Cwray's Blog

March 19, 2011, 9:44 pm
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Before making the decision to go to China I decided to do a little research on other teachers’ experiences to obtain a better grasp of what I was getting myself into.   I read about the cultural differences (there are a few), the differences in cleanliness of both countries (really unnoticeable to the untrained eye), and of the various activities that some schools require the teachers to take part in.  These events ranged from attending and judging English speaking competitions to giving speeches in front of the school and attending government officials.  I was aware that I might have to take part in similar events, but luckily I did not.  I did, however, take part in the New Year’s celebration that was being put on by the school.  The celebration would feature shows by the students, ranging from grades K-12, and I was to be in a fashion show with my second grade class in front of the students and their families.

First let me give you a rundown of the fashion show.  I was told that a costume would be made for me (which, as it would turn out, was constructed of clear tape and laminated CD’s) and that I was to walk down the “runway” twice, once with Lizzie and once with a student.   I would normally continue to write more here, but unfortunately when the words “clear tape” and “CD’s” are used to describe my costume then only pictures will do.  And here they are.

My students getting ready for the show

My lovely girls not listening to their teachers and instead focusing their attention on me.

Here are Lizzie and I doing our best to look excited; one of us is doing a better job than the other.

My third grade students looking at their English teacher with awe and admiration.

My third grade students.

Ah, to be young and flexible again!

My students workin' it!

Myself getting upstaged by my student, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

After stepping off the stage and out of my costume, I stood at the back of the auditorium and watched the performance. As I was doing this people would walk by and say hello, smile at me, and of course stare at me. There were two people who stared at me far too long, and after a bit of annoyance and biting of my tongue, I decided to snap their pictures. Did I do the right thing? You be the judge.

Hi there!

They start the staring at a young age in China.

This show, like much of my time in China, left me a bit confused and a bit embarrassed. I was forced to remain flexible and to simply enjoy the randomness that is China. At one point in time I was not going to do this show, but now as I look back, I am glad I did. I enjoyed being a goofball and I enjoyed making my students laugh. And at the end of it, I think the parents were both surprised and happy to see this American, a person viewed with great respect and esteem in China, and simply see him as a person who cared about their children. And if that is all I accomplished while in China, I consider both myself and my experience a success.


Karma, In Color
March 12, 2011, 10:37 pm
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I have written, rewritten, and then written it again, but I have not been happy with any of my “return to blogging” blogs.  So instead of boring you with excuses explaining my absence, I have decided to begin with a series of posts, each with a picture of a student and a description of how they impacted my life.  I will begin with a student who needs no introduction, one who was both a terror and a joy, one I aptly named Karma.  In typical Chris form, this picture was taken at the last possible moment, in fact, I was afraid I would be unable to get it.  This picture was literally taken 10 minutes before I left my school, and Baoding for good, and just before the students would return home for their winter break.  So without further ado, here is…Karma.

The infamous Karma, looking the part well.

I took two pictures with him, but this is was the one I decided on.  I think it shows his attitude well.  In the end, I grew to adore Karma, and in fact, I looked forward to teaching his class.  He would often run to me in the hall between classes and say hello, and sometimes I would give him a tickle to see him smile.  I was sad to learn that Karma’s parents had proposed that the school keep him an extra week for break because he was such a handful at home and they did not want him.  Whether or not this comment intended as a joke or not, I do not know, but I was led to believe that the proposal was sincere.  And perhaps this simple comment is the root of why Karma acts out, I tend to think it is.  Karma is handful,  I will not deny that, but he is misunderstood and incredibly intelligent.  Years from now I will wonder about Karma and whether or not his potential was ever realized, if his attention was ever able to be focused.  But like so many “trouble students” who are misunderstood, I suspect I already know both the answer to that question as well as the question why Karma is the way he is.

The Good and the Bizarre
November 24, 2010, 5:49 am
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Teaching has its fair share of highs and lows.  Living and teaching in China also has highs and lows but the in-between is comprised of the bizarre and unthinkable.

