Late Night on the Beijing Subway

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I’ll have to ride the subway late at night more often…

Every Thursday afternoon I travel to Yanjiao to see the children at my old school. Today on my return trip home, I decided to see a movie in English (Men in Black 3 in 3D) since the bus stop is right by the movie theater and tomorrow is a holiday. When I got out of the movie theater it was after 10:00 p.m, raining, and I still had an hour subway ride before I made it home.

Just four stops from my destination, this little scene broke out. I don’t normally video strangers because I don’t want to be intrusive/obvious (and I don’t know how to ask in Chinese), but there was a convivial atmosphere, almost like we were family. It put a smile on my face and a warmth to my soul so I wanted to share it with you.

First only one guitar was playing and then another came and joined him. I don’t think they knew each other but they knew the same songs. Then on the other side of me was an older man meditating with what honestly looked like a petrified piece of poop. The young man across from him was quite interested and watched the man wave his hand above the object. The old man continued to wave his hand while looking at the young man with a playful glint in his eyes. The young man ventured a question but the old man just waved his hand and gave his mirthful glance. Finally he answered some of the young man’s questions.

I doesn’t seem like anyone is a stranger in China.

On another note…
This weekend is a holiday, Dragon Boat Festival. I’ve been busy this past week learning all about it so I could teach the children all about it. I hope to share what I’ve learned and some of our classroom celebration photos with you soon (this weekend if the teachers don’t have other plans to take me somewhere I haven’t been–collecting memories comes first, sharing them with you can come later).

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Welcome to the Doghouse

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One of our tasks was to decorate a classroom “western style.” Although, we weren’t sure what was meant by “western style,” we had gathered some classroom decorating materials from the local teacher supply store and packed them in our suitcases. I had also weeded through my own children’s book collection and brought the ones I thought I could part with or easily replace (which ended up being a good thing because I cannot find children’s books in English here).

We noticed that the Chinese teacher’s decorations, although lovely, did not have an educational purpose (see Welcome to Yanjiao and More Yanjiao). There were no alphabets, no art with numbers or shapes or colors.

Nili, our Chinese friend in the US who had sent us here and is also the Coordinator of Early Childhood Education at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, instructed us to make sure our decorations had a purpose. We set about our task–

August 18, 2011. Molly and Maggie.

well, mostly Maggie and Molly set about the task because I am hopelessly inept at art having been denied the privilege of taking art classes in junior high because I was in orchestra–the girls are incredible at creating fun, colorful and purposeful class art.

August 18, 2011. The alphabet line across the top of the wall. Vivian helped us with the Chinese words.

August 18, 2011. The library center filled with my collection of books from the US.

August 18, 2011. The girls created this adorable number line.

August 18, 2011. The art center. No art supplies, though.

August 18, 2011. The circle time area. It’s the only part of the classroom that I actually use.

August 18, 2011. Housekeeping Center.

Although we set the room up with centers (as an example of an American preschool room) none of the centers were ever used. My room is where the children come twice a week for a 30-minute English class which I teach at the circle with a mixture of music, conversation, and games.  The children loved the little house but I had to take it down because they would hide in there instead of sitting in the circle.

August 18, 2011. The handwashing area.

We also shied away from using the vinyl adhesive in favor of construction paper. I later learned why they used the vinyl adhesive when our construction paper decorations started falling down from the humidity after only a month, while the vinyl adhesive ones are still up!

August 18, 2011. The class bathroom.

August 18, 2011. The classrooms have tiny western toilets!

Well, I have been enjoying posting daily, but it’s been hard work. I plan to keep it up, though, as I have so many stories and pictures to share–I’ve only just begun. I’ve got video, too, if I can ever figure out my video editing software.  Stay tuned next week for more on the Great Wall, church in China, and maybe even the long-awaited “Pizza (part 2)!”

The State of Marriage and Strange New Foods

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Recently a reader asked:

One question: if Vivian was married, why was she your roommate? This apparent desire to provide a good hostess for you seems to be taking Chinese hospitality to the extreme!

