Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Exploring Beijing during Golden Week

Beijing, China's capital is the perfect city to see where old China and new China meet. Our first stop was to the Dongyue Taoist Temple.
Old and new mixed

We have never been to a taoist temple before...what a trip! We highly recommend going to check out this temple as it was really interesting, colorful and full of awesome weirdness (is that a thing?) The temple displays 76 different departments of death.

Each chamber is completely different with colorful statue looking things and totally worth the time and entrance fee (less than $2 USD)

Sunday we opted for the weekend only Panjiayan antique market and hoped to find some real treasures. The antique market is on a blacktop parking lot with all sorts of stuff displayed. Regardless of what we asked to see it was $100 USD. Small perfume bottle? $100 USD  Necklace? $100 USD...didn't matter...their starting price was the equivalent of $100 USD.

Being that this was an "antique" market, the one English word every seller knew was "OLD". As we would laugh at their insane price, they would insist that the article in question was old. Ya sure...right. I saw a necklace that was really cool and although I already knew the price (everything starts at $100 USD) I asked the lady anyways...How much? She thought about it for a second and punched in to her calculator 700 yuen (about $100 USD). We all laughed and walked away. Every seller next to her was screaming at her....telling her she asked too much. They were reprimanding her as we were walking away. Although we don't speak Chinese...we got the drift that they had told her she should have learned from others mistakes...DON'T START AT 700 yuen!!

Before leaving the market, I saw one last items I was interested in. A small fish necklace charm. Again the guy started at 700 yuan, claimed the piece was real old and we laughed. But I really wanted to charm. We were walking away for good when he stuffed the calculator in Phil's hand and asked us to make an offer. I told Phil I only wanted to pay 100 yuan ($15 bucks). Phil thought that was too insulting. Jessica grabbed the calculator from Phil, punched in 100, and showed the seller. He agreed to accept 100 yuan. The surrounding sellers were cheering. I got so excited I had to take a picture. Someone had finally sold something to the white people! Success..or maybe not.

As we walked away from the "antique" market where Phil kept muttering, "I swear they just throw this crap in the dirt to make it look old" we came walked into the Panjiayun daily market. HOLY COW....rows and rows of crap (er, I mean good stuff). And well, what do you know? The same crap (uh, I mean, "antiques") that people were selling around the corner on the blacktop for 20 times more! And what else do you know....my fish necklace charm that I had just happily paid 100 yuan was being sold by someone who's first offer was to sell his for 30 !!  Whatever. The man has a family to feed and I'm happy with my $15 USD fish charm....even if I could have purchased the same one around the corner for $3.

Monday we went to the Great Wall and it was spectacular. We literally couldn't have asked for a more perfect day. 75 degrees? Check. Crystal clear skies? Yup. Only a fraction of the people we were anticipating? Thank Gawd yes.

How's this for steep?
We went to the Mutianyu area of the Great Wall, 2 hours from Beijing. Most people go to the closest area, Mutianyu is NOT the closest area which means it's also less crowded, by a few million people. We chose to take the gondola up to the top of tower 16 and then walk to tower 19 and all but crawl to tower 20. 

The top of tower 20 was nothing short of breathtaking. As if experiencing the Great Wall with our family wasn't gratifying enough, being there with Emma was exceptional. We've never seen her so happy. To be standing on the Great Wall in her home country. Beyond awesome. 

We spent about 4 hours on the Great Wall, which went by fast. With every step we would look at the new incredible view. Although we had purchased gondola tickets for the ride down, Emma insisted we walk...all. the. way. down.

Sweet Jesus, the day after first crawling up to Tower 20 and then walking all the way down off the mountain, Phil and I were feeling old. Real old. Like we could hardly walk the next day old. Shit we do for our girls.....

I'd love to show you pictures of the Forbidden City, but we don't have any. We suck and didn't buy tickets in advance. Although all of our co-workers told us we were insane for going to Beijing during the Golden Week, due to the enormous crowds, for some reason that didn't translate into pre-purchasing tickets to one of the most popular attractions in all of China. We are considering going back to Beijing for Christmas.

Before heading home, we went to the Lama Temple. We love the different temples. They're so colorful. Peaceful. Less crowded.

3 story Buddha in the temple. Stunning
Smoke from prayer sticks filled every temple

It is possible to enjoy China during the Golden Week, so long as you arrive at your destination on Saturday and get the hell outta dodge by Tuesday. China makes people work on the first weekend of the holiday (in order to take off the full week) so while everyone else is at work, places are less crowded. By Tuesday the crowds of millions show up...and the fun is over. 

While Phil was buying our subway tickets back to our Airbnb, the girls and I were standing behind the row of ticket dispensers next to a wall as it was the only place to be without feeling like we were going to be crushed. I felt a hand in the middle of my back and was shoved out of the way. A new walkway was forming behind us with the influx of another million people into the subway. These people were squeezing themselves between a wall and a row of ticket dispensing machines!! I've never seen crowds like we did in Beijing. Living in China brings a whole new meaning to the word, CROWDED

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Beautiful Suzhou

Six months ago, with job offers from various cities throughout China, we had to choose a city that would serve as our "home".  While floating in the middle of the South Pacific aboard our home Terrapin, we did the best we could at researching where we should settle. One quick internet search of Suzhou revealed pictures of a gorgeous city with several World Heritage Sites and only 10 million inhabitants (that's rural for China!) and we knew we had a winner! 