High – Any teacher knows that you are not supposed to have favorites, but anyone who has taught for an iota knows that those who repeat this phrase are merely lying to themselves: you have favorites.  I, like my peers, favor the following students: the well-behaved, intelligent and thoughtful (I would have hated a 10 year old Chris, sorry teachers).  This story is about the thoughtful.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about teaching is that I have a unique opportunity to witness young personalities emerging – the sassy, the feisty, the dominant – are all personalities I witness on a daily basis and Mary is all three personalities wrapped into one sassy tomboy.  Mary is in the third grade and as my Chinese counterpart told me, “she plays with the boys.”  Today Mary was dressed in a long, bright green puffy coat, she had on black gloves much like you would see on biker headed to Sturgis, and she wears a look of that both intimidates and stirs up fear.  Mary wears this look well, but believe me, it is much more than a look.  One day a student (a boy) was acting up and Mary could tell I was not happy.  Most students would have shh’d him, but not Mary; instead Mary said something to him and lurched towards him like she was going to pounce on him.  He immediately recoiled in fear, not wanting to know the reason for Mary’s gloves or what she had learned from the boys she played with and stopped his disruptive behavior immediately.  This is partly why I like Mary; she is tough, she is respectful, and she is extremely intelligent and as we will soon see, insightful.

When I enter any one of my twenty classes I am met with the cheers of adoring fans and for a moment, all chaos ensues.  I stand at the front of the class waiting for the silence to rejoin us all the while scanning the room for disruptive students and approval from my Chinese counterpart.  One day as I was doing just this I noticed a bright green bottle on Mary’s desk.  At first glance I thought it was another unusual Chinese beverage, but upon further inspection I realized it was Mountain Dew.  I grew extremely excited and asked Mary (through a translator) where she bought this haohe (delicious drink).  She informed me that she bought it down the road from the school, but that did me little good as there are more stores in a square block than NYC has in a square mile, but at least I knew there was Mountain Dew in Baoding.

The other day I arrived at class to find that Mary had bought a Mountain Dew and brought it to class for me and asked my Chinese counterpart how to tell me that she had a surprise.  This gesture not only shocked me, but will be one that I remember years down the road.  It is a simple enough gesture, it didn’t cost her much money, but the thought that went into it and the action that transcended the cultural and linguistic barriers is enormous.  So now, as I sit here writing this to you while looking at my bottle of Mountain Dew I realize that I have just experienced one of those rare moments in life, a moment that has forever changed me somehow, a moment that will remain with me forever and all thanks to a young tomboy named Mary.  Thanks Mary.

Bizarre – Now I must admit, I have edited this post since first writing it a few days ago, because the bizarre events that happen here never cease to amaze me.  As you are well aware, the stares one encounters while in China are an everyday occurrence, an everyday annoyance, but some of them become blog worthy and this is one of those.

Lizzie and I were off to the store on a Friday evening as we wanted to avoid the weekend rush.  Lizzie was looking at the various Chinese baked good while I was wandering around looking at some of the strange things that are considered delicacies here (premade hotdog/focaccia breads) when I noticed behind me a young girl, late teens possibly early twenties, who was holding a rather large stuffed teddy bear looking curiously at me.  This, not being out of the norm, did not disturb me and I offered a smile and continued on my way to find Lizzie.  On my way to find Lizzie I noticed a teddy bear lurking behind me.  I informed Lizzie of the situation much like, I would assume, a secret service officer informs another officer about a possible threat to the president: “we have a tail at 6 o’clock”.  We headed towards the dairy section making our way through the crowds and various free-sample stands that made up our now hostile terrain and as we arrived at the dairy section I once again noticed the teddy bear bobbing up and down closely behind.

Now at this point the stalking had grown from only slightly annoying to full blown “What the____ are you doing”, so I told Lizzie I would attempt to lose the stalker.  Like Sea Biscuit out of the gates I was off, rounding the first turn and heading for the coffee section.  I arrived and turned around to see if there was any sign of an oversized stuffed animal and there was not: success!  I made my way back to Lizzie only to discover hovering behind her nothing else besides the helpless teddy bear being clutched by the young girl wearing the same she had first flashed fifteen minutes ago.

