Sunday, September 30, 2012


I just found another centipede in my bathroom (this is the 3rd or 4th one in a month), this time in the middle of the floor instead of in my shower. I captured it in a jar and counted its legs. It only has 40 legs. I was hoping this meant that the creatures I've been finding are not centipedes, but perhaps some friendlier, less deadly creature. So I googled "is it a centipede if it only has 40 legs?" and discovered that the average centipede has 40 legs. Dang.

Friday, September 28, 2012


I realized today that I've developed a new skill.

It's called my Monkey-See-Monkey-Do Spidey-Sense.

In my three year old classes at the kindergarten, when one of the kids does something silly, and the other kids think it looks like the best thing ever to have ever been invented ever in the universe ever, then they all immediately start doing the same thing.

Then, in a split second, the class descends into chaos, madness, insanity and all that other stuff that makes it impossible to regain their fragile little paper-thin attention spans.

Last week, one little boy pulled his t-shirt up over the back and onto the top of his head so that only his little face peeked out of the neck hole. The shirt was pulled so tight that it caused his arms to raise up and out to the sides like a tiny little scarecrow. Within 1.5 seconds, at least a dozen other students were doing the exact same thing. They were all actually keeping pretty cool about it, just tiny giggles here and there. It was I who was rendered helpless, incapable of continuing the class due to laughter-breakdown.

After 7 or so months at this job, I've gotten pretty good at detecting which silly behaviors are likely to spread like wildfire. My spidey-sense is now fully developed. I see the silly behavior and immediately know it's about to take off. I just seem to lack the ability to redirect the behavior before it spreads.

Why? Because these kids so darn adorable! I admit that I secretly want it to spread so that the adorability factor skyrockets through the roof. The kids love it. I love it. Win/win, right?

Except sometimes... the other Chinese teachers in the room do NOT like it. And then they punish the kids for their silly behavior. And then of course I feel guilty.

They're just toddlers for crying out loud. Let them be silly!

This morning in the middle of one of the classes, a little boy started doing the wah-wah-wah yawny-motion thing... hand over the mouth like patting his yawns, and making a noise like WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH. I zoned in on him right away and was about to redirect his attention, but then stopped. He was too cute. I was overpowered. Kryptonite. (Btw, please forgive the mixed superhero references.) Right away, about 8-10 other kids started doing the same thing. The classroom was filled with WAH WAH WAHs out the wazoo. It was great.

If I were to stay in China, I would start a preschool/kindergarten where the primary focus is to teach creativity and silly behavior. Oh, and reading and other important stuff like that.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Please pass the tissues

Damn you, The Color Purple. After 25 years, you still make me cry like a baby.

Good China Day

I think it's only fair to also post about my Good China Days when I have them.

Yesterday was one of those days. Well, except for the whole getting punched in the spine incident yesterday morning at the kindergarten. But hey, he did it with a smile and a lot of laughter.

The rest of the day was a GCD.

I didn't get accosted by any neighbors.

I got to sit down on all my bus rides.

I didn't miss my bus stop.

I spoke a lot of Chinese with people and -- here's the best part -- they understood me.

My heart was melted into big puddles of pudding by one of my little three year olds yesterday. I was just standing on the playground during their recess, and little Harry walked over and looked up at me, so I crouched down to his level, and he reached and put his arms around my neck and gave me a big 'ol hug. I nearly died. His face was so straight and sincere. It wasn't even one of those "I'm crying and miss my mommy and I really need a hug right now" hugs. It was as if he thought *I* needed a hug. It sounds crazy, but that little hug was one of the biggest hugs I've ever gotten. I'm going to have to keep teaching kindergarten forever so I don't start to miss being around the little munchkins, and decide to have some of my own. When you have your own kids, they're only 3 for a year, but being a teacher, it's an endless stream of 3 year olds and all their adorable insanity. That's what I have to keep telling myself, because after yesterday, parental-type-of-thoughts whooshed through my mind.

