotten a ticket.” Well, good for you! And you can wipe that smug smile off of your face! For the rest of you who have ever been late to work or late to the movies or just in a hurry, I hope you will join me in agreeing that this is a ridiculous and irrelevant question, and besides that, impossible to furnish the detailed response they’re looking for. What does my driving record have to do with my teaching ability? Answer me that!

I can probably cross that school district off of my potential job list. The snarky response I wanted to type into their box exceeded the character limit anyways.

I had another school give me dire warnings in italic letters to please not indicate my sex, age, race, religion, or national origin on my application! Then of course, ironically, the next page of the application asked me to decide whether I optionally wanted fill in my sex, age, race and national origin. They also enigmatically asked me to “make a brief statement regarding my thoughts on diversity, including various facets of my life that might contribute to said thoughts/beliefs such as early education, socio-economic status, culture, race/ethnicity, and work experience.” Is this another part of the test?

My least favorite part of the job applications this time around was the question, “Have you ever had a contract non-renewed? If you answered yes, please briefly explain the circumstances.” *Sigh.* I hate that I have to answer “yes” to this question now. And I also hate that the question is worded using the word “ever,” which means that even when I’m sixty years old and filling out job applications (Let’s hope not! I would like to have found a steady job by then!), I will still have to explain why I was let go from my job thirty-five years ago. How discouraging is that?

No, there’s nothing quite like filling out job applications that makes me feel so woefully incompetent. I’m going to have to find something extra exciting from the harsh reality of my job search this weekend! And I think I know just the thing…


My First Blog Award!

For those of my family and friends who read this blog but aren’t really in the blogger community, there are many different varieties of blog awards floating around out there. While my dream is to be Freshly Pressed (which basically means my blog being chosen by the corporate Big Wigs who run the WordPress site to be featured on their homepage, which is visited by THOUSANDS and thousands of people every day), I also think that blogger awards are a really nice idea and a bit more meaningful. Blog awards are not awarded by corporate Big Wigs–they are awarded by other bloggers, and are really the blogging community’s way of saying, “Come look at this blog! I think it’s really cool.” I have discovered a handful of really interesting blogs after seeing them nominated for blog awards, and hopefully some new people will discover my blog after seeing it nominated as well!

I am really excited because this is my first blog award ever! The Lovely Blog Award:

Isn’t it pretty? Now, some contingencies come along with this award. I obviously need to give a shout out to the blogger who gave it to me. I need to list seven random facts about myself, and also nominate fifteen more bloggers for the award. EEK! I don’t know if I read fifteen other blogs, so I may have to cut that list in half. Makes it that much more special for the people being nominated, right?

First, a big thanks to VividHunter for giving me this award. I really enjoy perusing her blog about Japan (it makes me wish that Justin and I had spent a little more time there). She has a lot of great photos and travel advice to share after living there for five years and teaching English there (English teachers, unite!). She also met her husband there (that’s quite a souvenir! ;-)) and I believe they now live in Australia, which is where she’s from. However, I was surprised to see that she nominated me on her other blog, The (anti) Procrastination Diaries, which is more about her daily life and her struggles/triumphs as an aspiring author. How cool is that? I didn’t even know she had this blog, but I now officially have two blogger friends (the other has been nominated on the list below) who are aspiring inspiring authors, which really encourages me to get out there and try to get something published as well. Like VividHunter, I am also thinking about starting a new blog once I am no longer “lost on planet China,” just because I’ve become really fond of blogging.

Now, onto a list of seven random things about myself:

1. For my entire life, I’ve really hated mushrooms (on pizza, out of a can, whatever). However, in China, I cannot get enough of the really bizarre Asian-variety of mushrooms they have here! Some are long, skinny white threads, some are rubbery and blackish/green and almost look like seaweed, and some are big and brown with the umbrella-shaped cap and the big stem. They have such different tastes, and I love them all! I eat mushrooms on almost a daily basis now.

