October in Pictures

My plants were doing well in the warmth from the beginning of this month, though the recent cold damp week in the final days of the month have left them a little unhappy. The one little rose that didn’t die during the summer heat produced a few more buds. It has been dreary as of late, so I reflect on the last beautiful day a few weeks ago. Between rain and haze when it’s not raining, the winter months see less light.

It is a practice here for colleges to have military training for their freshmen. While many colleges have this training during the beginning of the semester in September, my college holds it in October. For two weeks after the holiday they trained and thus campus was filled with them in military-style outfits. They are, of course, their same bubbly selves, who talk of making friends and the handsome instructors.

Another notable event, that actually happened at the end of September was a small earthquake. I was in class at the time, a couple of seconds of shaking, but no damage. Two days later I had the opportunity to visit a memorial site for the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. That was an 8.0, caused major damage and many casualties. My students—many of whom are from Sichuan, though young at the time—remember that earthquake. There is a village that was left as a memorial. It was a very moving experience.

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May in Pictures

This post is a little late into June, but there are a few experiences worth detailing about events in May:

The month of May brought the Dragon Boat festival in China. Unfortunately, there was no dragon boat race in my city, but I did eat the traditional Zongzi (粽子) a glutinous rice dumpling steamed in bamboo leaves.

Then, there’s a couple photos of what it’s like eating out in China–BBQ outside on a hotplate surrounded by crowds of people. The hot plate is heated by white-hot coals placed underneath, which waiters bring out on tongs through the crowd.

I was asked to be one of the judges for a speech competition with the theme “The definition of happiness.” I’m proud to report that one of my students won the competition.

Finally, I don’t run as often as I used to, but one morning when I ventured out, I got caught in a rainstorm. People around me stared; I imagine their inner thoughts about what the heck that foreigner is doing. I shrugged my shoulders, as I spent a lot of time in Seattle’s rainy climate, the rain-soaked run was welcome.

 

Hiking Up the Mountain

Last month I went with a group of students to a nearby mountain. Mianyang is in a basin, but there are many mountains in the Sichuan province. The students arranged for early transportation for the hour and a half ride to Jiuhuang Mountain (九皇山). No one had told me the scale of this mountain before I arrived. I came prepared for a hike, but not quite for this. As is common here, the mountain itself has been made accessible to non-expert climbers with kilometers of stone stairs, much of it leading straight up the mountain. For those who aren’t keen on stair climbing, there are a series of cable cars leading the way, although it is quite expensive.

About halfway up, there is a suspension bridge (called Lovers bridge) spanning across a wide gap as well as stairs that go alongside the sheer rock face. It was cloudy, and even rainy, which made for some tricky climbing. I imagine the panorama would be even more spectacular had it not been so cloudy.

This mountain also features a cave with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites lit up in a rainbow of colors.

All in all, it was an amazing day that left me exhausted.

April in Pictures

April brought more nice weather and many more activities. At the beginning of the month, the new bike sharing service that is spreading through China made its debut on the campus. Each bike features a lock and a QR code.  The bikes can be rented by the hour or paying a monthly fee, and when one is done using it, the bike can be left anywhere–and I do mean anywhere, even if it is some random place in the middle of the sidewalk or on the side of a busy street.

I had bag of chocolate chips from the US and used them to bake some wonderful cookies, and at the same time made banana oat muffins and lemon bars. I brought them all in for students to taste while I explained the process of how to bake cookies. Sweet homemade treats go over well here, and I’m glad to continue sharing with them about the goodies we make in America.

The nice spring weather has meant more activities outside, such as my continued participation in ultimate frisbee with a group for another college and exploring the city on my bike. There is a nice park downtown to enjoy, however in China, having a designated bike trail doesn’t necessarily mean I have that to myself. Sometimes the electric motorbikes ride in the same path. To keep the e-bikes out, apparently someone decided it would be a good idea to block the path, which also blocks the path for bicycles. I gave up and rode along the busy road for awhile because I was tired of dismounting my bike every 200 meters.

A group of international students from various countries visitied the campus and there were several big events. No one told myself or the other foreign teachers living here about this, except for one of my students who was gonig to be absent as she had volunteer duties all day. It turned out that 14 other students in her class also were volunteering for this event. I found out when the bell rang and only half of my students were present. Surprise! That’s life here.