I was given two new classes at the university yesterday. Freshman English majors. The classes were great, and the students are enthusiastic and eager. Gotta love Freshman. They're not yet completely burnt out and cynical.

So yeah, it was a good day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hazard Pay

2 unfortunate incidents at the kindergarten this morning:

1) Got sneezed on IN THE FACE by a little girl. Snot everywhere.

2) Got punched in the spine by a little boy. My back insta-spasmed and I had to stop and stretch it out for awhile.

These three year olds are lucky they're so darn adorable.

And I need hazard pay.


I've had too many of these moments. This goes out to all my techy friends...

Bad China Day

Today was one of those days we call a Bad China Day.

It's not like I was in a bad mood all day, or that any of this nonsense really upset me. But upon taking inventory at the end of the day, this was a tad bit of a BCD. It certainly wasn't the worst by any means.

The morning was great. The munchkins at the kindergarten were super adorable and happy and I had a blast horsing around with teaching them.

I even received a gift. Score.

We were even served fish for lunch at the kindergarten and I didn't choke on any of the ten thousand billion microscopic bones.

Things were lookin good.

Then I rushed home from school to shower and change and rush back out to get to my afternoon classes at the university.

While I was running around in my apartment about to hop into the shower, someone starts banging on my door. I knew exactly who it was.

The meter man.

He comes every month on the 24th or 25th to read my water meters so they can calculate my monthly utility bill. Well, he usually comes in the evening, so I figured I would ignore his knocking and get showered and ready so I wouldn't run late for my afternoon classes. He could return in the evening.

The banging on my door was relentless and growing louder and louder. This didn't seem like him. He's a jolly fellow with a moderate knock. This was full-blown OH MY GOD THE BUILDING IS ON FIRE!

That is the only time that kind of knocking is acceptable.

Or maybe if their baby has fallen into a well. And all the villagers have already died in the fire and you're the only one who can help.

I got out of the shower and by this time the knocking was shaking the walls, not even exaggerating.

I was peeved by this time so I took my sweet-ass time getting dressed and ready while not answering the door. The knocking stopped.

Then as I grabbed my shoes to sit down and put them on, the knocking started again and at the same frenzy and absurdity. I answered the door and there was my crazy neighbor lady. Yes, I feel justified in calling her crazy after 8 months of living next to her. It's legit.

She scurries into my apartment and starts pointing at my flourescent lightbulb on my living room ceiling and rattles off a bunch of Chinese. I'm convinced by now that she's only ever speaking Hainanese, which is a completely different language than Mandarin, since I can never seem to understand her. Yet I can understand my other neighbors just fine, for the most part.

Anyway, I knew what she was trying to tell me. The meter man wants to come in and check my meters for the utility bill.

I nodded and said hao hao hao hao hao (which means yes I understand, no really, I understand, yes for realz I get it) as I crowded her toward my front door.

I shut my door, put on my shoes, grabbed my bag, left my apartment and fled the building. Without being seen by my crazy neighbor lady nor the meter man.


As I rushed to the bus stop to catch my bus, I was not in the best of moods. I'm a private person who likes to float anonymously and invisibly through her little life. China rarely allows me that luxury. But hey, it's made me appreciate those things all the more! Some day I'll write a big boring post on "why I loved China" and it will be filled with those kinds of things.

I caught my bus and away we went. Side note, I've been teaching at a university in the afternoons, and it requires me to take a city bus to the university's "old" campus, and then catch the school shuttle to their "new" campus where I teach. Then I do the reverse after finished with my classes. So it's quite a lot of schlepping to and fro.

En route, I received a text message from the supervisor of the foreign languages department…

"Lisa, please bring the Junior's English textbook with you today."

This isn't the first time I've been called Lisa. It's not even the second or third time. It seems whenever I tell someone my name is Liz (btw, Elizabeth is too long and complicated so I go by Liz here), they inevitably change it to Lisa. And yes, even after I have texted them and/or emailed them and signed my name "Liz." I've given up being confused about this.

Well today was my Tourism English class for Juniors, so I thought ok cool, I already have the textbook on me. I didn't bother asking why he needed the textbook. "Why" is a pointless question here.

