Back from the Month-Long Paradise of Yangshuo, China

So I’m back from my summer holidays, and like always it went by so fast. (How can people even stand a week-long holiday? That must be over in a blink.)

I was in the small village of Yangshuo in Guangxi which is in southern China, studying Chinese. I’ll write another post about what it is like to go to a month-long intensive Chinese course soon, but first I wanted to share some pictures.

Yangshuo is beautiful. I first went there almost seven years ago during my first winter holiday in China. I stayed for a few days and moved on and I had great memories. But being there for a month gave me an opportunity to really explore the karst peaks, the scret spots of the river, and tiny ancient villages in the countryside. Except for the jagged karst mountains shooting up everywhere, the land is flat and is perfect for biking adventures.

So before I delve into the reason I went there, the studying, here are some pictures I wanted to share of some amazing sights I saw this past month.

Yangshuo is famous for the karst peaks that take over the landscape. Some are climbable, and getting up high gives you an amazing view.

Yangshuo is famous for the karst peaks that take over the landscape. Some are climbable, and getting up high gives you an amazing view.

This was the view from my hostel room. I loved waking up tp these mountains and some rainy mornings they were covered by a wispy, thin clouds that twisted and curled around them like a traditional Chinese painting.

This was the view from my hostel room. I loved waking up to these mountains and some rainy mornings they were covered by a wispy, thin clouds that twisted and curled around them like a traditional Chinese painting.

 

One weekend we went to Gudong waterfall, a place where you actually hike up in the middle of the river. You had to wear safety helmets that seemed more harmful then helpful to be honest.

One weekend the school had a trip to Gudong waterfall, a place where you actually hike up in the middle of the river. You had to wear safety helmets that seemed more harmful then helpful to be honest.

We had to wear these traditional woven style shoes that again, kept slipping off and sometimes made walking more difficult than it would be with bare feet. But I never slipped so I guessed they worked.

We had to wear these traditional woven style shoes that again, kept slipping off and sometimes made walking more difficult than it would be with bare feet. But I never slipped so I guessed they worked.

Climbing one of the many waterfalls!

Me climbing one of the many waterfalls!

There was a lot of tourists at the beginning, but as you can see from this pic, soon everyone spread out and it didn't feel very crowded.

There was a lot of tourists at the beginning, but as you can see from this pic, soon everyone spread out and it didn’t feel very crowded.

But it wasn't all waterfalls, yangshup is a small village (for China) and the surrounding countryside has even smaller and more ancient villages.

But it wasn’t all waterfalls, Yangshuo is a small village (for China) and the surrounding countryside has even smaller and more ancient villages.

 

In one village I left my friends behind and wandered around on my own. Some had their ancient houses open to the public (like this one in this picture) but when I looked into the doorway of an old couples house, the old man waved me in and showed me his clearly ancient (though also delapitated) house. It had some very old woodwork in it, but he was only speaking local language, not Mandarin, and I couldn't understand what he was saying. I thought it was a scam, that he was gonna ask me for money or try to sell me something but he just let me look around and said goodbye. It was very nice.

In one village I left my friends behind and wandered around on my own. Some had their ancient houses open to the public (like this one in this picture) but when I looked into the doorway of an old couples house, the old man waved me in and showed me his clearly ancient (though also dilapidated) house. It had some very old woodwork in it, but he was only speaking local language, not Mandarin, and I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I thought it was a scam, that he was gonna ask me for money or try to sell me something but he just let me look around and said goodbye. It was very nice.

With the sparkeling clean Li River running right outside town, swimming was a common activity in the summer heat. While there were many popular places to swim, my friends and I chose instead to find the quiet places with no other tourists. The benefits of living in a place for a few weeks, we could explore!

With the sparkling clean Li River running right outside town, swimming was a common activity in the summer heat. While there were many popular places to swim, my friends and I chose instead to find the quiet places with no other tourists. That’s the benefits of living in a place for a few weeks. We could explore!

Watching the sun rise is a must-do even there.

Watching the sun rise is a must-do.

The summer is quite hot and humid, but the nights are a little cooler and in the morning, if you wake early enough, you can see the karst peaks shrouded in clouds. By the time the sun gets too high, they are already burned off.

