Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chinese Crawling Champion

From what we have seen, most Chinese children (and adults) are extremely fit and healthy.  From a very young age (3 years old!), they compete against other schools in a variety of activities.  In Peter and Jack's school, they run relay races, do push-ups, sit-ups, climb ropes, and do calisthenics every day.  Many days, Peter and Jack come home with sore muscles!  Even in university, to graduate they must pass tests where they run 2 kilometers in a short period of time. 

Sophie had her first taste of this in her kindergarten.  In her school, they had a "crawling" competition, among other things, that Sophie was eligible to compete in.  In her school, they lined her up on a set of green mats and told her to crawl as fast as she could for about 100 feet.  It was a timed race, and Sophie won 2nd place in her school!

Then, Sophie's school asked us if she would represent their school in the same competition against other schools!  So, yesterday Sue took the kids to the inter-school competition.

Here they are, trying to organize all of the children ...

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Sophie, holding up her school sign...
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Sue, getting Sophie pumped up for the big race (as if Sophie ever needed pumping up for anything)!
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... and here's the  Champ, getting ready for her race.  Lucky no. 2, with her name on her back.  The characters translate to a rough pronunciation of Sophie "So - Fay"

The school likes to send text messages to my telephone to tell us of the goings-on.  I mostly ignore them since it's so hard to figure out all of the Chinese characters, unless the teacher tells me to get one translated - I think one of them must have been about getting one of these blue sweatshirts.  Sophie was the only one without!
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Well, without the blue sweatshirt, at least it is easy to pick her out of the crowd.  Here she is with her classmates who she really adores!
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Munching on a piece of seaweed before the big race.  Maybe this will give her that extra burst of speed...
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Hanging out with one of her teachers for a little pep talk before the big race...
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Hangzhou 035... and SHE'S OFF! 

She crawled and crawled and won... 1ST PLACE!  I'm sure those of you that know Sophie's speed and energy are not surprised in the least!

Or, maybe it's because she wasn't encumbered by a bulky blue sweatshirt!

Here, the parents are making an arch for the children to crawl through.  Sue (blue jacket) is getting some help being an arch from the little boy behind her.
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After leaving the competition, they saw this scene - people using the trees as a clothesline on this sunny day.
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For Sue, it was a long day at the competition, more than 3 hours waiting for other kids to have their turn before Sophie's appearance.  There was no English to be heard either, so it was a challenging day for her, and I was teaching all day!

A Home Cooked Hot Pot

On Friday we had guests, Dan Ling and Rebecca, two students at our university.  They went with Sue on their day off to go shopping, buying several shirts, sweaters, pants, and underwear, plus the night's meal, a hot-pot pan and cab fare for under $80 US.  Here are the girls starting to cook...
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Difficult to see in this picture,but our kitchen light switch broke, so we have been using the kitchen in the dark.  It has been very difficult to cook or see in there!
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Here are the girls in our dark kitchen...
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Here's Peter in his classroom at school.  Notice how everyone is bundled up - no heat in the classrooms.  Peter is standing with his teacher.  yes, he really is that tall, and yes, she really is that short!

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One of the apartments in our building was just vacated, so Sue snuck in for a picture.  Just one room with a concrete floor.  Not nearly as nice as ours, but very typical.
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... To buy groceries for tonight's hotpot meal, had to go to the local grocery.  We stopped on the way there where this man was selling popcorn.  Jack bought a big bag for 3 quai (about 40 cents).  The lady selling oranges next to him said told him, "They're foreigners, charge them 5 quai!" however we bargained him to keep the 3 quai price.
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Picking over the vegetables at the local wet market.  They're cheap but it gets exhausting haggling for everything - in Chinese no less!  An attractive meat display is over my left shoulder.
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And finally the piece-de-resistance!  The hot pot is filled with 2 different types of soup, usually one spicy and one not spicy, and heat is applied underneath (think fondue pot!).  Then you add your vegetables and meat to the soup, and after they cook for a bit, you fish them out and eat!  Completely delicious!  We made a small mistake on our hot pot soup so the soups were BOTH spicy.  One was REALLY spicy, and the other one was INCREDIBLY spicy - so we had our choice!
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Today was a Saturday, and a make-up day for next Monday 12/31 which we will have off from school.  I wondered how many students would show up on a Saturday, but of course there was nearly 100% attendance as usual. There's nothing like good old fashioned Chinese hard work!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Birthday Shopping Trip

I kept Peter and Jack home from school today and we went shopping nearby.  We took a taxi cab and the driver had the radio on.  As I was listening, I realized that I was understanding some of what was being said!!   What a thrill that was!  Here's the street we shopped on, on this cloudy, cool day - not rainy though!Hangzhou 011