I arrived at the school and called the supervisor so we could meet up and I could figure out why he needed me to bring him the textbook. I met him, pulled the book out of my bag, and he frowned and said, "No, that's the Junior's English textbook, not the 4-year Junior's English textbook."

I smiled and told him, "Yes, you texted me to bring the Junior's English textbook. The text message didn't say 4-year." (Side note: the Tourism English classes are for the 3-year vocational students, which come to find out is not what he wanted.)

I knew good and well you should never point out a mistake to someone here, especially not your supervisor. But I did it anyway because I was feeling snarky and justified. And I have very little to lose here since I'm merely filling in for a few weeks until the other American teachers arrive.

I also think months of dealing with the administration at my own school has worn on me. Nothing makes sense, and it's not supposed to. If something starts making sense, someone quickly throws a wrench in it.

One of my American coworkers has so sweetly dubbed one of our Vice Principals "The Creator of Problems." We try to figure out what her job is and what she's supposed to be doing with her time, and all we can see with our own eyes so far is that she jumps into the middle of well-oiled machines and starts unscrewing the bolts. At least she's friendly enough.

So anyway, I asked him why he needs the textbook, and he said, "Because you will be teaching a different class now." And he pulled a different textbook out of his bag and handed it to me. He said, "This is the 4-year English textbook for the Freshman and it starts tomorrow." It's the same time as my 4-year English class for the Juniors, so I asked what would happen to that class. He told me that one of the Americans has arrived and will take over that class.

And guess what, I got a full 24-hour's notice on this change. Not bad for this place, actually!

Then I go to my assigned classroom, and none of the students are there, and it was time they should be. So I chased my supervisor back down and asked him to check which room I'm supposed to be in. He told me "N403." I said, "I was in N403 and no one is there, do you mind checking again? The new schedule you sent me this weekend says N403." I ran with him upstairs to the administration office, he spoke a bunch of really-fast Chinese with a woman there, and then started to leave the office. Um, excuse me sir, did we get anywhere here?

I asked him, "Did she confirm the room number?" And he replied, "Yes, room N403."

Alrighty then. I took him to my room N403, and said, "See, no students, and the bell is going to ring soon. They're usually here by now." He frowned, whipped out his cell phone and started texting someone. Then a minute later he looked up at me and said, "N406." Ok, great. I rushed down the hall to N406 and there were my students. Hooray.

It wouldn't be so bad if this wasn't already the third time this sort of thing has happened with failing to inform me of my own room numbers.The students somehow magically know. Is it so hard to inform the teacher? Apparently. I arrive at my empty room and peek my head back out the door and into the hallway until I see a small herd of students file into one of the other rooms down the hall. It's comical. Especially when some of them see me coming from one of the other rooms. Totally professional, right?

So I taught this afternoon's classes and headed out to wait for the shuttle back to the old campus. The shuttle arrived and it was standing room only. It's a 25-30 minute ride. Which normally wouldn't be that big of a deal, but have you ever ridden a Chinese bus? Thankfully I've ridden enough of them now that I no longer have heart attacks from the sheer insanity of the experience. But it's certainly not a relaxed ride when you have to be on high alert to shift your balance every .25 seconds to keep from plowing into the people around you, or through the front windshield.

I made it back to the old campus and rushed to the bus stop to catch the city bus home. I was so tired today from not getting a great night's sleep and rushing around all day, that I fell asleep on the bus.

And missed my stop.

I woke up a couple of stops later, luckily recognizing where I was. I said what the heck and rode a couple of stops farther to be let off closer to the Carrefour shopping center.

I figured this was a stupid enough day that I deserved some shopping in the foreign foods aisle. And I bought some delicious pasta and sauce and walked all the way home.

And guess who came a knockin' on my door not five minutes after I settled into my apartment.

The meter man, with his smiley face and kind demeanor, actually cheered me up. He doesn't understand a word of English, so I told him (in English) "You're so nice. You make me happy. Thank you."