The summer is quite hot and humid, but the nights are a little cooler and in the morning, if you wake early enough, you can see the karst peaks shrouded in clouds. By the time the sun gets too high, they are already burned off.

Most weekends were filled with a lot of activities and 30km bike trips. But one day me and a few friends just swam for hours, then had a quiet lunch together in the countryside before heading back home, weary but happy. It was one of my favorite days in Yangshuo. Just one of those lazy summer days.

Most weekends were filled with a lot of activities and 30km bike trips. But one day me and a few friends just swam for hours, then had a quiet lunch together in the countryside before heading back home, weary but happy. It was one of my favorite days in Yangshuo. Just one of those lazy summer days.

So it was a great summer. It wasn’t as active as my summer trips usually are, but it was very peaceful and quiet. Yangshuo is a big tourust center, but it’s not a city and there are more bikes than cars on the street, which is always a nice change from the big city life of Xiamen. But my purpose there was to study Chinese, and in my next post I’ll talk about what that was like!

Yangshuo, China

Categories: China, Learning Chinese, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Being the Token English Speaker

“Becky, I think I made a friend mad,” a student wrote to me out of the blue.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I asked one of the foreign teachers for some help looking over my resume and he refused and was angry,” she said.

“What did he say?” I asked feeling a little annoyed. Students are kinda fragile and I think teachers shouldn’t just fly off the handle with them.

The student then sent me photo’s of the chat she had with the teacher and I immediately got it. Apparently, a few weeks prior the teacher had asked her for help doing something and she said she would but didn’t.

So when she asked for a favor, after blatantly not helping him he got mad. “Why should I help you with something after you refused to help me?” he asked. Can’t blame him for that.

You see, native English speakers, especially teachers, get asked to do a lot of favors. On an almost daily basis I am asked to help write resumes, proofread articles and personal statements, asked for advice about college essays and much, much more. At least once a day I am hit up for some free English help or lessons. It is regular part of my life.

Most I am willing to help because they are students or friends and we have a good relationship. But some really piss me off in the entitled way they ask.

workphoto

“What’s your e-mail? I need to send you something,” a former Chinese co-worker texted me out of the blue. I haven’t seen or chatted with him in over two years. I sent my e-mail and asked “what are you going to send?” I knew he was dating another colleague and I kinda had it in my mind he was sending me an e-vite to their wedding.

“I want you to look over a book review I am submitting to a paper. I am writing it from a native speakers point of view.”

Yep, that’s it. No pleasantries, no “how are you doing?” not even a “please.” In fact, he never once even asked me if I could do it. He treated me like his paid employee and told me I would do it.

And the thing is, this happens all the time.  I have one student who regularly writes to me with requests like, “In Martin Luther King’s speech, what did he mean by….”

Once I was in Shanghai and I actually stopped what I was doing, sat down on a bench and wrote back and forth to her for close to 20 minutes helping her to interpret a piece of literature. What was the last thing she wrote to me? “I see. Okay.”

No thanks, no asking me what I was doing, how I was doing. Nothing. One week later she was back at it. “Becky, what does it mean in this letter where it says…”

Actual requests I have gotten with little to no warning or pleasantries.

“Becky, I want to open a shop for foreigners. What do foreigners like to buy?”–From a student I taught one semester, 4 years ago and haven’t talked to since.

“You will help me with my final thesis after a month or so,” –a very casual acquaintance I met two times about 3 years prior. (The thesis was more than 20 pages and these were the exact words he used “You will,” ummm, nope. I won’t.)

“Becky, can you please read and correct this (5 page) thesis paper? My teacher already graded it, but I want to see what you think of it.” –From a student I don’t even remember teaching, though apparently she was in my class once, maybe 6 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some people I love helping. Most requests I comply with immediately and cheerfully, even if they are bugging me. One student, from three years ago, has her own code. When she just wants to chat she writes, “Hello lovely teacher.” When she wants a favor she begins with “Hello beautiful teacher.” It always cracks me up and I’m happy to help her.

There is a former student in Hong Kong who I help a lot with her work related stuff, but we chat and even hang out all the time. And if an answer is quick and easy, such as a “Becky, what does this word mean,” kinda way, I write back immediately.

I don’t need a big gushing thank you and I don’t have time to chat with everyone all the time. But I need some semblance of concern about me as a person. I need to feel like the person asking me a favor actually knows that I’m a human being with my own life and not just an English auto-bot.

So what happened with that book review? Well, he sent it to me while I was out for the day and I told him I would probably be able to get to it the next afternoon.

“Tomorrow? It’s due tomorrow. Can’t you do it tonight?”

“No,” I said, even more annoyed that he waited till the last minute and expected me to rearrange my whole schedule to help him for free. “I’m busy. I won’t be home till late tonight.”

“Okay, you can wake up early and do it in the morning,” was his solution.

“Don’t count on it,” I wrote back. I actually did wake up early the next morning, but I deleted the email without even opening it. Then I wrote this blog post. Some people….

 

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Class is Over, Time to Hit the Road

Final exams have been given, grades submitted, and lots of selfies with students have been taken. The semester, and subsequently the school year, is finished! Boom. Add another notch to the belt. Year seven complete.

Teaching English in China

So what to do now with my 2 months of freedom? Well, when you live in the Miami of China, summer has a way of finding you without you even trying. “Anyone want to go swimming?” a friend asked me on my first day off. Yes please!

You hear a lot about China's pollution, but not all of the country is blanketed in thick smog as this picture proves.

You hear a lot about China’s pollution, but not all of the country is blanketed in thick smog as this picture proves.

There was some kids in the pool as well, but mostly we had it to ourselves. Another china sterotype proven wrong. Yes, there are a lot of people here but sometimes you can find a quiet pool.

There was some kids in the pool as well, but mostly we had it to ourselves and I could practice my handstands I learned so many years ago. Another china stereotype proven wrong. Yes, there are a lot of people here but sometimes you can find a quiet pool.

After swimming we got food delivered and just sat and read an chatted. The sun finally got too much for us, and the pool was way too warm to cool us off, so we retreated back to the a/c comfort of our homes, but it was a classic "American summer" day reminiscent of my childhood.

After swimming we got food delivered and just sat and read and chatted. The sun finally got too much for us, and the pool was way too warm to cool us off, so we retreated back to the a/c comfort of our homes, but it was a classic “American summer” day reminiscent of my childhood. I don’t have a lot of experiences in China that remind me of my suburban youth, but this was one.

While I could spend the whole summer hiking, swimming and lazying around in the Xiamen tropics, I won’t. But I’m not going traveling this summer either. Well, not exactly.

I’m going to dedicate my summer to studying Chinese. My Chinese has improved over the years, and now I have dozens of friends who don’t speak English, but truth is, I haven’t actually studied in years. The last time I took a serious class was in Kunming four years ago, and the last time I studied seriously was for the HSK three years ago.

So, I figure it’s time to give up a little bit of fun and freedom and shackle myself to books. I won’t be doing it in Xiamen and as much as I liked my former school in Kunming, (Keats,) I like to try new things and go to new places. So I’m gonna head to another school in China to try it out.

Four weeks, intensive classes in the morning, language partners and cultural events at night. Last time I had a surreal, life-changing experience in Kunming because of the people I met. I know that summer can never be recreated and I don’t want it to. I’m gonna really try to buckle down and focus totally on studying and occasionally playing badminton.

One thing I have to keep in mind, is this summer marks the final stretch of my “walk 10,000 steps everyday” thing. August 16th to be exact. Unfortunately sitting and studying all day isn’t conducive to walking 10,000 steps, but with just a month left to reach my goal, I’m gonna have to be really vigilant about it.

I've said before that when traveling I schedule trains and planes late in the day. Unfortunately it didn't work this time, and I'll be spending basically the whole day (from 8am to 6pm) on trains. The good thing is I will be changing several trains and have a bit of a break between them, so I'll have to make sure to get some walking in around train stations.

