Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Grade-school Halloween Lesson

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Today was my day off, so Sue volunteered me to go to the boys' school to teach a lesson about Halloween.  I was to do two 20 minute lessons, one for each of the boys' English classes.  However due to the popularity of the subject and that it was Peter and Jack's DAD that was teaching, more and more people were invited.  Finally,  we had to change rooms to the auditorium and I was now doing 1 40 minute lesson to about 80 children.  So much for preparation!

I taught them such Halloween vocabulary as:

jack-o-lantern zombie
trick-or-treat! witch
black cat ghost
mummy goblin

I showed them the scariest pictures I had found on the internet.

Next, I asked the kids who would like to say "Trick or Treat" for some real American Halloween candy (Thanks again, Linda)!  They were very concerned about the authenticity of the candy.  I had many volunteers!

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I also asked who was a good artist, and who could draw me a scary Jack-o-lantern on the board.  Once again, many volunteers!

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Jack and Peter were my helpers in passing out candy to all of the children.

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Peter demonstrated bobbing for apples and made it look so easy, but this boy just couldn't get one!

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Some of the other kids were able to get an apple quite easily.

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The kids had a good time as I tromped around the room acting out what a vampire, a mummy or a zombie does.  I attacked several children and I think they were a little afraid!  I think they will remember me.  Overall it was a fun time, and a Halloween to remember!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bobbing for Apples

Today I had the 4th class bobbing for apples as well.  Jack didn't come with me today as he had a field trip to go to for his own class that he didn't want to miss.  Peter also went on a field trip and they both had a good time.

Some of the students bobbing for apples...

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This girl, Chen Ye tried several times and was finally successful.  I admired her temerity!

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In the afternoon I stopped by the campus coffee shop and was  inundated by students - it was an English Corner that I had run into and I had a nice time visiting with all of the Chinese students before climbing on the bus for home.

Sue took Sophie to the doctor today and she has some mosquito bites on her face and ears and a respiratory cold, but otherwise she's fine.  The doctor is an Eastern meds doctor too, and he says she "runs hot" so she is prone to more skin problems with mosquitos.  Who would have thought that Sophie runs hot?!? :) 

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jack Goes to College

Today I brought Jack to school with me to do a lesson about Halloween.  My students loved seeing a real American kid.  I started the lesson by interviewing Jack about Halloween.  Once I was done with the interview, I asked the students what he had said for each of his responses.

Next, I prepared a tub of water and put some apples in, and Jack showed the students how to bob for apples.  They loved it, and soon many of the students volunteered to try as well, even some of the girls.  When there was 1 apple left, Jack said, "Don't you think the teacher should do it?"  This comment got a howl of approval and so I was also forced to bob.  I got a loud round of applause when I came up with the last one!

I showed pictures of ghosts, goblins, witches and trick-or-treaters.  When you try to explain Halloween to an outsider, it sure makes you realize what a weird holiday it is.  I also showed a website called which had scary music and screams, and allows you to see by state lists of haunted houses.  They were amazed to think that we pay money to go into a house where people try to scare us!

I also shared some of the candy from the US (thanks, Linda, this was really invaluable) and it worked as a reward for a competition I set up for who could unscramble Halloween-centered sentences the fastest.  Some kids loved the candy corns and butterscotches, and some kids thought they were horrible :).  I also made all of the students shout "trick-or-treat" before they received any candy!