Lizzie had been wanting some cereal for quite some time (considered a delicacy here, and priced the same) so Lizzie, the bear (and the smile), and I made our way to the cereal aisle.  Lizzie scanned the selection and the prices and decided against purchasing what would be the equivalent of a nice meal out for a box of cereal, and as we turned around to see where the bear was we noticed it was facing the other direction, perhaps distracted by another victim, perhaps not.  Lizzie and I wasted no time in darting away to the candy aisle and thankfully, we were not followed.

Seeds and Stems
November 15, 2010, 12:32 pm
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Sunflower Seeds

Those would be sunflower seeds.  Why am I posting a picture of sunflower seeds you ask?  I am doing such a thing because, in my humble opinion, sunflower seeds are one of the top 10 foods eaten in China: everyone eats them.  Picture if you will a good-looking girl walking down the street.  You think to yourself, “here’s a girl I could date, she’s good looking, she has nice eyes, she has…just spit a sunflower seed onto the street.”  Yes, you will see the young, the old, the beautiful and the, well, not so beautiful, spitting seeds while they are walking down the street;  you will see the seeds in piles on both the ground and on tables, you will see them everywhere.   Not wanting to miss out on the action, or the chance to flirt with a lovely lady (“Hey, what flavor seeds are you chewing?  Excuse me while I spit”) I too grabbed some sunflower seeds.  I must admit, the first time I tried some, I was disappointed.  You see, in China they do not have Ranch, dill, and the other flavors I had grown accustomed to.  Instead they have green tea, milk, and various other flavors I have yet to try, and so, on my first attempt at fitting in I picked up milk.  Milk?  Really?  Yes, really, and they were sweet.  And so, disappointed with the seeds they sat on my shelf, practically uneaten, for a month until a few days ago I was running low on food and thought I would try again.  And try I did.  Now I don’t know what happened in that months’ time, maybe it was the various illnesses I have contracted, maybe my tastes are changing, but the bag of seeds was gone in two days.  In one week I have gone through three more bags and I am anxiously awaiting the next grocery store visit so that I might try another flavor of seeds.  You see, I am now hooked on sunflower seeds and am forever changed.  When I return home to the isles of ranch, cheddar, and dill seeds I will be disappointed, perhaps even a bit China-sick (home sick for China) when I don’t see my milk flavored seeds.

My new cup!

The next picture is of my tea-cup.  Pretty nifty eh?  As I’m sure you all now, tea is extremely popular in China.  There are teahouses (and teahouse scams), teas ranging from very cheap, to very, very expensive, teas in all colors, shapes, and sizes.  The majority of the water that people drink here is hot because water has to first be boiled before it can be consumed.  I myself have always enjoyed tea so this is no problem for me, but one of the differences with tea in China is that it is loose leaf, no bags here.  For the past three months I had been drinking tea in a normal cup, doing my best to avoid the leaves and stems, with very little success until one day at the market I decided to buy this cup for around $3.  Now I enjoy my tea without nearly choking on a leaf and my world is that much brighter.

As you can see, China has changed me.  I now grow excited at the prospects of new sunflower seeds and loose leaf teas, but I suppose that is not a bad thing.  Things are different here.   For instance, when choosing a mate, how they spit their seeds is an important thing to know: do they go for distance or do they just let it fall out?  One should know this before saying “I do.” That’s all for today folks, s so from China, I bid you farewell.  Zaijian!

Beijing Revisited
November 5, 2010, 2:23 pm
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Now I must admit when I don’t write a blog for quite some time I feel like a husband (or wife, no chauvinism here) who must answer to his wife about the unaccounted for hours between work and the time he arrives home, who must explain the mysterious late night phone calls, and what is that, is that lipstick?  I assure you it is not lipstick, there is no other woman (or in this case blog), and my unaccounted hours can be explained by two illnesses in two weeks, an uncertainty on seemingly everything, and honestly, I needed some time to myself.  Now I realize the “I needed some time for myself routine” is not an appropriate answer for a husband to give a curious wife, but for my fellow blog readers it will have to do.  But as consolation for your sleepless nights and countless hours spent worrying about our relationship I have something to offer, and it comes in the form of lots of pictures and the quality blog you have come to love.  So from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.  Now shall we begin?