I’ve said before that when traveling I schedule trains and planes late in the day so I can get my 10,000 steps in before I travel. Unfortunately it didn’t work this time, and I’ll be spending basically the whole day (from 8am to 6pm) on trains to get to my school. The good thing is I will be changing trains and have a bit of a break between them, so I’ll have to make sure to get some walking in around train stations.

So while all my students get to close their books for the summer, I’m opening mine up, and waking up early everyday to study. And paying for the privileged. And yet? I’m pretty excited for it. *Packs pocket protector.*

 

 

 

 

Categories: China, Learning Chinese, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Little Update

So a few things have been going on lately I wanted to mention.

First, go over to Travis Lee’s blog to check out an interview with yours truly. He asked some good questions about my time in China and the changes I’ve seen. It’s kinda nice to remember how things were different before and how much China, and myself, has changed. Thanks to Travis for giving me the opportunity to reflect on it all! Check out the interview here and check out Travis’ novels on his website as well.

In other news, I want to share this amazing portrait my friend Anna made for me. Anna is a friend I met on an Western Woman/Asian man chat group I’m a part of. (Anna is married to a Chinese guy and they are expecting their first baby soon.) She is the blogger behind Lost Panda, where she blogs about life in rural China and dealing with an intercultural relationship.

But art is her passion and  talent and I want to show you an amazing portrait she did of me! I sent her one of my favorite pictures of me from Thailand, and I can’t believe the results. She took pictures of the process and it’s amazing!

Becky Ances painting

Becky Ances painting

IMG_1312

Becky Ances painting

Becky Ances drawing

My favorite part is the hair. My hair has a lot of colors and I was in a shady part but some parts was caught by the sun and some parts was in the shade. That she got it all to look so realistic is amazing. Also, the reflection in the glasses is amazing too.

If you are looking for a special gift for someone, a special portrait made just for them by Anna would be an amazing gift and I would totally recommend it. To contact her, or look at some more of her art, head over to her art website annazzart (she admits she doesn’t update it as much as her Lost Panda blog, but don’t worry, she’s still very active.)

And to connect these two stories, you’ll see the picture in Travis’ blog is the same one Anna painted for me, haha. I told you it was one of my favorite pictures of me.

Categories: China, Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The 2016 Becky Cup Badminton Tournament!!

This weekend was the 2016 Becky Cup! The event I have been planning and thinking about for months. How did it go? I’ll let the pictures do the ‘splaining:

As the cups namesake I was the defacto host. But as the courts owner, and my coach, my coach was right besides me to help out. Since it was an international crowd, I spoke a mixture of Chinese and English and my coach filled what I missed. (Btw, check out the shirts I had made throughout these pictures. They turned out amazing and I love the logo on the front!)

As the cups namesake I was the defacto host. But as the courts owner, and my coach, my coach was right besides me to help out. Since it was an international crowd, I spoke a mixture of Chinese and English and my coach filled what I missed. (Btw, check out the shirts I had made throughout these pictures. They turned out amazing and I love the logo on the front!)

There was a professional photographer at the event and he made sure we did some group picture before the games started. (If you live in Xiamen and need a photographer, make sure to call my friend Bong Antivola to shoot the event! Almost all the pictures in this post are his.) Look at how many people participated!

There was a professional photographer at the event and he made sure we did some group picture before the games started. (If you live in Xiamen and need a photographer, make sure to call my friend Bong Antivola to shoot the event! Almost all the pictures in this post are his.) Look at how many people participated!

2016 Becky Cup badminton competition Xiamen China

2016 Becky Cup badminton competition Xiamen China

2016 Becky Cup badminton competition Xiamen China

2016 Becky Cup badminton competition Xiamen China

I'd like to say the event was smooth sailing, but I shouldn't lie. I didn't know all the participants (my coach got a bunch of people to play) and I didn't know their names. And then I screwed them up (mistaking a mixed doubles team for a men's doubles team). Also, it was a double elimination seeded bracket tournament so I had to follow a specific order. The first few games were rough with a bunch of last minute changes and even a few games stopped (because I screwed up who they were playing) but after the first few round, it smoothed itself all out.