Good question!

The first two people I met when I arrived in China were Vivian and Dai. They picked us up at the airport. Dai (pronounced “die”) seems to be the big boss’ right-hand man and general chauffeur for the preschools. Dai and Vivian are both married but living separately from their spouses. Their hometown is Hohhot–that’s where the preschools started and several key people were moved to Yanjiao and Beijing to help start the new schools.

Dai’s wife and 5-year-old son still live in Hohhot. His wife is an accountant for a fancy hotel. About every other month, Dai will go back to Hohhot and spend a week with his family.

Vivian’s husband, I call him John, is from another city and they met on a train while they were still in college. John works for a company in Beijing and lives in the company dormitory which does not have space for spouses to live. Vivian and John were married in May of 2011. It worked well for Vivian to be sent to Yanjiao as director, it meant she would be closer to her husband–though still a couple hours apart.

After learning about Vivian and Dai’s family setup, I wondered if all Chinese families lived apart.

Diary Entry August 17, 2011:
Our escort, Dai is from Hohhot. He says all his family is in Hohhot, father, mother, wife, son. He doesn’t live with his wife in Beijing. That is sad to me. Vivian also says she is separated from her husband. He is in Beijing and she is in Yanjiao. She is glad she is not as far as Hohhot. Until recently she had been in Hohhot….Not living with your family must be common. I will have to find out more.

The teachers were all single, from Hohhot, and living in the school dormitory. My boss, however, lived with his wife and son in Beijing.

One day I asked him if it was common in China for families to be split apart. He said, “maybe not common for China but common for [our preschool].” When I mentioned this must be hard on families, he seemed to agree. He said that maybe it was time to move Dai’s wife to Beijing (for the record, she still lives in Hohhot) and find a job for her here. (I also occasionally read/hear stories about families where one spouse lives in a far-off city because of work, so it’s probably nothing anyone raises an eyebrow about. In fact, two of the children at the Yanjiao preschool were living with their grandparents while the parents worked and lived in Beijing. The two were cousins but called each other brother and sister.)

He also explained Vivian’s situation–with her husband housed by his company–but that they talked about getting their own apartment in a few months. Housing in Beijing is quite expensive, but much more reasonable in Yanjiao. I’ve been told a one-room studio in our area of Beijing is 2,000RMB per month, while an apartment in Yanjiao is only 700RMB.

Not long after Vivian and I got settled into our apartment, her husband John started staying with us for the weekends. It was a fun time because Vivian would cook and I would get to eat fresh, delicious Chinese food and learn about strange new fruits and vegetables, too.

October 30, 2011. Taro root.

October 30, 2011. Vivian preparing the taro root for steaming/boiling.

October 30, 2011. John cleaning some vegetables.

Taro root is apparently toxic when it’s raw. I had started to nibble on a piece to taste it before Vivian cooked it and her eyes got wide as she tried to explain that I could not eat it until it was cooked. It had a sweet, nutty flavor with a potato-like texture and we dipped it in white sugar to eat. It is common to find taro-flavored desserts here–McDonald’s even sells a Taro Pie.

Aside: I started to collect pictures of the new foods I encountered for a series on this blog. I’ll try to post them as I filter through my photo albums. For now, here’s a strange new fruit I tried: Longan, also called Dragon Eye:

Longan. Translates as “dragon eye.”

Ooooh! The eye of the dragon!

The outer shell is thin and cardboard-like. It’s very easy to peel or crack open. The fruit is super sweet and juicy, although the flavor is a bit mild. There is not much of the white part–which is the only part I ate although I just read that apparently you can eat the outer shell and the black seedy looking thing. It’s not on my bucket-list of things to try, but I’ll let you know if I get the chance.