My First Cake-sized Mooncake

Today my school gave each of us teachers our very own mooncake. When I was handed the bag, it nearly slipped from my grasp. I was not expecting the thing to weigh as much as it does. This sucker is dense!

The quality of the following video isn't that great, but I like the way it shows the whole mooncake-making process...


Do I regift this beast, or break out the heavy duty silverware and challenge myself to a mooncake eat-a-thon.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Q is for Quality

This totally isn't a post about the lack of quality in Chinese brand products.

I just wanted to say that for the first time in all my 30+ years of using Q-tips, the tip of a Q-tip broke off in my ear canal. Yes, it just happened to be produced in China, why do you ask?

Shuffling in Beijing

When I visited my friend Charlie in Beijing this Summer, we all went to "The Square" which is a big outdoor mall area where all the locals come together to do their thang. Lots of different kinds of synchronized dancing, kung fu, calligraphy, you name it. Here are some videos of the shuffling craze...

Every day I'm shuffling...

Kindergarten Highlights

Can you tell I'm procrastinating doing my lesson planning for the week?

Here are some highlights from the kindergarten since being back to work after the Summer holiday. I've posted these on Facebook, but my mom isn't on Facebook, and I know she and some other friends and family might appreciate these...

September 3rd: Today's first day of school was one big cry-fest for my 100+ 3 yr olds. Or more like a giant cry-scream-snot-pee-fest-a-thon. I basically just ran around wiping teary eyes and runny noses and offering hugs. The "wa yao baba!" (i want daddy!) and "bu yao!!!!!" 's (don't want!) are still ringing in my ears.

September 5th: This semester is off to an exciting start... I nearly lost a thumb today. Yep, one of my new students is a biter. But he looks all sweet, innocent and happy smiley until it's too late and he's already biting you. Gonna have to grow eyes on all sides of my head.

September 10th: One of my 5-yr-old students won't speak a word of English to me, but today he came up to me after class and asked me in Chinese what the US Dollar and Chinese RMB exchange rate currently is.

September 14th: Could barely stop laughing long enough to start class today after seeing what one of my 3-yr-olds was wearing... her t-shirt read "HIT THE FXXKIN' ROAD!" Well ok then! At least the shirt on the girl next to her read "Keep Smiling"

September 18th: Favorite t-shirt on a 3 year old today... "A friend in need is a friend. Isn't it?"

Yes indeed.

Robert Loggia

Thanks to my friend Jen's Photoshop skills, my weird dreams can be brought to life. Not that they necessarily should...

I dreamed that I was walking to go meet up with Robert Loggia and when I met him, he handed me a corndog, and he had written "Big Papa" on it with ketchup and mustard. And so I ate it. The End.


Long story short, I was telling one of my Chinese coworkers about the legendary Sasquatch, and she asked what it was. I didn't have enough Chinese vocabulary to explain it properly, so I drew her this picture. She gave me a look of extreme weirded-outness.

Can you blame her?

Sshhh Secrety Certificates

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is coming, which means it's time to eat some mooncakes...

Last week one of my coworkers gave me one of the egg kind (like the ones above), and it was actually pretty good. Cured my sweet tooth without being overly sweet.

Today, one of my coworkers came up to me after class and slyly pulled out an envelope, hunched over it to hide it from plain view, and said, "A student's mom is giving these to you know what these are?"

Uhhh, it's an envelope?

So she opened the envelope, looked side to side to make sure no one was looking and pulled out 2 mooncake certificates and said, "These are mooncake certificates. Don't tell anyone you have these, especially not the principal."

I told her ok, it's our secret, and asked her to thank the student's mom for me.

I feel like I'm involved in something highly illegal. Sshhh.

Haikou Haircut

Poor blog, so neglected. I decided I'd finally take time to write something one day prior to it being a month since my last post. Just so I can say I didn't neglect my blog for an entire month. Ha, take that, blog.