2. Justin and I harbor a dream of adopting a husky dog. I’ve never owned a big dog before, but Justin refuses to allow me to adopt a little fluffy, yappy, “un-manly” puppy.  We would need to wait until we have a place with a backyard that he can romp around in, but if The Fonz (our cat) gives us his blessing, I think it could be really fun.

3. When we first decided to go to China, I was terrified, but now that we’re about to head back, I’m a little bit scared of what awaits us at home. Unemployment? A dying economy? Take Back [enter city name here] protests and all of the cutthroat political ads that are probably airing on TV? AHHH! Maybe we should just stay here. (Just kidding…we are definitely coming home, don’t worry.)

4. I am a really big fan of acapella music. Not necessarily old guys singing barbershop quartet or anything, but there are quite a few younger groups out there making acapella arrangements to Top 40 songs that are really good. Pentatonix is one that I recently discovered on YouTube. I also belatedly realized that they debuted a TV show (on NBC) called The Sing Off in which different acapella groups from around the country compete. It aired in the fall when we first arrived in China, so I missed it, but I’ll be tuning in for the upcoming season when we’re back in the States!

5. I’m afraid that I’m losing my taste for sweets. We were cleaning out our cupboards and we found a forgotten bag of snacks that we packed and brought with us from America back in September. There was a strawberry Nutrigrain bar in there, and I was a bit surprised at how sickeningly sweet it tasted. I can’t believe I used to eat those all the time! We had to throw it away.

6. I secretly dream of learning how to play the banjo, especially if we end up moving to Tennessee when we return to America. I can picture myself going to an outdoorsy concert, and the band about to perform on stage says, “Hang on a minute! Where’s Lem? We can’t start without our banjo player!” and I’ll say, “Well, I just so happen to be a banjo player!” And they’ll invite me up on stage and I’ll wow the audience with my awesome finger-picking skills…

7. Lastly, Justin and I definitely have the travel bug, and we want to continue traveling in the future, even if it’s just within the United States for awhile. We have a dream of renting a camper/RV and taking the Great American road trip one summer, all the way from the east coast to the west coast and back again. For Justin, this fantasy would also involve seeing a game in nearly every Major League Baseball stadium across the country. For me, it would involve stopping at all of the “World’s Largest” attractions, even if it’s something silly like “The World’s Largest Wooden Spoon!” and especially if it’s something incredible like “The World’s Largest Cheeseburger!” VividHunter has inspired me to make this dream trip a reality because she and her husband recently took the Great Australian Road Trip and blogged about everything along the way.

Now, onto my nominations for The Lovely Blog Award:

Victoria Writes: This British blogger has won so many blogging awards that when she sees this, she’ll probably roll her eyes and say, “Another one?” (It’s okay if you can’t devote another post to announcing your award nomination and telling everyone how great you are…I understand. ;-)) She is the other aspiring author I mentioned earlier. She has recently bravely quit her day job to focus on writing, and gives her readers weekly insights into what she’s reading, what she’s writing, and the ins and outs of trying to get published.

Becoming Cliche: This is a blog from an American mom with three kids, and she is hilarious! This is where I go for my daily laugh, and also for my insight into what it’s like to be a mom and (from the children’s perspective, at least) become “cliche.”

This Italian Family: I started following this blogger when I realized we had some uncanny similarities. We’re both named Rachel, we’re both in our twenties, we both married Italian guys and now have Italian last names, and we have both lived in China! How cool is that? Rachel posts a lot of pictures and updates about what goes on in her Tennessee life, and also frequently shares really delicious-looking recipes that I can’t wait to try when I get back home.

The Byronic Man: Another hilarious blog with so many followers that this is probably the umpteenth blogging award he’s received. He is a PROFESSIONAL comedian, so his witty take on pop culture events, his entertaining perspective on events in his own life, and his weekly contests are always a treat!

Happiest Baby in the World: This blog comes from a fellow China ex-pat couple living in the Sichuan province. Their sweet little baby girl is in China with them (her pictures are so cute!), AND they’re doing post-graduate research on panda bears–how cool is that? I really enjoy looking through their photos and hearing their stories about Chinese life–I can usually really relate!