Left: Peter and Jack, with their wallets loaded, ready to SHOP!  Right:  Part of a Buddha statue on Hefang street.
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In this touristy area, there are plenty of bicycles available to rent; but then how would we carry all of our packages!
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We stopped in another shop that had all kinds of interesting herbs and roots for sale, because we saw so many weird looking things inside!  Here is some kind of root artfully displayed in the window...
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Left: In the same store was some delicious looking snake wine - snake included.  Since my brother-in-law Dan had tried some on his trip, I guess I'll have to give it a go too, just to say I did.  Right: Some green tea leaves left out to dry, available by the "jin" or 1/2 kilo.
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Some hand-made slippers that can be had for your guests to wear.  In China, people don't wear their shoes inside their homes.  There is also a ready supply of slippers available at someone's house for guests, and shoes are always left at the door or outside.  This is one custom that we have really come to like.
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There's a McDonald's on this street too.  I'll leave the translation of the sign up to you.
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Peter and Jack successfully found some beautiful artwork to hang on our wall, which they are excited to give their Mom for her birthday (12/31).
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More sights from this touristy street.  The man in the picture on the right is a Chinese tourist that paid to dress up and have his picture taken.  He doesn't know he's famous now on our blog :). 
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Though Jack's hair is so short, he really wanted a Chinese comb.  So we stopped at this little kiosk where the owner was making them out of some kind of animal horns.
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... and here is the finished product!  Nice!  Jack bought one with his name inscribed for 30 quai (about $4 US).
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This weekend we both will teach class.  In China, it appears many of the major Chinese holidays (New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, being two of them) are taken off - however, the whole country makes them up on a weekend day.  So, Saturday I work and Sunday Sue works.  Then, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we have off from work.  We'll go to Shanghai, stay in a fancy hotel, eat fancy food, and maybe send Sue to a fancy spa for her birthday.

When we got home today, our water was turned back on - a day early!  Yahoo!  It's so nice to be able to flush the toilet again!

The Boys Help out at University

Sue took Peter and Jack to school last week to help with her classes.  Sue had office hours and some students came to visit including "Darling" and "Rebecca" below.  Darling is a senior and Rebecca is a Junior.

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They gave us a Santa pillow, a Santa hat and a wand, which Peter and Jack are modeling.
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Darling has also become Chinese tutor.  On Mondays and Tuesdays we have lunch together and she teaches me tons of vocabulary and we talk in Chinese.  Or rather, she talks in Chinese, and I scratch my head a lot :).   She's very patient and helpful!

I asked her a couple of weeks ago to become my Chinese tutor, and she has been great; except about the issue of paying her.  She won't take any money so I have insisted on buying our lunches.  However now she says it's not fair that I have to buy all of the lunches - even though she is spending her time teaching me!  I continue to be persistent!
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Rebecca, who took us to Xitang a couple of weekends ago.
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... and here is Jack hanging out in Sue's class.  Normally he is quite shy and not talkative, but Sue gave him some readings to do in class and he walked to the front and did a really great job!  He would also take Sue out into the hall and say, "Hey Mom, let's do this..." and tell her his ideas about teaching!  He really enjoyed himself as he helped out in the classroom.
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... and here's Peter sitting with some of the college kids, watching Sue's lesson.
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No Water

We came home Christmas night to find that we have no water to our apartment.  Talking to the building superintendent, I was surprised to learn we may not have water for 2 days or more!  This is not that much of a problem except for 1) showers and 2) toilets!    Five people using a toilet with no water can get old  and smelly after awhile!  To solve the toilet issue, he brought me across the street with a bucket which I filled up from the neighbor's hose, then I schlepped it up the stairs to our 6th floor apartment. So now we have toilet flushing water.

If it continues past 2 days we will check into a hotel until our water service is back!  Our ayi can't cook or clean without water either, and she is quite happy to have the days off! 

We  have to look at the bright side, however; we still have internet service!  If I had to choose between no water and no internet, I'd choose no water!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Our Christmas Celebration

Hangzhou 115Well it's amazing, but Santa Claus found us in China!  We don't have a fireplace in our apartment (wish we did!), so Sue creatively drew one on a piece of paper and hung it on the wall.  Stockings were provided - shipped to us by our amazing friends Amy and Bob which we sure enjoyed opening on our Christmas Day!  We celebrated on the 23rd since I had to work on the 24th and 25th.

Among other things, Peter and Jack opened a puzzle, and between Sue and the 3 kids they had it put together in one morning.  Sophie was very good at it!

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During the day, we went out for wonderful Christmas bicycle ride around part of West Lake, so we could gawk at all of the people, and they could gawk right back at us!
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Sophie received this hat at the restaurant we visited and wore it all day.
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Then,came time for the "party" with all of my 120+ students.  We came in in our normal street clothes and were greeted by my students in tuxedos and beautiful dresses!
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A Chinese party is more like a talent show.  We saw skits, piano playing, singing, a magic show, and karaoke.  There were 2 karaoke groups, and I found myself holding 2 balloons to be a judge; a red balloon for one team, a white one for the other.  So, after 2 contestants finished, I had to hold up a balloon to vote for the contestant I thought sang the best!  How to choose??
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Next, the 5 of us got up on stage and led the group in a round of "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer".  They also interviewed the kids who were somewhat shell-shocked by the large crowd, the microphones and the spotlights!

Two of my students, "Natalie" and "Chris", the MC's for the show.
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Singing and flute playing...
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More karaoke...
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A skit that was done, about a girl who is trying to win the heart of a boy.  The boy, "Parker", is wearing a sign that says "handsome".  In the end, he gets the girl!
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... and more singing! 
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We saw so many acts; it was overwhelming to see all of my dedicated students who work so hard at earning their Masters degrees to show off so many varied talents!

We also did a mini-white elephant exchange on stage which left quite a pile of garbage.  After the gift opening was over, Sue and I leaned over and grabbed some of the packaging to take off stage.  One of my students told me today that they were quite embarrassed that we had to do this.  We were the "guests of honor" with a special table up front, and he pointed out that guests of honor should not be picking up garbage from the stage.  Ooops! 

Although we missed our family and friends back home, overall we had a very interesting, lovely and happy Christmas!