Cwray's Blog

Hello Again
September 28, 2010, 3:41 pm
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I apologize for the long wait between blog entries.  Over the past week I have encountered the following: A sinus infection that has lasted three weeks has come back with a vengeance; my work schedule for this week has nearly doubled, breaking my contract, and leaving me with quite the moral quandary, and a trip that has been in the works for over a month may not become reality because of school politics.  So as you can see it is not because I did not want to write, for I did, I just had a little on my plate; a little what you ask?  You can guess.

Firstly, I had a sinus infection three weeks ago and wanted to get rid of it al natural; aka, no medicine.  I had in my reserve some antibiotics, but given that I have had two doses already this year I thought it would be wise not to abuse them.  My condition never improved and I have been fighting it on and off since.  Well last Thursday Lizzie and I had taught our last classes for the week and were set to be off Friday-Sunday with one class on Monday.  I, happy that it was the weekend, went off to the gym and the store and when I got back found a frantic Lizzie: “Well, my weekend is gone” she said.  “Why, what’s up” I asked?  She informed me that while I was gone Coco (our liaison with the school) had called and told her that we would be teaching our week one courses (we have two one-week schedules) Friday – Monday.  This presented a number of problems, but namely blatantly broke our contract and left me with a few hours to prepare lessons for twenty classes.

I think it goes without saying that Lizzie and I were being taken advantage of and really had no options.  “But it was in your contract” is probably what you are thinking, but let me guide you through my reasoning on agreeing to teach anyway.  First, contracts in China are not the same as in the United States; they really mean nothing.  Second, if I decided to teach the worst that could happen would be the bruising of my ego.  And if I refused?  I only needed to let my mind wander a minute to realize the possibilities.  And lastly, we were coming up on a week-long break and the school was trying to make up for it by making us teach more, therefore this should not happen again.  Needless to say the stress that occurred in the two hours between finding out and making the decision to teach (and a meeting with our boss) had set in and the sinus infection was back.

I was able to get through the first day of teaching, but that night I did not get to sleep until 5:00AM.  Before I got to sleep I used enough tissue to get a call from Al Gore on my global warming contribution, I frequented the bathroom multiple times because this time the sinus infection wanted to bring a buddy, the flu, adding to the already fun experience and I was hallucinating.  Now let me clarify – by the word hallucinating, I am referring to the state that is between being in a dream and being awake.  Mine in this instance was odd, but actually useful.  Before I went to bed I had been studying Mandarin and it seemed that it had stuck because I was hallucinating that I had to translate these newly learned phrases off and on for a good four hours; sounds good for someone wanting to go to sleep doesn’t it?  So at 2:30AM I decided to text Coco and let her know that “I would not be teaching because I was ill.”  Let me point out that I did not say “today” and that would later prove to be important.

I slept for three hours and woke up at eight.  I felt ok I thought, and given that I did not know how sick days worked (they were stated in the contract, but we know how well that is followed) I decided to call Coco and tell her I would teach my next three classes.  “You want to teach this semester” she asked?  I was confused and I said “no, today.”  “I can’t hear you very well, is it ok if I come to your room” she asked?  “Sure, I’ll see you in a bit.”  A few minutes later Coco knocked on my door.  “You mean, you want to teach today” she asked hesitantly?  “Yeah” I said with a bit of uncertainty.  “But what did you mean by this” she asked?  And then she showed me the text and it clicked.  Coco must have gotten wind of our unhappiness of the schedule change and when she saw my text saying I would not be teaching, she took it as though I were quitting, not that I was too ill to teach.  After we cleared this up Coco asked me if I wanted to move any of my classes around because of the inconvenience and insisted I take the rest of the day off.  I chose to oblige her; after all, I didn’t want to be rude did I?