This past weekend Lizzie and I went to Beijing and I, having yet another sinus infection, was armed with what I thought would be an ample supply of toilet paper, but by the end of the Forbidden City China once again proved me wrong.  So between the sneezing and nose blowing, I was able to take a few pictures which I hope you will enjoy.

The main square of the Forbidden City.


Fall in The Forbidden City

The emperor's house of study and relaxation.


Next on the agenda was Central Perk.  Now for those of you who are wondering what Central Perk is, I will explain:  Central Perk was the coffee house featured in the TV show Friends and as far as I know, this is the only recreation of it anywhere in the world.  Lizzie and I searched high and low for this place which was supposed to be on the sixth floor of an office building.  After two hours of searching we came upon what we thought was the building and went in the lobby to check.  There was no listing of a “Central Perk” anywhere but we asked in broken Chinese if it was in fact located in the building and the attendant in the lobby thought that it might be on the sixth floor.  Lizzie and I searched all but one corner of the sixth floor and found nothing.  As we turned the last corner we had given up all hope of finding it, but out of the corner of our eye we saw what we had been searching for so long.

As we turned the last corner this was what welcomed us.

Central Perk

From left to right: Joey, Rachel, Me, and Gunther.

The next morning we arouse at 6:30 to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall.  Now I have seen pictures of The Wall, but let me tell you, they do it no justice.   The Wall is absolutely incredible to look at and surprisingly tough to climb.  Our tour took us to some less touristy parts of the wall that were unrestored and at times we could see no one as you will now see.

This was the part of the wall we climbed. As you can see it is in desperate need of repair.

A view from a guard tower.

A view from the top.

I could have sat here for hours.

Now even though I am glad to have seen The Great Wall, I will admit the whole time I was a bit, turned off by the fact that it was built by essentially using slave labor.  Workers were often sentenced to work on the wall as punishment for their crimes and the majority of them died doing so.  Those who died had their “sentence” carried on by their family members, and you can guess their fate.  The steep hillside you saw in the pictures?  Laborers carried stone up them from the bases of the hills, back and forth, over and over again.  So although it took a monumental effort and is considered a wonder of the world, the thought of the millions of lives it cost kept seeping into my mind making the moment a seemingly eerie sense of wonder.

Lastly on our list of excursions was the 2008 Olympic site.  Like many things in China, words and pictures do this no justice.  It seems fitting that when you exit the subway you must ascend stairs into the center of the site as the buildings seem to rise around you.  The first building you notice is the Olympic Tower which served as the command center for the games.

The Olympic Tower

The second, and most impressive of all the structures, is the Birds Nest.  The Birds Nest is absolutely incredibly and is one of the most impressive structures I have ever seen.   The sheer size of it is mind boggling and one cannot help but stop and gape when in its presence.

The Nest.

Even the walking path lamps were influenced by the nest.

And lastly is the Cube, which, because of Michael Phelps, needs no introduction nor any more words from me.

Michael Phelps' stomping grounds.

Well there it is folks.  This blog took me two days, nearly six hours of time (most of which was spent uploading pictures with incredibly slow internet).   I hope you enjoyed it and until next time, zaijian!

Karma’s Update
October 18, 2010, 11:32 am
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I’m sure you all remember my good friend Karma.  For those of you just joining us, Karma is a little boy who I named Karma (and have since called him that in class) who reminded me what a little…pain I must have been for my teachers.  He punched, he kicked, and he screamed which lead to me breaching my contract and disciplining him.

That has been a month ago and now Karma is…well still Karma.  He still roams wherever he wills, he knows which rules to push and which ones not to, and to the other teachers he is a problem child, but to me he is adorable.