Adventures on the Road: No wonder I’m longing to take a road trip across America! Traci Lee has a marketing job that requires her to travel (lucky!) from coast to coast, all over the U.S., and each time she goes to a new place, she blogs about it and take gorgeous photos that make me feel like I’m there. I originally found her when she was Freshly Pressed after writing a poignant post called “A Letter To My Sixteen Year Old Self.”

Plus Ultra: Another travel blog that I really enjoy! James is from Hong Kong, and it seems like he has traveled to just about every country in Asia and Europe, and then some! He chronicles his journeys with stunning photos and well-written, National-Geographic-worthy articles. Prepare to be blown away–James has a veritable travel magazine going on in his blog! Of course I really love his posts about China, especially his post about The Great Wall that earned him Freshly Pressed status.

The Good Kind of Random: Okay, I feel like this is cheating a little bit. I’ve actually known Micah personally, long before he ever had a blog. I know what you’re thinking–“You’re only giving him an award because he’s your friend!” Not true! Micah is in the U.S. Air Force and he has been deployed to Afghanistan. He gives interesting updates on what’s really going on over there, from serious issues (like his unbiased opinion of how the new Afghanistan government is faring) to sillier ones (like bathroom manners, or lack thereof, on the base). It’s an interesting read!

I nominated eight blogs instead of fifteen. That’s about as many as I can faithfully keep up with. Now go check them out! 😀

Polka Dots and Peter Pan Collars–The Interesting Fashions of China

I’m no fashion guru. And I’m certainly not a trendsetter. I usually come in on the end of a fashion trend, when it’s become so ubiquitous that I’m not afraid to try it out. But I can’t live in China for an entire year without commenting on how…ahem…interesting the fashion is here.

The first time I noticed a fashion disaster walking down the sidewalk, I thought it was laundry day. “Poor girl,” I thought. “All her clothes are in the wash and she had to throw on the mismatched pieces that were still clean.” Wrong. I quickly discovered that girls in China dress this way intentionally, throwing together ensembles that would have won them first place on Tacky Day during Homecoming Week in high school.

But it didn’t take me too long to transition from balking at it to trying it out for myself. There is an incredible amount of freedom in being able to throw open the wardrobe doors and just wear whatever your hands land on first, matching or not. Gone is the cry of, “I have nothing to wear!” No one here in China will judge me if I wear one purple sock and one pink sock. Or if I wear my leopard-print scarf with my blue polka dot blouse. And if they do judge me, I’ll never know because they’ll be talking about me in Chinese.

I’ve also made a few fashion faux paus of my own since being in China. I have a pair of flare jeans with a rip over one knee that I wore out on the streets with pride until I looked around and noticed…no one else is wearing flare jeans. Everyone in China wears skinny jeans only, guys and girls alike! And I also had one too many concerned friends point to my knee and say, “Oh no, your pants are torn! What happened?” and recommend a seamstress to patch them for me. I also realized that I was the only one wearing Capri pants. Well, the only girl at least. Capri pants are very popular with boys in China, much to Justin’s dismay.

So for your viewing pleasure, here is my list of the Top 10 Tacky Items That Are Socially Acceptable To Wear In China:

10. Ugly Sweaters

It’s like someone raided Bill Cosby’s entire closet and sent it all to China.

Hey, don’t get mad at me, Bill. I’m not the one who stole your sweaters!

9. Peter Pan Collars

Yup…I’m all set for my third grade school yearbook photo.

Now, maybe I have to make a bit of a concession here. After doing a bit of searching for the term “Peter Pan Collar” online to find a picture to show you, I saw that they are showing up on western fashion models and may be making a bit of a comeback in the fashion world. But personally, I don’t think I could wear one without getting the urge to go play hopscotch and give myself a cootie shot.

8. Overalls

I thought overalls were only for 90’s era angsty teens and country farmhands. Silly me!