Now the trip – what about this trip?  Well this is my big break, a week cherished by all foreign experts (my title, honest) and believe me, after this week I could use the break.  The reason for this break:  Mid-Autumn Festival!  Most of China travels for this holiday, and by most, I mean fifty percent travel by rail (50% of 1.3 billion equals 650 million people) so getting tickets early is a must (I was told a month in advance).  Given this, one of the first things I did when I arrived at the school was ask when this break was.  I was told they had not scheduled it yet.  I thought, oh well, a few weeks out should be sufficient and so I asked again in three weeks; same response.  Two weeks; same response.  I ended up finding out one week in advance and guess what?  Sold out.  And so Lizzie and I decided we would go to Beijing instead since so many trains go from here to there.  It would not be ideal but we would be able to see some fellow teachers we met during orientation.  We went to buy our tickets (which is always a treat) since my Chinese has been improving, albeit slowly.  I told the woman at the counter that I wanted to two tickets to Beijing on Thursday on the bullet train, and it worked!  She understood, but unfortunately I understood when she said “meiyou” which when translated into English means “we don’t have.”  Ok, Friday then, and on a piece of paper she wrote what I thought said 10:30 and I bought them.  We got our tickets and I was feeling good.  Here I had two tickets, for Beijing, on the bullet train, at 10:30 on…10/03.  Ah!  I had thought she had written the time 10:30 but it was the date 10/03 and our break was over 10/05!  Looks like I’m scalping some train tickets!

So this, my loving, adoring audience is why I have not written you.  It is not because I have found another audience that satisfies my needs in ways that you cannot; I do not want you to think this for a second!  No, it is you who I adore and have from day one and it is you who I will continue to adore.  So again, I apologize for my lapse between blogs, but given that my week-long break will be spent in Baoding instead of elsewhere, I may more than make up for it.


No Tea for Me (Beijing trip cont’d)
September 22, 2010, 5:44 am
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I did my best to try and ignore them but Will (one of the suspects) was intent on practicing his English, so I complied.  I could entertain him I thought and so we went walking around the outer wall of the Forbidden City.  “How long have you been speaking English” I asked him?  “Only about three years” he replied.  His English was good, much better than the teachers at my school who had been studying it three times that long.  Still skeptical, we continued on until I found another area I wanted to photograph.  I took out my camera and began taking photos while Will talked to Lizzie.  While his attention was distracted I reached for my pocket and took out my cell phone and sent a text to Lizzie:  “Remember the tea house scam” I asked.  Her phone was on silent and she did not reach for it.

We continued on and Will was set on taking us to Old China which would take us away from the area we were familiar with.  I did not feel comfortable.  “Lizzie” I said, “I want to go back and take some more pictures, what do you say?”  “Oh, ok” she responded.   “You guys are welcome to come with us and we can practice your English” I added.  I had played it smoothly and waited for his reply.  “But don’t you want to get some coffee, some tea, some refreshment” Will asked.  Now I knew. “No, I think I just want to take some pictures, but you are welcome to come with us.” Will’s demeanor shifted right before my eyes from calm to desperate: “But I’m thirsty and I want some refreshment, won’t you come?”  “No, I’m not really in the mood for tea, are you Lizzie?”  “No, I’m not either.” She seemed a bit confused by my insistence but she followed my lead and we left.

We walked back to welcomed familiarity and I explained things to Lizzie.  She had not heard of the tea house scam but she had noticed Will’s demeanor change and trusted my judgment.  As luck would have it I was taking some more pictures when who did I see but Will.  I turned to acknowledge him and he stared straight ahead with a scowl on his face.  He muttered something in Chinese and even though I do not speak Chinese I did not need to to understand what he said, I felt it.

Lizzie and I returned to Tiananmen intent on seeing the flag ceremony.  The ceremony happens every day, once in the morning and once at night.  The number of steps taken to and from the flag is exact and is replicated each time the flag is risen or lowered.  We arrived and picked out our space.  Crowds began to form and spaces began to fill in.   After our previous run in I thought it wise to kept my hands close to my possessions.  Lizzie and I counted down the time until the ceremony; only thirty minutes left.  I was lost in thought when I glanced over at Lizzie and saw two Chinese girls who were looking at us.  “Not again” I thought.  I returned my attention to the ceremony and they approached Lizzie and began talking with her.  “I love how you speak English” was all I needed to hear – I did not look at them once.  “Why is he not friendly” they asked Lizzie and she replied, “I think he’s tired.”  And so they were off, perhaps feeling the tension and realizing we would not be easy targets.   I turned to Lizzie and she grinned.  “I knew this time” she said.