Here's a picture of Jack, my tiny-teacher helper from Suzhou yesterday.  Another of his "Gollum"impressions:

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After some benadryl, Sophie's spots look much better today and we will be sending her back to school tomorrow.  She slept until 8am this morning which is very rare for her.  It was a very noisy day for Sue at the apartment as they were drilling on the side of the building all day, but she was a trooper and stayed home with Sophie, unpacking us all from the trip, doing our extra laundry and being an all-around great Mom!  Tomorrow Jack will come back to school with me for my last Halloween lesson and a new lesson on American songs.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Suzhou - Humble Administrator's Garden

This morning we said goodbye to my Mom as she continued on her tour of China.  The tour tries to insulate them from the small tourist shopping opportunities and all of the people that would be asking them questions.  When she was alone with Sophie and I yesterday she got a taste of what we have been experiencing - people getting right up in our faces and asking many questions about us and of course why we have Sophie!  She was a bit uncomfortable with it as the idea of personal space doesn't really exist in China. If you are looking for a bill in your wallet for instance, people are happy to look in your wallet with you just be be helpful :)

Today had a wonderful sleep-in, in our quiet, dark hotel room - quite a switch from our apartment in Hangzhou where construction starts around 5:30am! 

Our goal this morning was to go the Humble Administrator's Garden, roughly 5 hectares in size with beautiful canals, ponds, and vegetation.   Suzhou is known for its gardens, so we wanted to see more of them.  Peter particularly enjoyed the Banzai tree collection.

On the way there we were accosted by a woman who wanted to sell us a ride on one of the canals.  We talked her down to 150 quai for the 5 of us which was still probably a rip-off for a 40 minute ride, but it sure was nice!

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We rode on a boat similar to this one...

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Some pictures in the canal.

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Some of the little residences next to the canal.  All of their gray water comes out into the canal from their drains.  The kids really wanted to know about the "black water" and where does it go?  Not the canal, it was too clean.

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More canal scenes...

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Of course Sophie enjoyed being on the boat!

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There were many residences and side streets with steps down to the canal for boating or doing washing.

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... and so did the boys!

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Peter finally lost one of his "eye" teeth a few weeks ago so he has a nice gap in his smile!

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This jovial guy loved waving at the strange Americans floating by.  He had less teeth than Peter does.

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Our driver sang us Chinese songs as we floated through the canal.

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... Sue listened intently to the boatman's songs which were really lovely.

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His songs even quieted down Sophie!  Music soothes the savage beast!

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Next it was onto the Administrator's Garden.

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I made friends with this cute 8 year old girl.  I practiced my Chinese on her and she practiced her English on me. Suzhou 061

Jack found a rock formation to stick his head through.  "Take a picture, Dad!"

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Jack and Peter both loved the Humble Administrator's Garden, however it was stressful to follow Sophie around.  None of the bridges over the water features had any railings or walls, so we had to be on top of her constantly.

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Many of the walkways were constructed of carefully laid rock patterns.  We decided to see what it felt like without shoes.  Bumpy!

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As I write this we are on a very crowded train back to Hangzhou.  It stops in Shanghai which makes it a very popular route.  We are anxious to get off but we have another 2 hours to go.  Don't worry, by the time you read this we'll be snug in our beds back in Hangzhou!

Sophie has more mysterious spots on her face and ears.  She slept in a different room with Sue last night, and she heard mosquitos so perhaps that is what it was, however no one else was bitten.  Maybe they just like Chinese people. They are not on any other parts of her body except perhaps one on her hand.  Sue will try to find a doctor tomorrow to determine what they could be.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Visiting Mom in Suzhou

My mother was on on an artist's tour of China where they have been on a rampage to see many artistic sights in 3 weeks - in the last 3 weeks she has been on 4 plane flights taking her all over China!  The closest leg of her tour to us in Hangzhou, was Suzhou, a 3 hour train ride away.  Suzhou is known for its beautiful gardens which is why their tour group is stopping there.

So, last night we went too early to the East Hanghzou train station to catch the train to Suzhou, to avoid Hangzhou crazy rush-hour traffic.  We were surprised to see that we were the ONLY Westerners around, and we soon drew quite a crowd!  There are mostly farmers and other people from the countryside who use this station so they were very surprised to see us!  We may have been the only live Westerners some of them had ever seen!

