Friday, May 26, 2017

The great surprise

This past weekend I set out on quite a journey. I left Beijing about 8 pm on Friday night and took the train overnight to Baotou. Usually when I travel by train I travel hard sleeper (硬卧) but this trip I decided to travel soft sleeper (软卧).
My compartment.  I had to bottom right bed.
 In the hard sleeper there are six berths to a section (three high on each side) and the section is open to the train car. In soft sleeper there are only four berths to a section (two high on each side) and the section is closed off. I decided to travel soft sleeper because the ticket wasn't very expensive, only CNY 263 or about USD 38) and my trip was only for the weekend and I needed to be able to survive work on Monday.
I arrived in Baotou about 7:15 in the morning and took the bus to the Baotou Medical College where my friends L and T both work and live. I showed up at L and T's front door at about 8:15 in the morning. T knew I was coming, but it was a birthday surprise for L. When I knocked on the door T had L stand in front of it with her eyes closed.
The soft sleeper car. You can see that each
compartment has a door and can close.
Then he opened the door and told her she could open her eyes. L was glad to see me, but not super surprised. She had learned that she was having her birthday party that day (it was supposed to be a surprise, but surprise parties are SO hard to keep a surprise) and T had to tell her and the kids to get dressed by 8 am on a Saturday morning. She didn't know it was me and thought it might be a couple of American friends who live in Baotou, but she told me she did have an idea it might be me.
Nonetheless, we had a fabulous time. T had pre-ordered this amazing feast at a local Hong Kong - style restaurant and was able to order New York style cheesecake (now I don't think it really tasted like New York style, but it was definitely cheesecake. A BIG improvement from what we could find back when I lived in Baotou).
After lunch we went back to T and L's along with a couple of other friends and the 5 of us plus T and L's two kids played Killer Bunnies and then had more cake. This time it was a chocolate cake I had brought from Beijing.
There is a coffee shop located within my school and each teacher gets a food allowance each month that is tied to our ID card. In the cafeteria breakfast is 5 yuan, lunch is 20 and dinner is 10. Thus, for every work day in a month we receive 35 yuan. I almost never eat dinner at school. Sometimes I don't eat breakfast and/or lunch. I was also out of school for two weeks because of my surgery. As a result I have a lot of
The wash area
money left on my card and at the end of the year we will lose any money left on there. Thus, I ordered a cake from the coffee shop and carried it all the way from Beijing to Baotou on the train. The cake was chocolate with a chocolate mousse filling and chocolate ganache on the top (it was the same cake M had gotten me for my birthday). It came with happy birthday candles (that actually spelled happy birthday this time) and an ice pack to keep it cold. It was 96 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course) in Beijing that day. The train was air conditioned, but not in the least bit surprising the ice pack completely melted before I made it to Baotou. The mousse also melted a bit and as a result the cake shifted, but when I got to T and L's we put it in the fridge and by the time we finished all our other celebrating the cake had re-solidified quite nicely.
On Sunday I got to see several of my Chinese friends living in Baotou before flying back to Beijing. It was really weird though, because I not only had dinner with L's (a different L) family, but then L #2 and I went to X's house and stayed until 9:30 pm. My flight didn't leave Baotou until 11:55 pm and arrived in Beijing a little after 1 in the morning. By the time I fought my way out of the airport (through the crowds) and wound my way to a taxi in the taxi stand and got home it was 10 minutes to 2 in the morning. I was shocked to see people outside my apartment complex eating barbecue. (basically in the pop up on the street type of restaurant/ street food.)
The western style toilet. Hard sleepers and hard seat
 (the only kind of seat on this type of train) do not have 
western style toilets. I actually do not prefer the western
 toilets because the bathrooms in China
 (and even more so on Chinese trains) can 
get really grimy and gross and there's nothing 
with which to clean the toilet seat.

On Monday, I was of course tired, but very happy because I had had such an awesome weekend and it was so much fun to reconnect with good friends (I got to see a total of 6 of my good friends while in Baotou for a total of about 40 hours).
A squatty potty

The fields of Inner Mongolia
Approaching Baotou
I made it to Baotou! Unfortunately, I had forgotten
my contact lens case. When I discovered this in route, I
ended up putting both lenses together in one corner of a plastic
bag (along with solution of course) and the buying a new
case in Baotou.
The two cheesecakes T bought. There was still an entire cake
uncut when I left their house on Sunday.
It shifted and cracked in transit from Beijing, but tasted great. 
The two cheesecakes T bought. There was still an entire cake
uncut when I left their house on Sunday.
This is at nearly 2 in the morning on a
Sunday night/Monday morning

The Baotou airport at 11 pm. I cheated a bit with this photo though.
I intentionally didn't show my gate. There actually is a good size
crowd there.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Interesting Recollections

So, one of the cool things that happens in teaching in general, and teaching abroad in specific, is that you have lots of interesting and somewhat random stories to tell. I usually try to write these posts on a specific topic or to tell a specific story, but that's a little bit difficult for telling these interesting stories because they are too short to make an entire post about each one, but also not really closely tied to each other to be one post. Nonetheless, I'm going to group them together today under the title "Interesting Recollections."