After the flag ceremony we made our way back to the train station.  We boarded our train and arrived in Baoding at 11:39 (roughly); we had made it.  Even though we encountered Will and his crew we also encountered people pleased to help along the way and I tell you this: the majority of the time the latter is what you will find.  And yet, most people would forget these instances and when their trip was said and done they would recall their run-in with Will, but me?  I will remember the group of men who came to our aid when we were feeling overwhelmed and frustrated; I will remember Duke, the college student who helped us find our way to the subway and missed his train to see that we got on the right one and to them I say this: thank you.

September 20, 2010, 1:15 pm
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Last week Lizzie and I were informed that we would have to teach an extra two days but our normal break would be extended into the week.  We had already discussed heading to Beijing so we just postponed the trip until Tuesday.  Well as luck would have it (to be referred to from here on out as “China would have it”) I was sick for the entire break with a sinus infection.  Now when I have a sinus infection I do not feel like doing much, let alone planning for a trip so I left that task to Lizzie.

Monday arrived and we needed to buy our tickets for the trip.  Let me stop here and explain how train tickets are bought in China.  First, you should speak Chinese.  Now, let me tell you, Lizzie and I are not yet fluent in Chinese (who would have thought after three in China I wouldn’t be?), but we had phrasebooks and I had just completed a podcast on “buying train tickets in China”, what could go wrong?  Second, you must buy your tickets in advance; if you fail to do this you run the risk of the train you need selling out.  And third, you must do this all in person.  Let me also explain that it is an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the train station with a 30 minute walk (great for sinus infections).  So Lizzie and I, armed with the necessary words and phrases, set out to buy our tickets.

We arrived and waited in line, Lizzie reading her phrasebook and I reading my sheet of paper I had prepared.  As we stepped up to the ticket counter (or the guillotine, I would assume they feel similar) we muttered slowly and without confidence “We want two tickets to Beijing.”  There was a sudden stillness; the earth stopped spinning, a leaf blew across the sidewalk and then, BAM!  Like the floodgates opening at the Hoover Dam Chinese rushed towards us trying to drown us in our incompetence.  I tried to utter the word for “slowly” but it did not seem to register.  Luckily for us we stand out in China (my being nearly a foot taller than everyone else helps) and this attracts an audience much like a wrecked Cadillac Escalade beaten by a golf club does(I know).  This time the crowd was eager to help and we had a team of Chinese men ready for action.  They asked “ji dien” which means what time and we would say the word for tomorrow and eleven.  I also added the word “dongche” which is the bullet train and five minutes and ninety Yuan later ($6 apiece) we had two tickets! Huge success!

The next day we woke up, went to the station and were on the train for less than one hour; we had arrived…without a guidebook, without directions, but we had a phrasebook which had worked so well before.  We stumbled along, unsure of where we were going, but luckily we found a college aged student who spoke English and he too was looking for the subway station.  So we went down some roads that looked more like alleys, following masses of people rolling their suitcases towards what we hoped was the subway.  As luck would have it we arrived unscathed and with a new friend who helped us buy our tickets and sent us on our way.

Lizzie and I were short on time so we did not go into the Forbidden City, but did enter the outskirts through the gate pictured above.  Not wanting to spend much money we strolled along and took in the sites as best we could.  We walked along the outer wall of the Forbidden City and found a canal pictured below.  I was enjoying myself and was busy taking this picture when I noticed Lizzie was talking to someone in English.  I turned around and saw her talking to a girl, roughly our age who had a male companion with her.  Something felt a bit odd about this and I wondered, could this be the famous tea house scam that I have heard so much about (essentially English speaking tourists are targeted by youths who want to practice their English and are lured into tea houses and when the bill comes, one cup of tea, 2000 Yuan ($300))?  We will soon find out.

Karma or Something Like it: Part Deux
September 15, 2010, 2:27 pm
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The day after my unfortunate incident with Karma I had another first grade class – needless to say I did not feel warm and fuzzy inside.  I knew going into that class that I would be dealing with the same teacher who, up until this point, had offered no support, no discipline, and I did not feel that she would begin anytime soon.  But I am here to teach and I would make the best of it, or so I thought.