I’d like to say the event was smooth sailing, but I shouldn’t lie. I didn’t know all the participants (my coach got a bunch of people to play) and I didn’t know their names. And then I screwed them up (mistaking a mixed doubles team for a men’s doubles team). Also, it was a double elimination seeded bracket tournament so I had to follow a specific order. The first few games were rough with a bunch of last minute changes and even a few games stopped (because I screwed up who they were playing) but after the first few round, it smoothed itself all out.

We also had an injury early on! Poor Barbora (center) twisted her ankle. It wasn't serious enough to go to the hospital, but she couldn't continue and her teams had to forfeit their games.

We also had an injury early on! Poor Barbora (center) twisted her ankle. It wasn’t serious enough to go to the hospital, but she couldn’t continue and her teams had to forfeit their games.

Yet, despite the snafu's, everyone seemed to still have a good time.

Yet, despite the snafu’s, everyone seemed to still have a good time.

Even I enjoyed it after things calmed down.

Even I enjoyed it after things calmed down.

2016 becky Cup badminton tournament Xiamen china

2016 becky Cup badminton tournament Xiamen china

2016 becky Cup badminton tournament Xiamen china

2016 becky Cup badminton tournament Xiamen china

So how did I do? I only played in the mixed doubles with my coach as my partner. I was so busy and frazzled in the beginning I didn't even warm up or hit the birdie at all before the first game. Somehow, we managed to win (thanks to my coach).

So how did I do? I only played in the mixed doubles with my coach as my partner. I was so busy and frazzled in the beginning I didn’t even warm up or hit the birdie at all before the first game. Somehow, we managed to win (thanks to my coach).

Our second game was even worse. He told me to "not move" and basically get out of his way. Well, "not moving" isn't my strong point and I was kinda so hepped up with energy and nervous excitement that I was basically a mole on the wack-a-mole machines, popping up in random places and getting in his way every shot. "Xiao Bing! Stop moving!" he'd yell exasperated and I would giggle uncontrollably. Needless to say, my mind wasn't in the right place. We lost, but it was a double elimination tournament so we still had a shot.

Our second game was even worse. He told me to “not move” and basically get out of his way. Well, “not moving” isn’t my strong point and I was kinda so hepped up with energy and nervous excitement that I was basically a mole on the wack-a-mole machines, popping up in random places and getting in his way every shot. “Xiao Bing! Stop moving!” he’d yell exasperated and I would giggle uncontrollably. Needless to say, my mind wasn’t in the right place. We lost, but it was a double elimination tournament so we still had a shot.

Our third game was the most anticipated game. We were against Xiao He (left) and Rebecca (next to me). Xiao He, Rebecca and I are the Three Musketeers of badminton. We have a chat group, just for the three of us, and we talk about badminton all the time. Xiao He is at a much higher level than me, but not as high as my coach. In fact, Xiao He was the one that introduced me to my coach, so I have a lot to thank him for. Anyway, we figured that with Xiao He, and my coach, our two teams would be playing in the finals. We had been smack talking for weeks about who was gonna win. Sadly, we both lost so instead of meeting at the finals, we met at the quarterfinals. And thanks to my lack of focus, my coach and I lost. Now my friends have leverage on me to mock me forever. Although, they didn't win either, as they got knocked out in the semifinals. So there. Neener neener, they suck too.

Our third game was the most anticipated game. We were against Xiao He (left) and Rebecca (next to me). Xiao He, Rebecca and I are the Three Musketeers of badminton. We have a chat group, just for the three of us, and we talk about badminton all the time. Xiao He is at a much higher level than me, but not as high as my coach. In fact, Xiao He was the one that introduced me to my coach, so I have a lot to thank him for. Anyway, we figured that with Xiao He, and my coach, our two teams would be playing in the finals. We had been smack talking for weeks about who was gonna win. Sadly, we both lost so instead of meeting at the finals, we met at the quarterfinals. And thanks to my lack of focus, my coach and I lost. Now my friends have leverage on me to mock me forever. Although, they didn’t win either, as they got knocked out in the semifinals. So there. Neener neener, they suck too.

The whole thing took about four hours, and finally we had the awards ceremony. I had the medals made, but as an added bonus my coach has sponsorship from the Wish company, and the winners got a brand new racket! It's actually the racket I use, so I know it's a good deal. These are the winners and second place winners in the women's doubles. (My coach and I got all up in every pictures as the hosts.)