After a couple months of weekend visits, John decided that he liked Vivian’s cooking so much he would come to Yanjiao every night. He’d arrive around 8 p.m. and leave early to catch the speedy bus to Beijing before 6 a.m. While Vivian enjoyed spending time with her husband, she would sometimes sigh about having to cook dinner for him every day after a long day at work (I don’t think I’ve seen a more dedicated worker than Vivian–always busy, always thinking and creating, and always at work until late). But, still, she would dutifully walk to the market to pick up fresh supplies and come home to prepare a hearty meal for him.

After I left Yanjiao, Vivian had to move out of our apartment and into the teacher dormitory. That meant no more overnight visits from John. They were close to getting an apartment in Yanjiao. But just last month, Vivian was moved to the Beijing preschool to work as director (yea for me!!). She now lives in the school, too, but in the room with the other teachers. And she still spends her weekends “playing (as they call any activity that is not work)” with her husband. Someday, they still hope to find a place of their own.

Update, June 15:  I learned that an apartment in my area actually costs 5,000RMB. Also, just after this post was published, the teachers and Vivian moved into an apartment together about 10 minutes away from the school because they had more teachers than could fit into the teachers’ dormitory. Vivian has her own room in this apartment that she shares with her husband (for which she reimburses the school).

More Yanjiao

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More artistry fom one of the other completed classrooms and the music room:

August 18, 2011. Yanjiao.

August 18, 2011. Yanjiao. Housekeeping Center. Calling it “Children’s Home” makes me think it’s a place for orphans.

August 18, 2011. Yanjiao. Construction Center. The closest wall art came to “art with purpose” if only they had intentionally made the buildings out of different shapes.

August 18, 2011. Yanjiao. Reading Center.

August 18, 2011. Yanjiao. Art Center.

August 18, 2011. Yanjiao. Music Classroom Door. It took me a few weeks to realize those were books under the green hearts.

August 18, 2011. Yanjiao. Music Classroom.

August 18, 2011. Yanjiao. Music Room. I was pleased with the selection of children’s instruments lined up on the shelves.

The school held demonstration classes to help recruit students. Part of it was in the classroom,

August 21, 2011. Yanjiao.

and part of it was led by the music teacher. The music class was very similar to Kindermusik and I wondered what kind of special training the teacher had received. The music also sounded much like my Kindermusik music only it was in Chinese.

August 21, 2011. Yanjiao. Music class.

And finally, here is a look outside at the playground and the apartments across the street. (There were many developments in the area that looked like these. My apartment building was identical to these but located behind the school building.)

August 19, 2011. The outdoor playground and the view to the right.

August 19, 2011. Directly across the street.

August 19, 2011. The playground to the left.

(for a look at other classrooms see Welcome to Yanjiao and Welcome to the Doghouse)

Welcome to Yanjiao

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The Yanjiao school was just a couple months old when we arrived. There were no students yet and the teachers were busy decorating the classrooms. It was clear that they did not have access to a local teacher supply store with pre-made alphabet, counting, and thematic items. Their decorations were lovely, elaborate designs cut out of a vinyl adhesive much like contact paper (but not as thick or strong). The rooms had a lot of beauty but that seemed to be the only purpose for the decorations. There were no alphabet lines, or number or color walls.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

The handwashing area. When I asked about the purpose of the little paper cones hanging from the ceiling, the teachers said, “to look beautiful.”

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao. Note the handwashing instructions in Chinese.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

So far, all the classrooms I’ve seen have been blessed with an abundance of natural light.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

I think this was for “Circle Time” but it was in the center of the room rather than near a wall.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

All of our classrooms have huge observation windows. The sides of the windows slide open to allow for cross-ventilation. Although the classrooms all have air-conditioner/heater units, they are used sparingly.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao. The plum or cherry blossom branch is used often in Chinese art.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao. Lobby play area for blocks and toys.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao. Indoor play area.

August 15, 2011. Yanjiao.

More than anything I was impressed with the artistic abilities of the teachers. One of our tasks was to decorate our own room “western style.” I trembled at the thought of having to make my own decorations out of vinyl adhesive. Tomorrow, I’ll share more of the Yanjiao classrooms (see More Yanjiao and Welcome to the Doghouse).