As I walked into my room to teach who did I see but Karma.  I asked the teacher what he was doing in this class as well (I’m sure she could hear the enthusiasm in my voice) and she told me she did not know; I was not surprised.  I would say that I expected things to go better, but I did not.  I knew there would be another issue and there was, and this time it came in the form of a comic book.  If you recall, I previously had a student playing a Gameboy in my class whom was not reprimanded (incidentally with the same teacher).  So I thought to myself: it starts here.  I was not going to have a student running around campus, I was not going to have a student playing a Gameboy while I was teaching, and I most certainly was not going to have a student reading a comic book instead of participating.  And so,  It was a decision that would change everything.

As you can imagine, Karma was not too delighted in my decision to begin disciplining: I expected this.  What I did not expect was a punch to the face, a kick to the shin, and a punch to the…well I’ll let you use your imagination on this one.  Now the teacher must have come to my aid, right?  No, she did not.  She did not come after I was punched;  she did not come after I was forced to restrain him for ten minutes (all the while getting hit repeatedly, and I assumed cussed at as well).  No, she did nothing of the sort.  She did, however, offer me a smile that said, “I don’t know what to do” but she never came to offer any assistance, not even when I was approached by two Jr. students who did not appreciate my restraining of Karma (which greatly added to my already enjoyable situation).  She simply stood by idly.  And so I was no longer flexible; I broke.

“I did not come here to be punched or to be kicked” I told them.  “And if this incident arises again I will be forced to refuse to teach this course.”  I had stood my ground and it felt good; it felt, right.

In the end, I had Karma for three days in a row; still, no one knows why, but I must add the next day he was better behaved.  Yes, the classroom was his playground and he went wherever he wanted, but I took a softer approach with him.  Karma is the real victim here, not me.  I have been hit by students before and I’m sure I will be hit again, but Karma you see, is intelligent.  He was one of the only ones who knew all of his colors he just needed a little guidance.  And so my goal for this semester is to make sure he gets the guidance he deserves because all too often the Karma’s of all societies are left behind and then we wonder why they behave the way they do when they are adults.  I am not naïve to think there aren’t other factors that go into shaping who a person becomes, there most certainly are, but my hope is that Karma will receive the guidance he so desperately needs, and it will start with me.

Karma or Something Like it
September 12, 2010, 10:51 am
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A day in the life of an English teacher.

In my last blog I discussed the ability to remain flexible, to humble oneself, and the rewards that it can bring, but one can only flex so much before they break, and this is the story of one such incident.

Now I must start out and tell you that when I told people I was coming to China many said, “Oh, I bet those children are well disciplined, you shouldn’t have any problems” and I too thought this.  I had heard that teachers in China are viewed with great respect and was excited at the prospect of having few disciplinary problems.  As many of you may know, I was a bit of a…trouble maker in my heyday; I was involved in my fair share of scuffles; I made fun of a girl so bad that she switched classes (I would apologize to her if I could) and I, along with my sixth grade class, succeeded in getting a teacher fired (still one of my greatest successes).  I was essentially a teacher’s worst nightmare, so maybe the fact that the events that have happened are what one might call karma.  I suppose you can call it that but let me tell you it is hard to be on this side of the fence.  I will say one thing on this matter:  At least my teachers were able to discipline me.

When I envisioned coming to China I pictured well-disciplined students, gardens filled with people doing tai chi and swarms of people.  So far two of those predictions have become realities but unfortunately, the one I most desperately needed did not come true.

The first time I taught my first grade class I had a student playing a Gameboy while I was teaching.  I assumed that the Gameboy would be taken away immediately, as would be the case in the United States, but I was amazed that after a scolding (which was actually more akin to begging) the boy picked his Gameboy back up and resumed playing.  I should have known right then and there that this class would be problematic and part of me did, but the other part thought that my discipline would be enough, but it wasn’t.

