Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lao Shan

This weekend after our week from hell E and I had some homey time in Qingdao which included celebrating a friend's birthday, experiencing China on the big screen watching "Kung Fu Panda" - we both loved it, and climbing Lao Shan.

Here are some pictures from Lao Shan in an area called Bei Jiu Shui (North Nine Waters) just a half hour from our apartment in the city; the mountains here look so different from any I've seen in the States. Looking at them I'm always reminded of making drippy sand castles at the beach.

It felt like summer finally to get out and spend a day getting dirty.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Singing Zai Jian to the Semester

Why is it that goodbyes always seem to take place when you're in a state of total exhaustion?

This week at least, it's because I've been teaching double. In exchange for a tricky visa extension that has allowed us to stay in China for the Olympics as planned (and a little more pay), Ethan and I have signed on to teach for six additional weeks at OU in a summer program for Alabama-bound students. The new group of students is dreamily small (only 12 so far!), but this week we've been juggling the teaching commitments of getting this new program up and running as well as finishing out the final week with our other 200+ students. But for me at least, the madness is over. Poor Ethan still has to get up and teach at 8 AM tomorrow, sorry honey!

Last night though, tired as we were, it was time to say goodbye. For the past couple of weeks we've hosted a couple of "movie nights" for our 70 or so first year students who have come to be our favorites (mainly because we can gossip about them together). We've showed them "The Shawshank Redemption" and also the most recent "Pride and Prejudice" which were both well loved and deemed "perfect" by resident movie buff, Hebe. And, last night we took over the media room once more for a goodbye party and to share by request some of our pictures. Ethan put together a great sampling of our adventures over the last three years that included beautiful scenery from the US in Yosemite, Zion and the Whites as well as pictures of our travels in Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, many of which have appeared on his blog. We've been so lucky to have such adventures!

When our show was over, though, no one really wanted to leave. Even the slacker boys who have all but stopped breezing into class these days (but amazingly came to look at pictures!) remained. I don't know who demanded it first, but what they wanted was a song (or a dance, it was up to us). I have to admit in my exhausted state there was a part of me that felt like I had sung and danced enough over the course of the semester for this group, but as there was a microphone attached to the media console, Ethan and I gave in. Ethan sang "Yesterday" and then we did a duet to that song from "The Breakfast Club" (I managed the "hey-hey-hey-heys" but drew a blank on the verses, sorry Ethan). So terrible! But I'm glad we broke the ice. One by one, and with a little coercion, our braver students came up to the mic to sing us goodbye, leaving me with some of my fondest memories of this semester. Not only that but Hebe and a few others stayed later to present us with two wall hangings to remember them by - very sweet.

Here's a a video of three of our songbird students singing the official Olympic song, "Welcome to Beijing" - you can hardly see a thing (that's Costa Rica in the background), but hopefully you can hear their sweet voices. I will miss them.

"Welcome to Beijing" - Sunny, Olivia, and Hebe

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Night Lights

A few weekends ago our friend Sarah paid us a visit from Beijing. Our weekend adventures included beer bags (finally!), epic karaoke (with a group of 10 other ex-pat Bejingers), and this late night walk in 54 Square (one of my favorite places in Qingdao).

Ethan and Sarah

Getting Ready for Lift Off

Up, up and Away: A paper lantern fueled by fire makes its way up into the city sky

Monday, June 23, 2008

Just another typical Sunday in Qingdao...or, why I have a hard time deciding what to blog about

China is complicated.

7:50 I wake up to see the sunlight streaming in through the curtains of our bedroom balcony. Fog has enveloped Qingdao for weeks (some date it back to the earthquake in Sichuan in May), so I decide to make the most of the morning sun and go for a jog by the seaside.

9:10 I get back home and Ethan is up and making apple pancakes (topped with real maple syrup) from our favorite Korean import store, Silver Garden - the best weekend comfort food! We scarf them down and I head out to my side tutoring job with "The VIP".

10:30 The VIP, one of the local directors of the Danish shipping container company, Maersk, is a little tired and annoyed because 1) his company is forcing him to take more English classes during the week at his office and 2) we will be stopping our lessons at the end of July. Five days enough to see family! Then come back to China! We've practiced this conversation many times. This time I change the subject to his business and learn that one shipping container leaves Qingdao's port every ten minutes, and over 30,000 of the world's shipping containers transport bananas - gross!

12:00 After class I find Joanna, one of the young Chinese office ladies who manages payroll, in the teacher's lounge. After chatting with her and sharing my concerns about the VIP's lack of motivation and his pronunciation she asks me about her English which I say, honestly, is very good. "I don't know how to improve!" Joanna complains. "Maybe I should get an American boyfriend?" We laugh and then she says, "But I don't think my Chinese boyfriend will like that very much!"

Joanna: But maybe you can give me your opinion on something?

me: Sure!

