A day in the life

I wake up in the morning in theory at  6:30 Brush teeth, iron the clothes- got to look good- (you never know when someone will snap your photo) put on clothes, grab a bite for the break between my two hour blocks of teaching. Fill up my thermos with hot water from the water “cooler” and run out the door. And then I run back in to make sure the iron is off. Cruise the 3K on my electric bicycle between the Foreign experts buildings and the School of Foreign Languages. On my way I pass the dorms where the staff of the Dong Hu Hotel live. Compared to the ritz of the three star hotel, the staff dorms are shacks. There must be at least 16 of them sharing living quarters, bathrooms and kitchens. Their uniforms hang to dry across the street on clothes lines stretched between trees.  Past the hotel, I pass the peacock house on my right and farms on my left. And then I go across the bridge that connects East and West Campus. Under and to either side of the bridge lies: a highway, a cemetery, a river, farmland, a park under construction and tennis courts. It is a long bridge.

My students are always lined up at the door even when I am fifteen minutes early for class. I unlock the doors and the students stand gobsmacked for a second mareling at the new desk arrangement- I try to mix it up as often as possible, keeps ’em on their toes.

Mondays and Fridays are my favorites because the classes on those days are the most rambunctious. They are quickest to get out of control but also the only classes that police themselves and thus settle down the quickest too. These are the classes where a horde of students charge my desk after each class to ask me questions. Lots of questions. “What does ‘good for you’ mean? I pronounce ‘singing’ and ‘sinning’ the same way- help! Is American food really sweeter than Chinese food?” and so on and so on… These classes also have a sense of humor which makes my job both easier and rewarding.

Lunchtime sometimes means eating in the third floor of the “Knowledge Canteen” (It’s a poor and simplistic translation. It should something more like “The Place Where People Gather to Discuss Philosophic Ideas” but I guess that takes too long. Mandarin is very useful for taking big, complex ideas and communicating them in a few short characters.) The Knowledge Canteen is restuarant style serving up good quality standard fare Chinese food at University student prices. If the weather is nice and we have adequte pocket change we might go to the West Gate…

The West Gate is a snack street- an integral part of Chinese cultural for at least 1000 years, probably for much longer. A t-intersection with the University’s west gate is home to a community of street vendors, snack shops, fruit stands, running children with ice cream dripping down their chins, old men playing mahjong, domnioes or chess, college students gobbling privincial style fried baozi. It is a wonderful circus of color and noise. Very Chinese. I like it here. Except for the staring…

Every where I go in this city I’m met with the stereotypical stares and excited shouts of “hello!” or the mildly offensive “Laowei!” (“Foreinger!”) The older people look at you blankly or frightenedly until you say “Ni hao!” and smile- they usually smile back. “If you speak my language,” they must be thinking, “then he must be ok.”

Around two o’clock as the students are headed back to class, I get on my bicycle and head home.

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I think that the combination of the semi-arid climate, the bitter, dusty wind and the pollution is slowly killing me. I’ve been sick more often this past year than I have ever been before. Maybe it is a test- a hero’s challenge. Survive this and you’ll get a prize. Of course the prize is often times self-discovery, something that I’ve been doing a lot of here.

New Beginnings

I woke up the other day feeling that I was ready for a new beginning. China was certainly new but most of what I’m teaching now was the material that I had been working with the past four years or so. Words, words, words. I’m sick of words. It is time for something new!

Utilizing my new contacts in China, I plan to study Herbal and Traditional Medicine in China and the United States and perhaps, if I am extra lucky as my Chinese zodiac implies I will be, in other countries as well. I am glad to be leaving academia behind!

Wind

I woke up this morning to all of the doors and windows of the building shaking violently in their frames. But it wasn’t an earthquake or a ghost, it was just the wind. The lake outside my window looks like an ocean. The fabled  dust storm season has arrived after all.

Spring is here to stay (finally…)

I’ve never longed for Spring as much as I have longed for it this winter.

After a brief appearance of Spring two weeks ago, Winter took over for one final hurrah. Unfortunately, this hurrah included a two day ice/snow/slush storm and almost two weeks straight with below zero degree Centigrade temperatures (about 24 degrees, but with the killer wind chill it goes down to around 14 degrees Fahrenheit.) Over the past two days, Spring has decided that it is here to stay.

The birds are singing and fluttering about again instead of the usual cowering and peering from naked tree branches with their feathers puffed indignantly. The sun is shining and the trees are sprouting flower buds. The wind is still strong and incessant but now it is cool and wet and soft, not bitter cold, dry and sharp. The fountains and artificial waterfall have been turned back on filling the international professor village with a wonderful aroma of algae from the long dormant waterfall mountain. If stale algae means Springtime, I say bring on the algae!

My classes have been going really well so far. I’m better organized, the students seem generally more active and focused. I’m full of optimism- It has been a long time since I was able to say that honestly.

TTFN

Brrr…. It’s a cold day

Brrr… It’s a cold day, Brr… It’s a freezing day, Brr… When the temperature goes down, down, down!

The past few days have been deliciously mild and autumnal. The mosquitoes have given way to flys and all the toads have gone to sleep. I was beginning to enjoy the endless Fall but when I woke up this morning, it was snowing. So much for that.

I have underestimated the Liaocheng winter. I have not felt this kind of cold before. It isn’t that it’s really that cold, around 25 degrees. It is the wind. It bites and tears at your soul. My nose and cheeks are still pink- and I’ve been home for an hour and a half! Bitter, sharp biting cold in this city.