We finally resisted the gravitational pull of our huge couch (for 4 years while living on our boat, a spacious couch is the one thing we really missed) and set out to see the sights in person. Our first tourist stop was Tiger Hill which boasts "The leaning tower of China". 

Fun Fact: The famous pagoda at Tiger Hill is both older and taller than the Leaning tower of Pisa. Tiger Hill was amazing and far exceeded our expectations. 

While most people probably take a water taxi the 2 miles from Tiger Hill to famous Shantang St. we chose to walk the road less traveled.  

We absolutely loved seeing for ourselves places that we had seen only on the internet that led to our decision to move to Suzhou. Another Suzhou fun fact: Suzhou is comparably an affluent, educated, middle class city with a big tech sector and services industry. The city produces more lap top computers than any other place in the world, and the people have the third highest per capita income of large Chinese cities.

Suzhou is located on the Yangtze River and the Grand Canal (just one of many canals) runs north and south through it, helping Suzhou to live up to it's nickname. "Venice of the East."

It felt great to be back out exploring. Next weekend we take the train to Bejing and can't wait to see the Great Wall!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Teaching in China!

Our first day teaching and I look like I'm ready to serve drinks on a low budget airline, Phil's joined the Mormon church and the girls are thinking these school uniforms are a form of cruel punishment. Thankfully, teachers are only responsible for wearing uniforms on Mondays and Fridays.

Entrance to school

We knew before moving to China that the school where we would be teaching (the same school the girls are attending) is not a fancy international school filled with expat kids speaking English from around the globe. With our lack of international school teaching (read: zero experience) our options were somewhat limited, especially since we wanted to teach subjects other than English and have the girls attend the same school. 

Our school is striving to be an international school and has a very long way to go. Of the over 1400 students, 99% are Chinese with varying abilities to speak English. What makes this school "international" in the eyes of its administration, are the international teachers who are here (58 of us) from around the world all teaching in English.  We knew working / attending this school would have it's challenges...we just didn't know exactly  what was going to be challenging. 


The school feeds us lunch everyday...and sad, but true, it's actually good. I'm not claiming the food is great, but good. Unlike American school lunches the food is unprocessed. They actually serve vegetables...lots of vegetables. Rice comes with every lunch. Since Phil and I eat lunch together every day, we on occasion will dare each other to try to the mystery meat. For the most part we eat lots of veggies, grab a few extra bananas and call it a "lunch". 

We opted not to try this school lunch.

Jessica is attending high school in 10th grade and is finding it challenging. The school uses (as almost every private school in China does) UK (Cambridge) curriculum. It's been a challenge for Phil and I to understand how this curriculum works, how the tests are created, how the books are structured and how to teach sometimes 3 different grade levels out of the same book. 

Good news for Jessica is she's finally being challenged like never before (something she really wanted). Jessica's teachers in high school all speak English which certainly helps with her demanding schedule. Jessica is taking Algebra 2 in her first semester and Statistics in her second semester.  For science she's taking both Chemistry and Physics, which are year long classes. She's also taking Economics and Global Perspectives, other year long courses. To satisfy US college requirements we've added an English homeschool module to her studies...poor kid is BUSY.
They love to use Emma for their videos. The 1 Chinese student with flawless English.

Emma is at the middle school in 8th grade with her own set of problems.We had been told that the middle school is mostly taught in English...not even close! Middle school teachers are both Chinese and international educators. Although most of the Chinese teachers can speak English they're choosing not to while in the classroom....something we've been very vocal about. The school doesn't seem to think that the students English ability is adequate, yet any time an international teacher is teaching  in only English (Phil and I certainly don't speak Chinese) the students are able to understand. 

This means that the majority of Emma's lessons are in Chinese, a language she doesn't understand. After 2 weeks of slight hair pulling, I have rearranged Emma's schedule with the help of her homeroom teacher and Emma is now enjoying some classes with her classmates (when taught in English) and private one-on-one tutoring for the majority of her subjects. I've also gotten the school to provide Emma with private Mandarin tutoring so she can learn her native language.  These are the types of challenges we did not anticipate. 

Our second Monday teaching and it was already time for "Teacher's Day". Phil was recognized as a mentor as he is mentor to two other Chinese teachers. Phil's the only teacher with a PhD and it's a pretty big deal...the school LOVES him!

The first few weeks were rough. We're both teaching at two different schools, both middle and high school which aren't even on the same campus. The schools are about 1.5 miles away from each other and we have to be shuttled between the two. Makes for a busy schedule. Phil and I were feeling overwhelmed, especially thinking Emma wasn't going to be getting any formal education. But now that we've figured things out, we're feeling better about our move to Suzhou. 

Honestly, our family had to sit down and remember why we came here in the first place. We didn't move to Suzhou so we could teach at this particular school. We didn't see this school on the internet and say, "We need to move to China so the kids to go there!".  We moved here (China) so Emma can see where she's from, experience her culture, explore China and get the chance to meet her foster family face to face (we're working on putting that trip together). Teaching at this school is just a way to make all of "this" work.  How quickly we've lost our island mode!

Subway rides suck...the only saving grace is that Phil, Jess and I are tall enough to see over everyone's head....Emma, not so much.

Phil's "recognition" and milk

For teachers day the school gave each of us a cartoon of milk. Weird, right? Actually, once another foreign teacher explained that in China they like to give practical gifts, it made sense. We were told to expect future gifts of laundry detergent, toilet paper, and clothing softener.