Finally, I was asked to give a presentation about education in the USA to several other teachers from the English department. This event will soon have its own post, as it involved some collaboarative work between myself and two elementary level educators I know in the US. Stay tuned for that story.

 

February and March in Pictures

The second half of March was more pleasant–the rains returned after a long winter absence which fostered new green growth and flowers. I had some time to get out and ride my bike a few times to enjoy the springtime. At school, the semester continued on. We foreign teachers introduced our English Corner students to the game of Monopoly, which went over really well. One student, who at first didn’t know if she would enjoy the game, said, “Wow, I like it!” after immediately receiving rent after buying a property. There was time to enjoy dinner out with students, as well as inviting students to my apartment to cook some spare ribs. I’m not yet proficient in cooking Sichuan food, but I expanded my baking repertoire by trying out some banana oat mini muffins.

Also pictured here are photos of the Anshun Bridge from a brief visit to Chengdu from February.


Winter Vacation

The dreary gray and smoggy days here in Mianyang persist into March, as the new semester continues. Forthcoming posts about recent activities in the works, however in this post I take a fond look back at the warm winter vacation I spent with two of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers in three sun-filled countries: Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I returned to places I’ve been as well as experienced the new. I’d been to Bangkok before, but nevertheless enjoyed the massive city; I took a new mode of transport between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia–a speedboat, which was definitely worth it; and ventured into Vietnam, all three of us for the first time.

Below are a few of the photos. I was especially enamored with Vietnam. My time there was short, on a few days, but from the sights of Ho Chi Minh City to the food to the beach at Vung Tau–I thoroughly enjoyed it all.

December in Pictures

December, yes, that’s right. It’s time to catch up after the semester break and traveling around (posts about that coming soon). It is now February 2017 and the spring semester has begun. Let’s first go back for a quick summary of the end of 2016.

In December I had the opportunity to go to a temple here in Mianyang with a group of students. It’s called the Holy Water temple, a buddhist temple adorned with many colorful statues. During the month I also had several opportunities to eat out with students, and of course we had our final exams. Mianyang is often covered by gray hazy days, clouds, and generally lacks sunlight in the winter. I would argue it feels like there is less light than Seattle in the winter. There was one morning, however, where I actually saw blue sky (see photos below for side-by-side comparison).

 


November in Pictures


November was a full month of fun experiences. I was invited to tea by another teacher and learned about Chinese tea culture. We drank fermented black and green tea from the Fujian province and a tea from the Yunnan province aged 15 years. I discovered the college Biology Department brews its own beer. Yes, beer–and better than any of the mass-produced stuff I can find in the shops.

In other activities, I attended an evening English Corner to talk with students about interview skills and a little bit about Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day I taught 2 classes and then gathered with students to make 饺子 (Jiao zi), which are dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables, then boiled and eaten with a spicy soy sauce. I also celebrated Thanksgiving with other Peace Corps Volunteers and the next day had a potluck with some other foreign teachers in Mianyang.

October in Pictures

October was a busy month as I further settled into life in Mianyang and my teaching schedule. An event of note was held to welcome the freshmen on the 21st. Each department of the university has one, complete with dancing, music, emcees, games, and flashy lights. Many of my students were involved in planning, performing, and the behind-the-scenes work. When students had first mentioned to me about this event, I thought it was just an activity for the English Corner, but as I’m learning, performances, competitions, and events are often big productions. Without knowing how these things usually go, I told my students I’d give a short speech. Well, I did, and it felt a little out of place to all the performances of the night, but my words were nevertheless meaningful. Then to my surprise, during an actual English Corner activity about Halloween the following week, the Dean of the Foreign Languages Department kicked off the night by name-dropping me in his speech and paraphrasing to them what I had said before.

Earlier in the month I attended an “international” food festival that mostly comprised of Chinese street food. The students I went with were also disappointed, but we went out for a good lunch.

I also starting using my toaster oven more often and made rolls, banana bread, apple oat crisp, cookies, and pumpkin scones.

September in Pictures

Here are a few photos from September. In addition to teaching, I traveled to Luzhou (another city in the Sichuan province) to meet up with other Peace Corps Volunteers. We imbibed on local food and drink, which included a tour of the Baijiu (grain alcohol) factory. Earlier in the month, I began teaching Speaking and Listening to both Freshmen and Sophomores. I am assigned a language lab and not permitted to take my students outside the classroom. Having these desks and computers is cumbersome and presents challenges to communicative language teaching, but I am making it work. A more detailed post to follow.