The next time I taught this class I decided I would play a variation of Duck Duck Goose, but instead it would be 1, 2, 3!  I thought this would be simple enough and a fun way for the students to learn to count.  So I asked the other teacher in the room with me (She is Chinese, and her English is broken at best) if we could move the desk; a simple enough request I presumed.  This simple task took nearly ten minutes giving a group of students enough time to discover a pile of water bottles awaiting recycling.  “What fun it would be to kick one” is what one must have thought and soon enough everyone was stomping and kicking them all.  Now I’m sure many of you are now wondering what their punishment was and I can tell you quite simply: nothing.  They were not scolded, they were not sent to the headmaster’s office, but allowed to carry on, to ignore my lesson and to do what they may.  Why didn’t I just punish them myself?  Because I am not allowed to, it is in my contract.  Needless to say, I left this class disgruntled, bewildered at what was allowed to occur, and wondering how I could teach this class.

The next day I had the same teacher as my helper, and after much success with my kindergartners playing the same game (outdoors I might add), I decided to give it another shot.  As we stepped onto the basketball court to begin to play, a student, who I shall call…Karma decided he wanted to climb the basketball goal instead of play.  I looked to my colleague for assistance, and none was offered, so I took his hand and told my colleague that he would sit out of the game if he would not behave.  Her response: “He is ornery”.  And so once again Karma was left to roam the court as he wished while we played 1, 2, 3 and I did the best I could to ignore him.  Time went on, the game was a hit, and all was going well until Karma decided he wanted to push a girl down.  She began to cry, and as you all know, my heart goes out to little children who are hurt, so I went and grabbed him and told the teacher he would need to go to the teacher’s office.  I assumed she would take him and handed him over to her and when I turned around what did I see but Karma running away from the court to cause amuck somewhere else.  I ran around campus after Karma and sat down with him and he was calm for the moment.  He began saying something to me in Chinese and I felt like he was telling me why he was behaving the way he was.  I felt terrible, unable to understand him and hoping so much that I could help him.  But by the time I began to feel pity he ran off again and by then I decided I would take him to the office myself.  And so I ended up carrying him but he made it to the office.  What was done to him, I do not know, but it was not enough, because the next day I was no longer flexible; I broke.

A Change of Perspective
September 8, 2010, 2:06 pm
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Hello all and welcome to another installment of China!, the blog about one teacher’s journey into a foreign land and his experiences while abroad. The past few blogs have been a comical description of what I have experienced during my first two weeks in China. It may sound like it is all fun and games, but I assure you it is not, and that is what this blog is about: the hardships encountered while living in a land that is not your own, a land where I am now the minority, and everything that I was once taught is now officially wrong. And here is a look inside one of those instances.

When I first signed up for this, I did so knowing that I was going to quite a different place than I was accustomed to. I have been to Europe, I have been to Argentina, but none of those could prepare me for what was about to become my reality for the next five months. When I stepped off that plane at Shanghai, I was saying goodbye to one life, and hello to a new one; essentially I was hitting the reset button. I was greeted by fellow CIEE teachers who were all like me and I enjoyed my week in Shanghai; but all the while in the back of my mind there was a quite whisper saying, This is not China. While I was being wined and dine, while I was attending shows and having a great time with my peers I knew that in one short week things with drastically change and I could not help but ask myself, “Can you handle it?”

The whole experience was not real to me until I stepped into my hollow apartment, set my bags down, and looked around. All I saw was grey. The liveliness of Shanghai, the lights, the sounds, was all gone. The people who had once been close friends were off on their own adventures, and I was alone in my apartment, unsure of what the future would hold and asking myself, “Can you handle it?”

The first thing I did was examine my apartment. I had a desk, a place to put my clothes, a refrigerator, a TV, a bed, and a western style toilet; all appeared well. But upon further inspection I realized that my apartment was by far one of the dirtiest I have ever been in. I looked at my bathroom to discover discarded hairs, filth, and walls that in another life had been white. When I walked across my room I felt a layer of dirt so thick that I thought the tile was unglazed; it was not. I immediately felt miles away from home.

