Saturday, March 29, 2008


Today's beautiful spring weather is a very welcome change from the bleak, overcast chill of the past few weeks. I like to call Zhanjiang's winter "Communist weather," because the dirty block Soviet-style buildings look so dismal without a few rays of cheerful sunshine to brighten them up. On days like today, when the sky is blue and a refreshing breeze dissapates lurking pockets of foul smells, Zhanjiang is quite a pleasant place to be.

Scott and I took advantage of the weather and the empty weekend campus by heading down to the basketball courts for a little while this afternoon. On the way, we noticed a large group of visiting younger students who seemed to be touring our campus for some mysterious reason. As the basketball courts are secluded, we escaped their notice for a while.

After about 30 minutes, however, we were spotted. A group of ten girls came running at full speed down the hill towards us, shouting and pointing! Feeling like a couple of wildebeasts being hunted by a pack of lions, we quickly packed up and headed the other direction. Did this discourage the predators? Far from it! The girls veered right, hot on the path of their foreign prey. As they closed the gap between us, the eager youngsters breathlessly waved and shouted, "CAN I TAKE PHOTO WITH YOU?" We continued to ignore them and walked even faster, but they chased us almost all the way back to our apartment building before finally giving up and turning back.

Being pursued by a pack of aggressive young girls is something that would normally happen to a glamorous movie star or other celebrity. Here in China, it didn't matter that I was sweaty and wearing gym clothes; at the sight of my blond hair, Chinese will discard all dignity and shame to procure a "photo" with me... even if it means chasing me halfway across campus!

Next week, I'm traveling to Hainan Island to spend a few days on the beach. I'm hoping that all the rain we've been having will dissuade most Chinese from vacationing at Hainan at the same time I'll be there. The sight of Scott, Lindsay, Jamie and I sunbathing together might be too much for eager Chinese tourists!

I often swim at the beaches in Hong Kong, which despite the nearby city are quite beautiful and clean. Even in this modern metropolis where supposedly "East meets West," I've seen Chinese taking my picture as I emerge from the water or lay on the sand reading. One older man was even so bold as to approach my towel and snap a photo from just a few feet away! It's nice to know that so many Chinese will remember their vacation to HK with a prized photo of a disgruntled blond in a pink bathing suit. :)

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Holy Spirit

See Above:
The centerpiece of my Easter dinner was a giant plate of lobster, noodles, and cream sauce. This fabulous dish was crowned by a magnificent sculpture of an eagle, sculpted in exquisite detail out of raw carrots. The noble bird clings to a pumpkin mountain, dotted with parsley bushes. I tell you, the ingenious vegetable creation puts any boring old ice sculpture to shame! Our Chinese friend Shang dubbed the bird "the Holy Spirit." For the full story, please visit Scott's journal at

Monday, March 17, 2008

Quick Trip to Guangzhou

This weekend, my friend Lindsay and I took a little road trip to Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province and a city of about 10 million people. We went for several reasons: to splurge on a decent hotel, shop for Western food to bring back to Zhanjiang, eat at Papa John's, and find a bar where we could listen to familiar music and chat with other English speakers. Missions: Accomplished.

It was a quick trip: we didn't arrive in GZ until late Saturday afternoon. After cleaning up and relaxing a bit at our wonderful four-star hotel, we met Lindsay's Russian friend, who studies Chinese in Guangzhou, at Papa John's. A large amount of cheese bread, garlic bread, and "everything" pizza later, the three of us headed to the Hill Bar, where a Chinese man and Filipino woman performed every popular bar song imaginable in a lively duet. Before long, we girls had met many interesting expat-types and ended up spending most of the evening with a group of friends that consisted of two Palestinian brothers and a Parisian. Everybody had a wonderful time dancing, joking around, and taking turns trying on the green St. Patrick's Day outfit discarded by one very large bar patron.

The next day, I found cheese, Nutella, Caesar dressing and other not-quite-essential-but-great-to-have foods at Carrefour, a giant French grocery chain. Refreshed and having satified every one of our goals for the trip, Lindsay and I left Guangzhou in the early afternoon and made it back to Zhanjiang in time for a late dinner. What an excellent weekend!

