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Greetings!  Merry Christmas!  Happy Holidays!  Recently Molly and I have been given the opportunity to travel to Beijing.  This far in our commute between Hohhot and Beijing, we’ve gone strictly by car and plane, but just recently we arrived in the capitol city by train.  Aside from my stint at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I’ve never ridden on a train before (oh, and there was that time at a train museum in Connecticut), so I was partially nervous, partially excited, and mostly concerned (or as I like to say: concernicus).

Aside: Molly and I walked into our kindergarten back in Hohhot one chilly December eve to find our director on the phone with one of the higher ups in our company.  She had some of the English speaking teachers with her, who asked us to wait on the couches in the lobby of the school.  A little concernicus, we did.  When our director got off the phone, she informed us that she thought we were a little sad and that she had just applied to our boss man for a small holiday (teachers here don’t get a holiday for Christmas).  We were allowed to go to Beijing from December 16th – 27th.  We were really excited until a few days later, they told us we wouldn’t be staying in Yan Jiao where our mom works – that we would be living in a new school that was opening soon in Beijing.  We were still kind of excited (Beijing has more people that speak English, more things to do, and better food) until we later got a text from our boss man while we were on the train that we were going to stay until February.  Nevermind that we hadn’t packed for such a stay…we had obligations in Hohhot to fulfill (private English lessons and private Chinese lessons, I left half of my medications behind, let alone all of our clothes, plus in China we have to boil our water and we left our kettle behind).  It was the terrible start to what we had thought would be a nice little break.

Aside: Transportation is a problem in a country where there are a LOT of people in not a lot of room, especially in a country that is rapidly growing and becoming more modern (everyone wants the “American” lifestyle: their own car, iPads, iPods, smart phones…).  To get to the train station on time we had to leave our school at 5 in the School Bus and ride with the kids that are taken home instead of picked up at the school.  This is in rush hour traffic, so it took 2 hours to drop off maybe 7 kids who live within a 2 – 3 mile radius of our school.  Then we found a place to eat dinner and then we headed towards the train station.  After waiting a good 20 minutes for a parking spot, we were still about 75 minutes early for our train.  We passed the time in an unheated lobby packed with people playing cards with numb fingers while people smoked around the corner.

Long asides aside, trains, like most things in China, are uncomfortably cramped and tiny.  Granted, I’m a little on the giantess side, even for United States of Americans, but still.  We were lucky enough to have a sleeper car, but that meant rows wide enough for one person at a time to walk down (if you had a bulky bag to carry…good luck with that) with bunk beds on either side stacked three high.  Once you are on the bed, you don’t have (or at least, Molly and I didn’t have) room to sit up straight.  We were worried about pickpockets so we didn’t put our luggage on the luggage racks, we kept them on our beds at our heads so no one would take them (making our short bunks even shorter.  Most of the eleven hour trip I spent curled up in a tiny ball.  Like yarn).

At least the trains provide hot water (a big fad in China.  When Mom’s roommate found out she drinks cold water generally, she was concerned for her health and thought she was a bit off her rocker.  Mom knows a bit more about the reasoning behind this semi-irrational fad (would one want to constantly scald one’s tongue in the name of hydration?), but I don’t think she can be compelled by unnatural forces or love or money to update this blog ever again, or so it seems, so I suppose we’re all SOL on a decent explanation about this obsession.  I’m going to file ‘hot water in China’ under my ‘general experiences in China’ that has the general heading: ‘everything in this country is exceedingly uncomfortable for me’).  Once we arrived, we drove through Beijing for about 2 hours before Molly and I arrived at our new abode 天通苑 (Tian Tong Yuan).  It’s a brand new kindergarten that will open next term.  Our job is to decorate the environment by incorporating American themes and ideas.

Aside: A big thing with our supervisors is “decorating with a purpose”.  My boss man seems frustrated with the Chinese teachers he hires, who decorate their classrooms with gorgeous scrolling artwork and yarn puff balls and cartoon characters.  He thinks those designs could be better incorporated into a gorgeous scrolling number line and cartoon alphabet characters.  Which I agree.  I mean, at least in my kindergarden back in the US, I never remember just art for art’s sake (I mean there’s kid art…).  But posters and designs often have a purpose rather than just being there to look nice.  My boss man and a few other supervisors (although not all…not all of them see the value in decorating with a purpose) feel that everything in the classroom should have a learning purpose and not be there for aesthetics.  It’s weird to me that this is a novel concept in the schools I see in China (even before I thought about decorating with a purpose, I never felt compelled to incorporate yarn puff balls in my everyday decor).  So thats a lot of what Molly and I will be pushing in these new and empty classrooms.

We have our work cut out for us, and things aren’t all bad.  I mean, sure, our school still doesn’t have a washing machine or a shower (so we have to wash our hair in the sinks and lug our laundry the 2 hours by subway and train back to Yan Jiao on the weekends when we get to see Mom), and the teachers here don’t speak a lot of English (and the one teacher that does seems a little in awe of Molly and I and spends most of her time staring at us/constantly coming into our room to see if we need more hot water or want to watch her make dumplings).  But we’re in Beijing!  A city far more full of culture and things comfortable and familiar to us than Hohhot (I’m convinced Hohhot is like the Chinese equivalent of Montana.  Don’t get me wrong!  Montana has culture and is nice…but it’s no NYC).  And, of course, we get to see Mom for Christmas.

Speaking of, Molly and I missed our Christmas celebration back at our school in Hohhot.  Surprisingly enough, we miss that school.  I know I sure miss my kids and I’ve only been gone a week now.  I mean, they love me (or at least pretend to…as long as my collection of stickers are forthcoming, I’m sure) and they’re funny and they do anything I tell them to (if they can understand me…).  Not to mention they’re so gosh darn cute.  But we got to see a Christmas celebration today at my Mom’s school.  If you goad her enough, perhaps she can drag her lazy fingers across her unused keyboard long enough to give you a description of it.  And on Christmas Day we’re supposed to go to a church in Beijing.  We’ll see how that goes…

Also, I found this little fella (or…lady) scampering around the alleys of Yan Jiao: