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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday and this year proved to be no disappointment. Thirty-five Peace Corps volunteers, a crazy guy from Singapore with a hyper Chinese freshmen, an energetic Kiwi, a Danish guy, tons of delicious food and all of the beer from the little convenient store down on campus and you have the recipe for a good Thanksgiving in China. Many of the volunteers in Sichuan and Chongqing met in Southern Sichuan to celebrate the holiday. The volunteers in Chengdu found a real turkey and cranberry sauce at the foreign store (rarities in China), and the rest of us brought and cooked a massive feast. Many great cooks succeeded in making stuffing, cornbread, pumpkin pie, Dutch apple pie, macaroni and cheese, more stuffing, mashed potatoes, apple sauce, tuna noodle casserole, cakes, dumplings, corn, green bean casserole and I am probably forgetting something. I made banana bread and chocolate peanut butter cookies which I must say turned out surprisingly well in my little toaster oven. Since there were so many of us and just two volunteers in small apartments we all stayed in a hostel on campus. It was…pretty gross, but the company made up for it. While we were there a few of us visited a Buddhist temple that was around a 1000 years old. It turned out to be quite nice and this lady came from nowhere and gave the three of us standing together a lesson on Buddhism and Buddhist necklaces. There was also a fierce dog behind a door that all too much made me think of the three-headed dog from Harry Potter. I thought it was going to break down the door. Another kind man working at the temple opened a closed section of the temple for us foreigners which was rather nice.

This Thanksgiving experience also included us visiting a club. It was fun to watch these middle-aged Chinese men dancing on a stage and even more fun to watch some of our guys follow them and attempt their dance moves which involved much flailing of the arms and high kicks. Returning from the club to the hostel my friends and I witnessed a street fight. Not as dangerous as it sounds. It was on the other side of the road, and these two men chase this taxi and start kicking it. The cab slams on its breaks and about 7 Chinese men pour out of it and start yelling at the group of men on the street. The 2 women are trying to calm the men down. Then they start slapping and kicking each other and that’s about it. It was rather anticlimactic.

Back in Jiangyou there was an art festival all week. The students had been preparing all month with dancing, singing and drawing. Janice made a smart comment to say that if the college devoted as much time and money into academics as it did performing the school would be really good. Regardless the artwork and dancing were fantastic. I missed the musical show. I wish I had taken pictures of the students’ art which were quite talented and worthy of sale but this is annual so I will just catch it next year.

I missed the musical show because I told a student that I would have dinner with her. This student is a senior high school student that has taken to me. Before I went to dinner I ran with a freshmen student that speaks English quite well. But before we started running she said that she would be joining me and Lisa for dinner that night. I was surprised because I couldn’t figure out how she might have known Lisa (it turns out that Whitley was talking with another student about me and Lisa overheard and approached her about me and they formed a friendship based off their mutual acquaintanceship with me). I was pleased by this because Lisa speaks almost no English. During dinner Whitley translated that Lisa has been having a terrible time with her roommates. Apparently they smoke all the time in their room, stay up to really late hours, never study, and have put indecent photos of another roommate on the internet. Lisa wanted to know if she could live with me. She can’t of course but I told her she can come over to study or get away. Lisa had also started practicing her English by chatting with this American man on msn and wanted my opinion about the conversations she had with him because she was feeling a bit weird about it. I read through it and, yes, this man is a creepy and inappropriate man and I told her not to talk with him anymore. Then she was worried that he’d be able to find her since he said he was coming to China next year but I assured her that he wouldn’t be able to as long as she doesn’t give him her address and that even if he did that I would protect her at school and her dad can protect her at home. Whitley and Lisa came over for dinner Sunday evening which made Lisa almost flip with excitement. Janice and Mark said when they first came to the school the parents of their students thought they were lying when they said they had foreign teachers, and a few of the students that I talk with still have this issue. One student made me talk with her mom on the phone because she didn’t believe that she was sitting in the home of a foreigner. Funny.

Better news this week is that one of the girls in my running club passed her running exam in p.e! She was quite nervous about it since she had already failed it previously but in running club I had everyone run a fast 800 meters (which is their PE test) and I quickly discovered why she kept failing. She was going out really fast and then crashing the second lap. With my advice she was able to get through it. Funny that across the world I am still coaching.

This past weekend I went to Mianyang to have an early Christmas celebration at Angel’s. When I was at the bus station catching a bus to Mianyang a young Chinese woman approached me and asked where I was going. I told her and asked where she was going—which was the same as me. Then she wanted to know if I was Chinese. When I said I was American she said oh I can speak English! For the rest of the trip I chatted in English with twenty-three year old (same as me) Mia who works in administration in Jiangyou but whose family is in Mianyang. I told her that we can hang out sometime in Jiangyou since she just moved there and still doesn’t know many people there.

The Christmas gathering was nice and small. It consisted of all the foreign teachers at their college and one Chinese teacher. Three of us were Peace Corps, one was a Peace Corps volunteer a few years back but returned as a paid foreign teacher, another was just an American that came to teach, and the last foreign teacher was an Austrian woman that teaches German at the school. The Austrian woman said she was disappointed in my drinking ability and that I should train before going drinking with her again. I cannot compete with an Austrian! Maybe if I harness my Irish background. We were only joking with each other of course. The food was good and Angel gave us all small gifts which was incredibly nice. It was nice to have the celebration as an opener to the season. I did have one interesting conversation with a Chinese teacher that was with us. Jeff, Angel’s site mate, and I were talking with her about foster care in America earlier that evening. She had some more questions concerning the system. I gave her both scenarios of good foster homes and bad ones. In Tallahassee it is a bit nicer than in Chicago where Jeff is from. Foster kids get swept under the rug far too often but I think it is more so in places like Chicago, New York and Detroit. She said that it was nice that we have the system even if sometimes it fails because there is nothing like that in China.

The day I returned I met with Jane and her roommates to shop for cooking items because they were coming over to cook. They made dumplings, a soup, two vegetable dishes and a tofu dish. It was very good but there was so much food! Jane, Danny and I just helped fold the dumplings because we didn’t know how to cook the foods and were just in the way in the kitchen. After eating Jane and Danny did the dishes. They wouldn’t let me help with anything! When things were cleaned we watched a movie. It was quite relaxing. I continued to work on my knitting. Yes my knitting. I used to knit in college but stopped. It is quite popular here and I have picked it back up. I am currently working on a scarf. While I am here I want to try and get better and attempt things that aren’t squares—like hats and gloves, but we’ll see how into it I get. My students can only do scarves. Janice is the one I need to ask if I want to try something more difficult—she actually cast on for me because I’d forgotten that necessary step.

It is weird for me to think that this semester is almost over. In two weeks I will begin to give finals and at the end of this month I will turn my grades in for my first semester teaching in China. I have begun to reflect on my teaching and have made note of some big improvements that I need to make. I am going to ask my students to evaluate my teaching and we’ll see how it goes. Chinese students don’t like to say anything negative about their teachers, but hopefully I can convince them of the importance of evaluating my teaching.

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving and things are looking merrier these days!

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