Joanna: Many young Chinese are now dating not one but two people! Both men and women and they are not tell the other one! Many of my friends in fact. What do you think about that?

me: Well, um, I guess it's important to be honest.

Joanna: Could you do that?

Me: Probably not.

Joanna: I could but I wouldn't want my boyfriend to - I would be too jealous!

12:30 I go across the street to the indoor mall in search of a bra. All of mine have been mangled by our vigorous top-loading washer. I duck into a tiny store and begin to browse. I try to communicate what I'm looking for to the two saleswomen displaying increasingly frightening options but I don't know how to say no padding please. A young woman in the shop offers to help translate. "Do you want...?" she asks while squeezing her breasts together. "Cleavage? No, no...I'm boring." I explain. Finally they find a black bra with removable stuffing, the only questionable detail being a t-neck link chain in the back. I decide to try it on anyway because I've come this far.

In the tiny dressing room/storage closet, my dress around my belly and mid-way through clasping the bra I get a call from the friend I'm meeting this afternoon. I take the call with one hand and continue wrangling with the bra with the other.

"Where are you?" she asks. "Do you still want to get together?"

At this point I feel a presence behind me. Before I know what's happening the saleswoman has raised my left arm and is now smearing my flesh into one of the two rigid cups. Dumbfounded, I raise my right arm obediently so she can work on the other side. So that's how you do it!

"You'd never guess," I answer. "I'm getting A LOT of extra help trying on a bra. If you could only see me now..."

We agree to meet in ten minutes in front of the large department store across the street. I extract myself from my encasing and head out of the shop still in good humor, albeit a little surprised by the early afternoon manhandling.

12:50 Crossing the street to our meeting place I catch the eye of about twenty curious east Asian foreigners. "Hello!" One of the braver women calls out after a few shy smiles, and then the rest begin to huddle around me. They ask me some questions about what I'm doing here and they explain that they're here in Qingdao visiting from a much smaller town in Shandong province where they are studying Chinese and textiles. They tell me they're from Turkmenistan. "Do you know where that is?" I admit that I do not and tell them that for me the "'stans" are the hardest countries to place on the globe. They pepper me with questions: Where are you from? What are you doing here? With your boyfriend!?! Ahhh (satisfied squeals). I like to think that after six months in China I'm pretty good now at holding court. I ask them about their time here and also Turkmenistan. It's a beautiful country, they say, you should visit! One of the women crowding nearer on my right, spots my piercing on whatever that tiny part of the ear is called. "Ooh," she says fingering the small hoop. "Painful?" I tell her no and she pats my belly muttering something in Russian. "I know," I say. "All this time in China has made me fat!" "Oh no!" chorus the ladies. "She wants to know if you have a..." I understand them to mean belly-button piercing and I tell her no. After two large group pictures observed by about a dozen Chinese pedestrians they leave me to see the rest of Qingdao.

1:15 Disappointingly, my friend pulls up in her cab after the large pack of Turkmenistanis have already left. She is dressed in a linen blazer, a pink sequined scarf and cute espadrilles that she is now complaining about, explaining that she tripped last night at a Jamaican themed party and has a hurt ankle. She is also carrying a gold Prada purse. My shopping partner for the day is from Qingdao originally, and now lives in the States with her husband who she refers to as an "ABC" or American Born Chinese. She has generously offered to take me shopping today in Taidong to buy fabric, and visit a tailor.

3:30 Measures taken, silk fabric selected, haggling through, and two beautiful dresses ordered, we are pooped. Although we had lunch together yesterday and ordered jellyfish and bean curd, today my shopping-guide is in the mood for Mickey-D's. She orders me ice cream and I feel guilty eating it - my first American fast food abroad!

3:45 My friend and I talk for a bit in the brightly lit restaurant and she describes the sometimes hard negotiating that goes on as a Chinese-American. She and her husband are living with his parents, saving money. "It's hard right now," she explains, "One minute his parents are American and want us to support ourselves and buy a house with our own money and the next minute they're Chinese and demand we listen to their every word and follow their orders. It's not fair. My parents would buy us a house and his parents refuse. What can they do? It's Chinese tradition that a husband's family support him and his wife. Naturally, my husband's under a lot of pressure." I'm learning that my Qingdao friend is a rich girl. Her Prada purse is real, and her Dad is a CEO of a shopping mall downtown. But in the US despite her LV bags and gucci glasses, she is scrimping and saving, working hard.

5:20 Home again, home again. Ethan and I do some lesson planning in preparation for a busy week (one program is ending while the other is beginning) and we decide our busy schedules warrant a treat.

7:00 For our third time since arriving in Qingdao, we are dressed in matching flannel pajamas getting $7 70-minute massages. I decide to try a foot massage and Ethan goes for the full body. We sit side beside in the no-frills private room chatting in Chinese to our masseurs - well, Ethan, more fluently than me - and relax a little before Monday.