7. Polka Dots

Just throw on a polka-dot shirt and you’re good to go!

6. Giant Hair Bows

If Minnie Mouse would wear it, then why can’t you? The bigger, the better!

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit…I’ve also tried a hair bow on for size. Don’t knock it til’ you’ve tried it! But don’t think I’ll be sporting any bows in my hair back in the U.S…

5. Two-piece Pajamas as Day-wear

By all means, guys, wear that out on the street. Wear it to work, if you want! Gives “Casual Friday” a whole new playing field…


Justin claims he saw a girl dressed in TIGER PAJAMAS walking to class the other day. I believe it! Nothing surprises me anymore.

4. Glasses without Lenses

So what if we have perfect 20/20 vision? We want to wear glasses, darnit!

3. “Old Man” Hats–of the Bowler and Barbershop Quartet Variety

Have you been raiding Grandpa’s closet again?


In China, no one gives me a second glance if I step out of the house dressed like this…

2. Wearing Leggings as Pants

Uhh….did you forget something? ::Shudder::



I saved the best for last….


Are you ready for it?…..


Because I’m not sure….


You can’t…


::Cue Music:: You can’t touch this!

1. Parachute Pants!!

At least she’s wearing them in black. I usually see striped and polka-dot parachute pants. ALL. THE. TIME.


M.C. would be proud! Maybe he should move to China! Or just have his entire wardrobe shipped here. Hey, wait a minute…

I’m not sure what I’ll do when I get back into America and I’m surrounded with really fashionable people again. It will be a huge culture shock! Do you think I could pull off wearing my parachute pants back in the States? 😉

Saying Goodbye to Kasia

Unfortunately, this week our British ex-pat friend Kasia is heading back home to the U.K. Due to her school “forgetting” to renew her monthly visa, she is leaving a full month earlier than she had originally planned, which is a big shame! But I’ve lost track of how many times Kasia’s school has failed to hold up their end of the bargain…they are a really bad company, so good riddance to them! In fact, she is working right up until the day she departs for the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai because they “just don’t have her final paycheck ready yet.” Unbelievable!

We got to know Kasia back in October when we first moved here. She had already been here a full month before us and had somehow already mastered conversational Mandarin. Incredible! She spent her first month here feeling confused and a little misled about the severe lack of foreigners living in Huzhou (as did we), and told us that she learned Chinese so quickly because it was that, or have no one to talk to all day. She found me when she stumbled across this blog (yay!), and we met up with her for steak and coffee and schemed how to find some other foreigners in this town. It wasn’t until around Christmas that we finally met Connie (also from England), Mark from Canada, Len from the Philippines, and several other foreigners who were hiding in different schools around the area.

This past weekend, we attended Kasia’s sendoff dinner and also did a little dancing afterwards. We didn’t want to bring Kasia a gift that she would have to take home with her (we understand how difficult a task it is to pack a year into a suitcase), so Justin had the brilliant idea to bring her a cake. So, we ate a delicious feast of several courses, and had some cake for dessert. It was my first time eating cake with chopsticks! After cake, Peter, one of our Chinese friends, was still feeling a bit peckish, and he ordered a giant steamed fish (so I suppose we actually had fish for dessert). And as always, the baijiu (liquor) that our friend Huolin brought was freely flowing, and everyone had a cup or two to toast with, whether they wanted it or not.

After dinner, we headed to a “club” to go dancing. It wasn’t a dance club in the sense that you may be thinking; it was a place specializing in ballroom dance. I felt like we were the youngest people in the room, but I still enjoyed it immensely more than I would have enjoyed a younger “raver” club.  Instead of alcohol, they served traditional Chinese hot tea, and they had a staff of professional dancers waiting on the sidelines of the dance floor to snatch up anyone who didn’t have a partner–how nice! Justin’s first impression of the decor of the place was, “This looks like a high school prom!” True, it did have many streamers and lanterns and silk flowers hanging from the ceiling, accompanied by the obligatory disco ball. Our friend Peter had apparently been to this place so many times that they let our entire group in for free, and immediately brought us all bottled waters after we sat down.