While waiting for our train, we bought some Ramen bowls of noodles from the shop behind us, and the shopkeeper pulled out a little table and stools and we ate there in front of the shop.

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What a great marketing technique, as we soon had more than a hundred people in a circle around us all watching our every move, and buying things from that little shop to eat while they watched we strange Americans!  You can see the legs of the front row of onlookers in the photo below.  Next time we charge admission!

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Peter and Jack were asked for several pictures; here are some college kids who wanted their picture with them.  The girls all told them how handsome they are.  :)    Of course they're right!Suzhou 072

Next, we boarded the train, and we had sleeper beds which were very comfortable for the 3 hour ride from Hangzhou to Suzhou.  Sophie loved climbing up and down the ladder.  Who would have guessed?

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Peter and Jack enjoyed spending part of their time on the top bunks, and fell asleep for a couple of hours.

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Jack lodged himself between the top 2 bunks, and I was below him taking this picture.  We have just finished the Lord of the Rings movies and Jack has just finished reading "The Hobbit", so we think Jack looks particularly like "Gollum" in this picture!

Unfortunately for the rest of us, Sophie stayed up for most of the ride!



We arrived around midnight at the Bamboo Grove Hotel,  a very nice 4 star hotel in Suzhou - here are the kids the next morning with Grandma at a real Western Breakfast!  Yum.

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We went with Mom and her tour group to the Garden of the Master of Nets.  The garden was laid out in the 12th century, abandoned, then restored in the 18th century.  Apparently the owner, a government official, had had enough of bureaucracy and decided to become a fisherman, using this garden as a hobby.  Some pics below of us in the garden with Grandma.

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A very peaceful garden!  However, while we were there, a little Chinese boy of about 5 was leaning against a railing when it gave way.  He fell into the pond and an Italian guy jumped in and saved him.  The boy came out throwing up pond water, but he seemed to be ok after awhile.

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Here is Mom's friend and roommate, Ingrid Turner.

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Some of my Mom's tour group doing their painting.  The master is in front with a purple shirt.

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Here is part of the scene they were painting.

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... and the Master's result starting to take shape!

Suzhou 038Many Chinese gardens have beautiful rock formations, such as the one Sue and Mom were inside of below.

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Sophie enjoyed climbing on all of the rocks, next to the signs that said, "No Climbing".  We sent Grandma after Sophie to chase her all morning.  I think she got a good workout!

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These two were dressed in period clothing and were quite a nice sight in this lovely garden.

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Peter, Jack and Sophie loved the circular doorways!Suzhou 046

Sophie thought maybe she could walk all the way up the side of the doorway - with Grandma's help!

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... Peter being 11 for the camera.

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Peter bought a bottle that is painted on the inside, for a friend.  Sue found a bigger one for cheaper somewhere  else, so Peter was a bit disappointed that he didn't get the best deal!  Live and learn!

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We took rickshaws back from the garden to the hotel.  My mom, myself, Jack and Sophie all piled into the other one.  It was very "cozy", and he charged us double what Sue and Peter paid - probably because we were twice as heavy!

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Inside the Bamboo Grove Hotel.  Peter and Jack said they wanted to be picked up like Sophie, so I said - it's my turn to be picked up, and they did it!

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Outside of the Garden of the Master of the Nets was - you guessed it- shopping!  This is Peter and Jack's favorite activity.  Probably Sue's as well.  I usually end up holding Sophie and try go away from them so they don't ask me for more money :)

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... in case you had any doubt as to where the bargains are, this sign will tell you.  It's not in Chinese though - how do the locals know which one is the cheapest??

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The hotel has a little bar that had a pool table, foosball and darts and we were the only people there.  This afternoon, Mom, the boys and I went to the bar and played all of these games while Sue and Sophie slept.  We felt a bit guilty about not going out and seeing more of Suzhou today but it was nice to visit with Mom and have some down-time.  Speaking of time - Chairman Mao can help you keep track of it, below...Suzhou 051