It wasn’t until the next day that we were ushered to the store to pick up some things for our place; cups, bowls, chopsticks, food were all on the list, but when I went for cleaning supplies our escort (Cassie) was rather surprised that I would want such things. “Isn’t your apartment clean” she wondered: No, not quite. After we finished gathering our supplies we went outside to wait for our ride (the school has a car that will take us around town once a week), I with my dust mop, broom, and 3 other bags in hand, Lizzie with her two. And so we waited, and we waited. It seemed as though our ride had forgotten us and Cassie’s phone was dead with the school being an hour’s walk away. Luckily Lizzie had her phone on her and we switched out SIM cards and we were informed that the school had forgotten to give the driver the message. Nearly an hour and a half later we were picked up and ushered back to our rooms. And there I was, dust mop in one hand, broom in the other, alone again, wondering the same question: Can you handle it?

I cleaned, for 3 days I cleaned, finding things I would hope never to see again. I decided to take a break one evening and went for a walk around campus. I walked alone, feeling connected to my surroundings, enjoying the peace that only silence can offer when I came upon the maintenance shed. I saw a light glowing inside and as I peaked in I saw the machinery that powered the school, the inner workings that kept things in order – and then I saw another light. I must stop here and say that when I saw this next light, I knew exactly what I would see inside. As I walked, I again peered into the window and saw four bunk beds in a room smaller than one of the three I had in my apartment, and in those rooms were the obvious possessions of the school workers. “Don’t you see” I asked. Even though I was welcomed to a dirty apartment, I was being welcomed to the best the school had to offer. No one at the school lives as well as the foreign teachers. I immediately felt ashamed of how I had felt earlier about my own apartment. I have grown up in a privileged country, been brought up in a privileged household, and for that I am truly grateful, but sometimes that can also make one forget how fortunate he truly is. What would I be as a man, if not nothing at all, if the school’s best was not good enough for me?

And so, on that walk back to my room, I felt a change in my attitude, a shift in my perspective, and a welcome answer to the question that had been following me around for the past few months; and then I smiled.

Move over Jeapordy, it’s time to play That’s China!
September 7, 2010, 10:31 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hellllllllllllllllllllooo Folks!  It’s time to play, That’s China, with your host, Chhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhris Wraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.  If this is your first time tuning into That’s China, which is now on its 5th season, I will tell you a bit about it.  That’s China is a game show with your host Chhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhris Wraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay, and as your host, Chhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhris Wraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay will give you a list of possible events  and you will have to guess which one actually occurred.  Winners will receive an official That’s China keychain and a chance to enter a drawing for a grand prize of a moped (although you will probably get hit by a car, bus, or another moped within 5 minutes of owning it)!

But that’s enough about the game, it’s time to play That’s China, with your host, Chhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhris Wraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay and his lovely host, Natalie Levy! ( Now for those of you who do not know Natalie, she is a bit of an unknown but broke into the modeling scene in Shanghai China and has been in high demand ever since)

Question one:  What event nearly ruined an otherwise lovely lunch at the Italian pavilion at the World Expo?

1)      What is :“Chris was served a vegetarian dish instead of a dish filled with delicious meat?”

2)      What is: “Chris was asked for his autograph 20 times and could not finish his meal?”

3)      What is : “A little girl decided she needed to go number two on the floor and it was not cleaned up?”

Answer:  While all these are possibilities and do happen, the correct answer is number 3.  If you picked number 3, give yourself 2 points, if you picked number 1, give yourself 0 points, and if you picked number 2, deduct 2 points.

Question Two:  How many times did the taxi driver hawk a loogy and spit it outside the window on a 20 minute cab ride?

1)      What is “0”

2)      What is “2”

3)      10

4)      What is  “10”

Answer:   While I wish it was answer 1, it was actually 10 times folks, 10 times.  And if you answered C, please deduct 20 points for not answering in the form of a question.

Question Three:  How many days in advance was Chris told what time his classes would be?

A)     What is “One month”

B)      What is “two weeks”

C)      What is “one week”

D)     What is “20 minutes before his first class.”

Answer:  D, the correct answer is D.

Well that’s enough of That’s China today folks but tune in next week for an all new episode with your host Chhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhris Wrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrray!  On next, find out why Linda Lou and Vera Wang nearly went to blows on another episode of Real Housewives, Baoding and please remember to help keep the pet population down, have you pets spade or neutered.  Good night!