The whole thing took about four hours, and finally we had the awards ceremony. I had the medals made, but as an added bonus my coach has sponsorship from the Wish company, and the winners got a brand new racket! It’s actually the racket I use, so I know it’s a good deal. These are the winners and second place winners in the women’s doubles. (My coach and I got all up in every pictures as the hosts.)

The winners of the mixed doubles was two teams I didn't know before. But notice the one woman is the same as the runner up in the women's doubles. She was the only one to get medals in two events. She was awesome and I'd like to play with her more.

The winners of the mixed doubles was two teams I didn’t know before. But notice the one woman is the same as the runner up in the women’s doubles. She was the only one to get medals in two events. She was awesome and I’d like to play with her more.

Men's doubles was the most exciting to watch. These two teams were miles above the rest and they gave an awesome show for all of us to watch.

Men’s doubles was the most exciting to watch. These two teams were miles above the rest and they gave an awesome show for all of us to watch.

But everyone's a winner at the Becky Cup and I made a few dozen cupcakes (decorated with the letter B on top) so everyone could have a treat after the hours of hot and sweaty play.

But everyone’s a winner at the Becky Cup and I made a few dozen cupcakes (decorated with the letter B on top) so everyone could have a treat after the hours of hot and sweaty play. The boy, standing behind me, helped me bake them the night before.

Somehow we managed to make it through and everyone had fun! As his first foreign student and friend, I think my coach was totally bemused at the management style of the tournament (I gave everyone cupcakes at the end too. I mean hey, it was my birthday right?) But I know he had a good time despite the (or because of?) the craziness. I also can't thank him enough for helping me out not only in this tournament, but in the badminton world in general. He's an awesome guy.

Somehow we managed to make it through and everyone had fun! As his first foreign student and friend, I think my coach was totally bemused at the management style of the tournament (I gave everyone cupcakes at the end too. I mean hey, it was my birthday right?) But I know he had a good time despite the (or because of?) the craziness. I also can’t thank him enough for helping me out not only in this tournament, but in the badminton world in general. He’s an awesome guy.

If that wasn’t stressful enough, at night I arranged a party on a rooftop of a local microbrew. So despite being exhausted we somehow managed to eat and drink the night away. Other friends who weren’t at the badminton tournament showed up and we got to tell them all the exciting details.

Xiamen china

Xiamen, China

Most amazing was a cake my friend made especially for me. He's a french pastry chef and is famous for his cakes, but it was unbelievable he took the time to make one especially for me! He didn't even come or play at the tournament but he knows me and what I like.

Most amazing was a cake my friend made especially for me. He’s a french pastry chef and is famous for his cakes, but it was unbelievable he took the time to make one especially for me! He didn’t even come or play at the tournament but he knows what makes me happy, haha.

As the birthday bully queen, I decided that the big piece of french chocolate was for me only. But after a few bites I realized it was too rich and I was forced to share it with my friends before it melted. Sad. Wish I still had it now. (I also know I look a bit crazy but this was near midnight and you have to understand how exhausted I was.)

As the birthday bully queen, I decided that the big piece of french chocolate was for me only. But after a few bites I realized it was too rich and I was forced to share it with my friends before it melted. Sad. Wish I still had it now. (I also know I look a bit crazy but this was near midnight and you have to understand how exhausted I was.)

So, all in all, it was an incredibly successful day. At one point in the tournament I just kinda stopped and looked around at all the people playing on the courts, people on the sides, watching, laughing, wiping sweat off their face, and I felt so damn happy. I’ve never been a sports person, never played at a tournament, much less organized one, and yet somehow it worked. People from all different backgrounds, countries and languages had come together to have a fun day. And I made it happen on my 40th birthday.

Five years ago I was living in China but my life was completely different. I could never in a million years ago guess what I would be doing on my 40th birthday or who I would be doing it with. And I hope I bring this sense of adventure and gratitude with me as I get older. Even if it failed miserably I think I would still be proud that at least I tried.