Some Very Unharmonious Behavior

I originally had a post here concerning the current unrest in Western China, but decided to remove it to avoid trouble. However, if you would like a copy of the article please leave a comment or send me an e-mail, and I'll forward it on to you.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Young and Independent?


One of my favorite high school students is missing this semester. No one knew what happened to her until I received the following letter from her best friend:

I wanna tell you a secret! ___ and her boyfriend go to Guangzhou. A boy is 20, she is 17. But, the boy very love her! They very conjugal love. Opening a few years, ___ can get married! Let we hope her can feel happiness forever!

I want to believe the best friend's optimistic picture of my student being married and living happily ever after. I hope I'm wrong, but I envision a rather different future for this sweet, pretty girl who loved English and wore high heels to class.

I have about 15 other high school students who did not return to school this term. Some children stayed home to help their parents in the fields because their families couldn't afford the expensive school fees. Others abandoned their studies to look for jobs in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, like the girl I mentioned above.

These 16- or 17-year old kids are nothing like their American equivalents. To begin with, my students look at least five years younger than their true ages, due to poor nutrition and an unhealthy lifestyle with little exercise or opportunity for fun and relaxation. They are disarmingly innocent, easily fascinated by a handful of markers, a piece of candy or a silly joke in class. I can't imagine a class of American juniors screaming and cheering during a tense game of hangman! Next week, I'll put on an Easter egg hunt for all my students; even though they're 17 years old I know without a doubt that they'll love it.

Imagining these tiny, sweet children being trampled down and struggling to survive in a crowded, dirty, materialistic and corrupt city like Guangzhou really is heartbreaking.


This is my lovely college students' last semester of school, so many of them now have part-time jobs in Zhanjiang and will be missing most classes. At first I objected to this plan, but it seems to be the way things are done here at the Zhanjiang Finance and Trade School. Our school offers a vocational college program, which means that after just three semesters of study, the students are awarded a "diploma" and dumped outside the school gates. After a year and half of mediocre courses and teachers, students are expected to "master" English enough to get a job. Frightening. So, the last semester is not so much a time to learn as much as possible in preparation for entry into the "real world," but instead is used to find a job and begin working as soon as possible.

This semester, I hope to do my best in helping the students prepare for the vital process of finding jobs. Last week, I began reviewing interview skills with my college students. Having rehashed the "Do's and Don'ts of Interviewing" in college innumerable times myself, I walked into class expecting the girls to have covered basic interviewing at least once in other courses... after all, they are Business English majors. As it turned out, my lecture on Wednesday would be the first and only one they'd receive at this vocational school! We spent a whole 45-minute period brainstorming how to prepare for an interview, how to act with the interviewer, and how to follow up afterwards. Next, I handed out sample interview questions for practice and will probably spend a couple of weeks on refining their answers.

It seems that being a translator is a dream job for every English major, and most students aspire to pursue this career in the mega-cities of Shenzhen or Guangzhou. However, only one of my ten college students who have for all purposes left classes for good actually has a professional job in Guangzhou. The rest are forfeiting one last semester of English studies to work for a couple of dollars an hour in cell phone shops, restaurants or clothing stores right here in Zhanjiang.

Some do make it, such as Scott's former student Yummy who now loves her job working as a tour guide for English speakers in a town near Guangzhou. Outside of exceptional English students like Yummy, I worry about the students. I know from experience how it feels to graduate from school and be faced with the huge task of finding a job, but they are fighting against an entire generation of English speakers headed for the mammoth and confusing Pearl River Delta cities. Young? Yes. Independent? I hope so.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Tribute to Seagull

*Left: Kelly (a former student of Kevin and Seagull) and Seagull on a visit to Kelly's home village. Seagull was really into diving amongst the foliage for the perfect photo op. Right: Seagull in Kelly's bedroom... on her bed... for yet another photo op.

Miss Bao, better known as "Seagull," is a former colleague of Kevin's from his days at Number 15 Middle School. She's invited us all to dinner at her apartment a few times and entertained everyone by animatedly improbable gossip, harassing her poor son Bing Bing, and revealing intimate details about others and herself (such as telling a group of us, most of whom she'd just met a few hours ago, about her abortion). Anyway, Seagull is crazy but lovable. Below is an e-mail she sent Kevin this week that I just thought was too funny not to share...