When I enter the class now the first person I look for is Karma; I sort of look forward to seeing him now.  If you recall from my previous blog, Karma is intelligent.  He was the only one in his class to remember the colors I had taught previously, he understands what I am teaching almost immediately (his peers on the other hand cannot after an entire class), and he was one of the only one of my students (I teach K-4, Karma is in 1st grade) that knew I was from the United States, a fact that still boggles my mind.  But unfortunately for Karma, he is a bit…hyper.  He thrives on constant attention, he needs constant stimulation and if he does not receive it he will cause chaos and that is why he is has been labeled as a problem child.

This past class we were scheduled to go outside.  Students scurried for the door and I grabbed Karma’s hand: he was walking with me.  The students had just been given their snacks, some had finished, others had not.  Karma, being one of those who had not finished, decided to bring his snack with him and hide it in his coat.  Perhaps it was because I am constantly hungry, perhaps it was because I hid snacks in my pocket, or perhaps it was because when I caught Karma trying to get a cracker out his pocket he looked up at me with a sly smile, but I did not discipline him.  As we walked outside Karma would hold my hand with one of his and with the other he would reach for a cracker.  Even when he struggled to wrestle a piece out he never once let go of my hand to use two.  He continued to struggle occasionally looking up to smile.

The lesson of the day covered the topic of animals.  We learned the words dog, cat, and bird and given how well the game “duck, duck, goose” had gone previously I thought it would be fun to play a variation called “dog, cat, bird”.  In this version instead of tapping three students heads while saying “duck, duck, goose” I say “dog, cat, bird” while handing the three students pictures of the animal I named them.  The students the run around the circle, dog chasing cat, cat chasing bird, while making the associated noise of their animal.  The scene is quite amusing to watch and the students enjoyed it immensely.  Their enthusiasm grew when at the end of the game, I joined and have the students chase me, often times not around the circle, but around trees or any other obstacle I could find.  When it came to Karma’s turn to chase me I already knew what I would do.  I waited for him to get real close to me and then I scooped him up and with Karma in tote I ran around the circle.  I eventually set him down but by now he was laughing uncontrollably.

We arrived back to the classroom with five minutes remaining.  I had originally planned to review the animals one more time but everyone was hot after chasing after me.  I called Karma to the front and taught him the words hot, cold, and tired.  For cold, I shivered, for hot, I panted, and for tired, I fell to the desk and snored.  Karma and I then taught these words to the class and all the while I looked over and he was smiling.

So as you can see things for Karma and I are looking up.  He still has his moments and I’m sure they will continue, but I am not ready to write him off just yet.  Instead I see intelligence going unnoticed by others.  Karma has become a helper for me and I often use him to demonstrate new terms to the class.  He seems to enjoy his new role and will not sit down or wander until either I tell him to or fail to engage him.  Will this all make a difference?  I do not know, I can only hope that it will, that possibly his teacher can see that he needs to be engaged instead of ignored or that maybe years down the road Karma might remember that big goofy American that carried him around the circle and smile, I can only hope.

October 16, 2010, 4:38 am
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These are the doors that lead to my classes. Once I step through these doors I become a bit of a celebrity and believe me, anything is possible; this blog will discuss a few of those possibilities. My classes begin at 7:50 and for those of you who have had the chance to know me for any amount of time know that I do not like getting up early. Unfortunately for me my students do not know this, so upon my entering of the building and trying to make my way to the office I am immediately bombarded by students. These encounters can vary from the helpless “hello, how are you’” to the occasional hitting of various body parts that will go unmentioned. My clothes are tugged on daily, students enjoy jumping up and touching my head, and I am shot multiple times with imaginary guns. At this point in my day I am awake.

As I leave the office I am usually followed by a few students who again, spank my rear, tug on my clothes, etc., but when I walk into the classroom all these annoying little tidbits matter no more. I am greeted by smiling students who cheer for me and, depending on the teacher who accompanies me, they are quiet and still with almost military precision.