When I first returned to work after having surgery my students really made me feel good. First of all, every morning I get greeted in the hallway by choruses of "Good morning, Miss  Cannon" and other similar refrains. On my first school day back I not only got the standard greetings (which by the way come from many, many students, not just the 26 I currently teach) I also saw a lot of faces light up as students exclaimed, "You're back!" One student walked into the chemistry lab and saw me there and said, "Yes!" with a first pump. That definitely made me feel good.

Today as I was walking down the hall I heard a really loud roar coming up behind me. I turned around and saw one of the 10th grade classes coming down the hall. I indicated with my hands that they needed to lower the volume by taking both hands palms out and lowering my hands down. Several jokesters in the front of the class then lowered their bodies down. A moment later another student in the class shouted, "power walking." All the other students immediately went, "shhh!" They had all understood what I meant, but the one student (whom I had taught how to power walk yesterday) hadn't caught on...

One day in class I was working with a group of students when all of the sudden one of the students I was working with exclaimed, "我太帅!" (I'm so handsome!) When I replied (in English), "Really you're too handsome?" he just looked at me in shock. The rest of the class grew silent. I then said, "Why are you guys so surprised? You know I speak Chinese." One of my students then piped up with, "my mom returned home [from parent-teacher conferences] and declared, 'your chemistry teacher doesn't need a translator. She's the only teacher that doesn't.'"

One of my colleagues broke his hand a while back. As a result he was out for several days in a row and I covered his 6th grade classes (he also has 7th grade). The second day the students had me they started to wonder what happened to their teacher. When I told them that he had broken his hand they began to tell me that they were the trouble. They had already had 4 teachers that  year and this was the second one to break their hand (actually the first one injured her shoulder) and that one of the students had also broken her hand (I suspect from the story it was actually her arm). At the end of class I told them they had an additional homework assignment, not to break any bones over the weekend. Several students in the class then told me that they cursed me and I would break a bone over the weekend. I laughed and told them, "Get out of here." When they didn't leave the classroom, "No. Seriously. Get out of here. Class is over." When I saw them the next week I told them, "Look your curse failed. I didn't break any bones."

My favorite lesson plan in chemistry class is a limiting reactant lab where I give the students a recipe and a box of ingredients. I've already measured out the ingredients and using the recipe the students have to figure out which ingredient they will run out of first, how many cookies they can make, and how much of each ingredient they will have leftover after they are finished. Then they get to make the cookies (and eat them of course). Afterwards they have to write a paragraph analyzing how effective the analogy of stoichiometry to a recipe is (if you don't understand or don't know what stoichiometry is that's not important to this story...).

This is a fun lab and is usually the favorite with my American students, it was even more fun in China. In China not only are cookies not really a part of the standard cuisine, but people don't usually have ovens. Thankfully, the school has one in the teachers' lounge. As a result, this lesson became not only a chemistry lesson, but also a culture lesson and an English lesson. I had to explain terms like cream the butter and sugar together. I also showed them how to properly measure flour and other things. The students had a blast (and so did I), but they also made it more interesting. A couple of my students brought things to add to their cookies. One brought sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Another brought marshmallows. The funny thing is they were making different kinds of cookies (more or less randomly assigned by me) and the students happened to each be assigned cookies that their extra ingredients rather worked for. The student with the marshmallows had chocolate chip cookies (using M&Ms rather than chocolate chips because M&Ms are widely available whereas chocolate chips can only be purchased at import stores). The student who brought the seeds had peanut butter cookies. Some of the cookies had problems (not enough flour, too close together, too salty etc.), but most were still tasty and a good time and lots of learning was had by all.

Can you see the marshmallows on
top of some of the cookies?
peanut butter cookies with sunflower seeds,
sesame seeds (black) and even a few M&Ms.
Obviously these are only a handful of examples of the laughter and enjoyment that fills my day. As with an teaching job there are of course things that sadden, frustrate and upset me, but I chose to linger on the happy memories. I hope you enjoyed these recollections.