Miss Bao called yesterday to announce she had broken her anus.
True. I'm not making this up.
I was speechless.
Miss Bao went on to inform me that she had broken her anus before while moving BingBing's bicycle.
Miss Bao said she "started screaming" and called the doctor. She screamed on the way to the doctor's office, in the doctor's office and all the way home. Once home, she called a friend over and "sat screaming" with her.
Miss Bao then declared, "I am now feeling better."
I said something. Exactly what -- I'm not sure.
Miss Bao then told me she "saw Scott and "Scott was not as handsome as usual."
"Not as handsome as usual?" I inquired, "I saw Scott today at lunch at he looked fetching."
"No, no," Miss Bao insisted, "Scott is blacker and thinner now."
Blacker and thinner? Something akin to tanned and fit?
Anyway, just thought you should know that Miss Bao is keeping an eye on you, your shading, as well as your caloric intake.

Busy? Nah.

I never thought I'd say this, but life in Zhanjiang is beginning to seem quite tame and even a bit boring! A big change from the frantic stress I usually felt last semester, and one that sometimes makes it difficult to find subjects for journal entries. The past couple weeks, I've been keeping not-so-busy with lesson planning, visiting the gym, studying Chinese, sleeping a little too much, shuttling around town running errands, celebrating Scott's birthday, and watching lots of movies. What else have I been up to? Here are a few things that you may find slightly interesting:

Learning idioms in class-
Last week, I taught my college students some common figures of speech: "cold feet," "kill two birds with one stone," "gung-ho," "birthday suit," and "make a mountain out of molehill." "Suck-up" also popped into my head unexpectedly when one of the students felt the need to suddenly exclaim, "Janet, you are SO BEAUTIFUL!" in the middle of the lesson, and I added that one to the list. I had the girls guess what they thought each phrase meant, and then explained the meanings and had them create skits centered around each idiom. It was a fun lesson, and the girls really got into the acting part. The favorite was "make a mountain out of the molehill," which most of them acted out as an overly concerned mother forcing her daughter to the hospital because of a small injury, like a papercut. "Mom, stop making a mountain out of a molehill!"

Sampling corn- flavored ice cream- Saturday night, I came across an ice cream bar shaped and textured like corn on the cob. How could I pass that up? Upon chewing my first very tentative bite, I discovered that the ice cream also tasted just like corn, and left a disturbing after taste which continues to linger 24 hours later. Disturbing...

Visiting the dentist- Despite the horror stories about Chinese dentists, a minor problem with a post-braces wire forced me to venture where at most very few Americans have before: the Chinese dentist. Actually, it was safer than it sounds because this one was recommended to me by my Dad, who toured Dr. Liu's office during Dad's visit to Zhanjiang in November. Things were fixed up in no time and I wasn't even charged... unless you count the repeated requests to tutor his daughter in English. Or the giant photo-shoot with Dr. Liu, his wife, and the entire office staff in every imaginable combination. Free advertising?

Listening to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" in class- My high school students especially enjoy listening to English songs in class. It's a fun way to practice English and gives them something to put on their MP3 players, which many of them have. I make up worksheets with fill in the blanks, mixed-up phrases, etc. and have them complete the paper while listening to the songs. Normally it takes at least three replays for everybody to finish. Favorite groups so far include 'N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, Bryan Adams, JoJo, and other similar "artists" who were big back home maybe ten years ago (if at all). Tired of corny, sappy ballads, last week I decided to mix things up a bit with some good old Cyndi Lauper. Not a hit. The students' faces were murderous throughout the whole thing; some of them even removed their headphones and refused to listen any longer. I'll stick with boy bands from now on...

Singing "Hey Jude" at KTV karaoke bar- (self-explanatory)

Lying in my hammock- Back in September, I found a hammock at TrustMart. Six months later, my "engineering brain" finally figured out a way to hang it on the back porch. I'm only about two inches off the ground, but it's okay because that means my peasant friends behind the apartment can't spy on me lounging outside. With the great weather we've been having here, the hammock is proving a great spot to study some Chinese and read. And relax. Some more.