And on that note, check out this brief video my friend Bong made! An epic video for an epic day.

This is a cross post with my other blog–Badminton Becky

Categories: China | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Teaching English in China–Final Exams!

Three years ago I came up with a great idea for the final exam in Speaking class: each student has to teach 20 minutes of class. I did it once, three years ago, and haven’t had the opportunity to do it again…until this semester.

With thirty students in a class this takes at least 5 weeks, sometimes more. I’m not gonna lie, it’s friggin awesome for me because for 1/3 of the semester I don’t need to prepare, or teach class.

But it’s friggin awesome for the class as well, because with the students in the drivers seat they have so much more fun. I really stressed that they should teach class specifically to their classmates and their classmates interest and I have to say, they have gotten a lot more participation out of each other than I ever expected. They also came up with some ideas I’m totes stealing in future years.

So what did they do this time? Well, here’s some pictures.

In the first week, one class did a "recycled materials" fashion show. They brought in paper, newspaper, garbage bags etc and the students were given time to create clothes and have a catwalk.

In the first week, one class did a “recycled materials” fashion show. They brought in paper, newspaper, garbage bags etc and the students were given time to create clothes and have a catwalk.

teaching English in China, Xiamen

I was a student, and this boy was my group. We dressed him up in newspaper undies. I made the hat.

After the catwalk, they choose the "best dressed" and she got to give a speech, thanking everyone. Needless to say, this class went over incredibly well.

After the catwalk, they choose the “best dressed” and she got to give a speech, thanking everyone. Needless to say, this class went over incredibly well.

The student teachers were required to ask questions of their classmates and some even made little tests. Usually students are shy about raising their hands and answering, but when their classmates are the teachers they wouldn't shut up! (It helped that often they would win a prize for answering a test first.)

The student teachers were required to ask questions of their classmates and some even made little tests. Usually students are shy about raising their hands and answering, but when their classmates are the teachers they wouldn’t shut up! (It helped that often they would win a prize for answering a question. The things the students would do for a little fifty cent snack was amazing.)

 

There was dancing on a few occasions.

There was dancing on a few occasions.

In one class they talked about the Chinese tradition of paper cutting and then we all got to make "double happiness" a common wedding papercut. Even I managed to do a good job.

In one class they talked about the Chinese tradition of paper cutting and then we all got to make “double happiness” a common wedding papercut. Even I managed to do a good job.

 

In one class a student taught everyone about puppets n history and culture. Then we all got our own little puppet of popular cartoon characters and had to do make up a little play.

In one class a student taught everyone about puppets n history and culture. Then we all got our own little puppet of popular cartoon characters and had to do a little play.

One group chose the topic of "auctions." First they showed a scene from a movie about an auction, then talked about some famous, and outlandish items auctioned off (Elvis Presley's underwear anyone?) Then they prepared auction items and gave groups money and an auction paddle. Each group of students had to "sell" an item at auction. The items were funny, a dirty sock, and empty bottle, a classmate, and the seller had to make an outlandish story so other groups would bid on it. Then all the money raised was donated to the "Teacher Becky" fund. Pity it was just play money.

One group chose the topic of “auctions.” First they showed a scene from a movie about an auction, then talked about some famous, and outlandish items auctioned off (Elvis Presley’s underwear anyone?) Then they prepared auction items and gave groups money and an auction paddle. Each group of students had to “sell” an item at auction. The items were funny, a dirty sock, and empty bottle, a classmate, and the seller had to make an outlandish story so other groups would bid on it. Then all the money raised was donated to the “Teacher Becky” fund. Pity it was just play money.

 

This boy had to auction himself off. Not only was he a boy who could cook and clean but he was a prince from the famous city of Atlantis.

This boy had to auction himself off. Not only was he a boy who could cook and clean but he was a “prince from the famous city of Atlantis.” He sold for about $40,000. 

During International Children's Day, several groups celebrated children discusssing childhood toys, games, and memories. Then we played some childhood games. (They play musical chairs in China too.)

During International Children’s Day, several groups celebrated children discussing childhood toys, games, and memories. Then we played some childhood games. (They play musical chairs in China too.)