However, we weren’t sitting down for long. Justin and I realized a long time ago that Chinese people are pushers. They push us to drink (“Have a little more! Drink up!” forcing us to cover or hide our glass to avoid a refill), they push us to eat (“You can’t be full yet! You need to eat some more!” they say, as they pile food onto our plates even after we’ve insisted that we’re done eating), and I shouldn’t have been surprised when they pushed us to dance. Almost as soon as we sat down, a dancer employed by the club (wearing a uniform of black pants and a black polo shirt) came over to me and extended his hand, inviting me to dance. I was caught off-guard and replied, “Wo buyao,” (“I don’t want”) shaking my head but smiling so that I wouldn’t seem too unfriendly. However, I must have forgotten that Chinese people rarely take “no” for an answer. He just kept standing there, holding out his hand, repeating some sort of encouragement in Chinese similar to, “Come on! Come on!” Justin repeated for me in Chinese, “She doesn’t want,” and the black-shirted man finally gave up. But that didn’t stop him (or his fellow employees) from stopping by during the following songs to try again, and again, and again…

I really prefer just watching, but I reluctantly decided that I was going to have to dance to at least a few songs. When I say that I’m a bad dancer, I’m not just being modest. It’s as if I have giant cinder-blocks tied to my feet, making my every step clumsy and cumbersome. Justin took me out on the dance floor for one of the waltzes to save me from the persistent black-shirted men, and immediately regretted his decision.  “Just step in time with the song,” he suggested, and “Follow my lead,” he instructed, after I’d stepped on his feet several times. People were gracefully whirling and spinning around us at an alarming speed, and I just couldn’t seem to catch up. I realized with chagrin that spinning and baijiu definitely do not mix well.

After that, I was able to sit out for the next few songs under the pretense that I was taking pictures of my friends (and I really was! You can see some of my pictures below). Kasia was much more graceful on the dance floor than I was, I noted, and Justin, as always, was fearless with what he was willing to try. The Chinese ladies soon snatched him up as a partner, eager to have the chance to dance with a foreigner. However, I wasn’t able to watch him for long, as a black-shirted man made a beeline for me when the next waltz started playing. I bashfully accepted his hand, knowing that I was about to make a complete fool of myself, but I was glad that he would at least win the bet he probably had going with the other black shirts about who would get me to dance first.

I felt like we had our elbows held out ridiculously high, as if we were competitors on Dancing With the Stars. He took off across the floor at an amazing speed, and I felt like I was running in my effort to keep up. He soon started feeding me instructions, just like Justin did, except his were all in Chinese and I had no idea what he was saying. When I would tell him (in Chinese) that I didn’t understand, and explain that my Chinese is no good, he would simply speak louder and slower, as if that would help. I did understand when he started counting in Chinese, “One, two, three….one, two, three,” when my clumsy cinder-block feet started bumbling and stepping on his. I was not able to elegantly stick my nose high in the air as I waltzed like the other dancers did; I had to keep my eyes glued to his feet so I wouldn’t mess up. When I finally started to get the hang of the basic steps, he got so excited that he tried to do some fancier moves, and even attempted to dip me. He may possibly have warned me (in Chinese) before doing the dip, but I’ll never know. All I know is that instead of popping my leg deftly into the air, I accidentally kicked it into his shin in my surprise. At least that encouraged the other black shirts to avoid me for the next few songs. He spun me so many times at the end of the song that I almost toppled over as I dizzily returned to my chair.

Justin dancing like a pro


Kasia dancing with one of the black shirts


Me dancing with Huolin and staring at our feet so I don’t mess up

All-in-all, it was a really fun evening and a nice way to say goodbye to Kasia before she heads back home. We will miss her! Some memories from the past year:

Riding on a boat through Zhujiajiao, a water town, in early November


Remember this? THIS was Kasia’s idea (and she’s the one who took the picture).