Now if you remember, I am more of an entertainer than a teacher, so my activities must be engaging. One of my favorite lessons so far has been on the topic of “directions”. These directions including “turn left, turn right, go back, go straight.” When I first saw this as a possible topic I was a bit unsure of how to make this entertaining but then I had an idea and armed only with my bandana I taught one of my most successful lessons. I started out the class easily enough; I had the students stand up and “go back, go straight, turn left, turn right.” I would then have a student go to the back of the room and have the class tell him how to come to me at the front of the class. The students enjoyed this as well, watching their fellow peers who are utterly confused at the directions being shouted at them, all the while bumbling about the classroom much like a pinball does in a pinball machine. Yes, students were eager to volunteer for this seemingly harmless, but fun activity, but their excitement grew immensely when I pulled out… the bandanna. You see, I kept the bandanna hidden from the students until I had established that my class had an understanding the day’s terms. I would then pick a student who would come up to the front of the class and from my back pocket I would pull out the blindfold. This in itself caused an uproar of laughter but not as much as the events that would ensue.

Now I’m sure you can imagine some of the things that can happen when someone is blindfolded and asked to navigate about a crowded classroom, but throw in the fact that these children also have to do so with directions in a foreign language and you have created quite the comical scene (so hysterical and loud that teachers from other rooms would come up to me after class and say “oh, you taught directions today”). I have had multiple students trip and fall (which, for the students his hilarious, but for a teacher…well I laughed too), I have hidden behind a door and had two students hit their heads on the corner of that door (again, roaring laughter), and I have sent students into the hallway and closed the door on them (although one student amazingly came in the other door still blindfolded). Needless to say the students are sad to see me leave when class is over.

After a successful class such as this I am then escorted back to my office by students who repeat the above mentioned actions, however, if I am unfortunate situation arises and the office happens to be locked the mob forms. Now, let me assure you, I am making no exaggeration when I use the word “mob.” I have been surrounded by as many as fifteen students at once, all the while being tugged and smacked where no sane human wants to be smacked, waiting desperately for a teacher to appear to save me (and my clothes) from the dismemberment that would no doubt ensue if not for her arrival. When they do I dash for cover in the office but if that door is left cracked, believe me, students will be there peaking in smiling, waving, and saying hello until they are told to leave.

Xiannzai (which means now, but I noticed I have used it to start half of my paragraphs already), I do my best to not use the restroom while teaching because of two things: massive amounts of urine and gawking students. The former is quite a problem and I do not understand why. Women, you all know very well that men have problems with…shall we say…aiming, but one would think this would not be an issue with trough-style toilets, but somehow it is. While this is a frustrating issue (and why my shoes come off immediately upon entering my apartment) the main reason I avoid the restroom is this this: no doors on the stalls. When you walk into the restroom, or should I say wade into the restroom, you can see someone staring up at you, fully exposed while taking a number two, all the while smiling at you and saying “hello” because you are a foreigner. I go to these stalls only partake in number ones so my back remains facing the students, but even this does not stop the curious from peering over the stalls (I assume to see if “it” looks the same) or from trying to squeeze in to join me, all the while saying “hello, what is your name?”

As you can tell, teaching in China is quite different from teaching in the United States; what constitutes an everyday occurrence for me would constitute sexual harassment and expulsion in the United States. Things are different here and school is no exception. Students are corporally punished (often times with sticks) but that has to be expected when students are in school for seven days a week (although I am told five is the norm elsewhere) from 7AM to 7PM for kindergartners (who are as young as three) and 8:30PM for the older students. Yes, things are quite different and part of me (all of me actually) feels pity for these students who are missing out on being a child. For them things are much more serious – getting into university is something like a 1:1000 chance for a child from the countryside and education is of the utmost importance. So I suppose the constant tugging of my clothes, smacking of my unmentionables, and my sometimes feeling like a zoo animal is worth it, if for those short forty minutes I have each week, I can take these students away from the stresses of their everyday lives and let them feel like…kids.