Yesterday I finally finished uploading all of my summer vacation photos. It took exactly a month since returning from vacation, although there were many slackery days since then. Here are links to all the photos tagged Beijing2012 and Cambodia2012. I have yet to classify them further, or caption them. I feel like I need a breather from the constant clicking just to get them uploaded. Captioning will might commence next week.

Well, it's September and all of my pals in the states are commenting on the beautiful Autumn weather, and making me extremely jealous and nostalgic of my camping trips in the Rocky Mountains last year.

The weather here in Haikou has been more tolerable the last couple of weeks. I'm only sweating 13 hours a day instead of 18.

I don't know where I'm off to next after this year's teaching contract is up, but it's certainly not anywhere in Hainan. I've enjoyed many things about living in China, but the weather in this part of China is a huge downer. It's funny, because most people I talk to who live here (both foreigner and Chinese alike) moved here because of the weather. I do love the sunny skies. I'll give 'em that. The next place I live will have all four seasons.

Today I was feeling shaggy and adventurous, so I went for a haircut…my first haircut in Haikou.

I got a haircut in Beijing at the end of July, and another haircut in Phnom Penh at the end of August, but something still wasn't right. Third time's a charm, right?

I think I'm becoming addicted to Asian haircuts. They usually involve at least a 15-minute head and neck massage, ahhh.

Well, this haircut turned out all right I suppose. At least they mostly fixed the mess I had made of it over the last six months of chopping it myself. And last week I took the scissors to it again. Ladies, you've been-there-done-that and regretted it. I have too. I was running on about 3 hours of sleep that day when I grabbed the dull kitchen scissors and went to the bathroom mirror. I grabbed my hair and pulled it straight up, moved the scissors in for the kill, and then hesitated. I said to myself, "I've had very little sleep and am using poor judgment. I know I will regret this. Stop. Put down the scissors. Step away."

And I did. I put the scissors down and walked out of the bathroom.

Then, after putzing around for about ten minutes, I went back to the bathroom and started hacking away.

I still felt pretty good (proud? victorious?) that I had displayed such self control in leaving the bathroom that first time.

It's like when you have a sweet tooth and you really want cookies, but you know you shouldn't, and so you put the cookies into your basket at the market, walk around with them for a little bit, and then put them back on the shelf before you check out. Yes, victory is yours.

And then you buy and eat the cookies the very next day.

It's better than never having displayed self control, because doesn't it all balance out somehow? 0 + Self-control + lack-of-self-control = 0. It's a wash, even steven. But 0 + lack-of-self-control = -1. You lose.

Oh, anyway, the haircut. Today I didn't even look up any haircut-related vocabulary before I ventured out. I was basically only armed with the words for cut, short and long, and of course the rest of my generic vocabulary.

I stepped into the shop around the corner from my apartment, and about a dozen heads whipped in my direction. Then a gentleman rattled something off that I didn't understand and everyone in the joint started giggling, male and female alike.

I have yet to see another foreigner in my neighborhood, so everything I try to do in these parts turns into quite the spectacle. The people around here just aren't used to dealing with foreigners, and it almost seems as if they can't understand why I can't understand Chinese. I know quite a bit of basic Chinese, especially if they speak a little slowly. Sometimes when I tell them I don't understand something, they break out the pen and paper and start writing it in Chinese characters. Which of course is about a thousand times worse since I know very few characters. (And also, why in the world would I learn how to read Chinese before I learn how to speak it?? But our sense of common sense is senseless in some parts of the world.)

Anyway, after the giggling subsided I started trying to tell one of the stylists what I wanted, which basically went like this… (Note: the word for short is "duǎn" and the word for long is "zhǎng")…

::hands at the back of my head:: "duan duaan duaaannnn" ::moving hands over the top of my head and toward the front:: "zhang zhang zhangzhangzhangzhang"

The giggling turned into major laughter.

But hey, it worked! I got exactly what I wanted.

And it wasn't awkward at all when all dozen or more people were sitting and staring at me throughout the entire haircut. Nope, not awkward at all.

Actually that sort of thing would have felt awkward about 7 or 8 months ago, but it's amazing how quickly you adapt.