Meeting up with a few foreigners at a karaoke bar called 1912 on Christmas Eve


Waiting for midnight to arrive on the Bund at Shanghai for New Year’s Eve


Playing at the Huzhou Science Museum in February


Girl’s Night Out with Connie and Kasia


Learning to play Mahjong in March

Kasia’s 30th Birthday Dinner

Have a safe flight and good luck back in England, Kasia! Who knows, maybe we will bump into you again sometime… 🙂

Comic Book Showcase

A few weeks ago, I was searching for some new, exciting lesson plans for my classes and I stumbled upon this website:Grammar Man Comic. It’s a web-quest designed specifically for ESL students! I was pretty excited, though my excitement was tempered when I asked the teachers in the English office if I would be able to take my class to the rarely-used computer lab on campus, and they told me “it is impossible. The English teachers do not have access to the computer lab. It is only to be used by a different department.” Oh well. I decided to go forward with the Comic Book idea anyways, and I think my students really enjoyed it!

For our initial lesson, we did some “research” on some comic book characters that are already out there (Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) and talked about their common traits. We noted that it is really popular for comic book heroes to be orphans, and also that comic book heroes are almost always “the good guys,” taking a stand against criminals and evil-doers. Then I had my students create their own comic book characters (not just illustrations, but a full bio and back-story about the character). For the second lesson, I had my students split into groups and vote on their favorite character in the group (and of course, I had the groups that had a four-way tie going because each group member felt that they personally created the best comic ::eye-roll::). Then I tasked each group with creating a comic book story about the character that they had chosen, complete with a conflict/battle scene and a nice resolution. Some of them were excited, and some of them groaned, saying, “Teacher! It is too difficult!” (And yes, they really call me “teacher,” like it’s my name.)

The following week, I was really impressed by many of the resulting comics. I found that generally, the people lacking in artistic skills came up with a pretty creative story (if I were in this class, I’m sure I would fall into this category). And vice versa, the groups that had really incredible artwork were lacking in story. I’ve included a bunch of scanned copies below for you to take a look at:

Here’s one about Luffy (who I’m pretty sure isn’t an original creation. Oh well.):

Here’s another about Ian the alien:

Here’s one featuring the Powder Puff Girls:

This one is about a boy named Gourd:

This one is a strange story about a cat/dog inbred creature named Mimi:

This one is a pretty good story about a little cat named Niko. I’ve typed out the words below in case they’re too small to read:

“It is a winter morning. At the gate of the orphanage, there was a little cat. He was so hungry, and looks like so poor. The orphanage adopted the little cat. He was called Niko. Niko likes singing song. His voice is wonderful. Everyone in the orphanage all likes Niko because he likes to help others. Niko has many good friends: Amy, Mimi, Lucky…There is a bad cat called Andy in the small town. He was strong and really bad. Andy always bullies other people, rob other children’s candy and food. Niko want to help people to punish Andy, so he decided to challenge Andy to a fight. At last, Niko defeated Andy become the winner. Andy also promise he won’t bullies people again. Everyone is so happy.”

Cute, right? Here’s one about another orphan named Kodi:

“In ancient times, a family of three people were visiting their relatives or the way. Suddenly, a robber turned up to stop them. He killed the parents and took their money. Later, the kid was discovered by the Buddhist monk. They took him to their temple which was on the mountain. They adopted him for 20 years. They called him ‘Kodi’. Day by day, Kodi has grown up. He takes exercise every day. He enjoys himself every time. He becomes stronger and stronger. One day, a group of robbers planned to rob a town which is on the feet of the mountain. When he heard the news, he took his brothers to save the town and uniformed the robbers. After they arrived the town, the found several robber were robbing the town. So they run up and fighted them. Finally, they won. They were loved by the people in the town.”

And finally, I have a few poster-sized pieces of artwork that were handed in. They were too large to scan, so I snapped some pictures of them. I was really impressed!

I really enjoyed this activity! Only about one more month left before school is out, and we’ll be headed back home shortly after! 😀