The student teachers got their classmates to be really active, and talking a lot. In one class the teachers talked about emoijis. Then gave the class to make their own which they had to discuss with everyone.

The student teachers got their classmates to be really active, and talking a lot. In one class the teachers talked about emoijis. Then gave the class to make their own which they had to discuss with everyone.

We had another fashion show made from everyday materials. (Different class, but just as fun.)

We had another fashion show made from everyday materials. (Different class, but just as fun.)

 

The students are required to send me a teaching plan several days before which I approve or change. The classes are mostly girls with only 1-4 boys. So when I got a lesson plan from a boy and his topic was makeup, I was a little surprised. Not only did he have a good teaching portion, he let his classmates put makeup on him, which they LOVED. Then he ended it by talking about how all girls are beautiful without makeup. It was a great lesson.

The students are required to send me a teaching plan several days before which I approve or change. The classes are mostly girls with only 1-4 boys. So when I got a lesson plan from a boy and his topic was makeup, I was a little surprised. Not only did he have a good teaching portion, he let his classmates put makeup on him, which they LOVED. Then he ended it by talking about how all girls are beautiful without makeup. It was a great lesson.

One girl decided to teach "life hacks" such as how to tie a cute bow in a dress, or how to fold a shirt with only one movement. She brought material for everyone to try. It took me a few tries but I got it eventually!

One girl decided to teach “life hacks” such as how to tie a cute bow in a dress, or how to fold a shirt with only one movement. She brought material for everyone to try. It took me a few tries but I got it eventually.

This was a fun "spinny" game until I was worried someone was gonna kill themselves (don't worry, she was caught.)

This was a fun “spinny” game until I was worried someone was gonna kill themselves (don’t worry, she was caught. She had actually only turned around 3 times, but seemed to be especially dizzy. Everyone else handled it okay.)

No one would ever accuse me of being a strict teacher. But to me, I see successful teaching as getting the students to use, and enjoy using, the language. I want them to use it while speaking to each other, and not just me. And this final exam fit the bill. It got them to speak a lot, got each other speaking, and even better we all had a great time. That’s a win-win for me even if we never opened a textbook.

teaching english in China

P.S. It also means the semester is over! Summer holiday has arrived! Woot!

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hot Dragon Boat Guys

Dragon Boat Holiday is coming around the corner, meaning a little three-day holiday for us. This will be my seventh Dragon Boat day in China but I have a little guilty confession: I have never seen a dragon boat race.

Xiamen Dragon Boat Races

In Hangzhou the closest race was too far away an in Xiamen they actually have the dragon boat races long before the holiday because everyone is gone during the actual holiday. So they hold it early. This past weekend in fact.

And I finally went!

And lordy, lordy what have I been missing?! If I knew the guys were that hot I would have made it a point to go every year. I mean, these were gorgeous, gorgeous men and so many together in a relatively small area? Heaven.

Xiamen Dragon Boat races

Dragon boat races happen in long wooden boats, with two rowers sitting side by side. In the front is a drummer to keep pace and in the back a rower to keep the boat straight. They don’t have far to race, just 200-3000 meters depending, but they have to be strong and fast to win. And the Xiamen Dragon Boat races are a big to-do here and many teams come from all over southern China and Taiwan to compete.

So that means a lot of guys. A lot of hot guys. And it was blistering hot and humid, so shirts were very much optional.

IMG_9849

I watched the 500 meter races. They were quick and moved briskly. All the rowers use the same 18 boats. Six are loaded and ready as the other six are racing as the other six are heading back to the wharf for the next teams. So there isn’t much down time between each race. Just boat after boat of hot guys getting ready to race. (I don’t want to be totally sexist. There were women’s teams too, and those ladies were strong! But Imma focus on the men right now, kay?)

Thanks to my friend we had an in with one of the teams.

Thanks to my friend we had an in with one of the teams.

One of my friends taught one of the teams so we got to go into the competitors section to hang out with them. It was us in a sea of hotties. I was taking stealth pictures of guys when another friend, a guy, criticized me for objectifying men.

“They’re people Becky! Not pieces of meat!” He said to me jokingly.

“They like it,” I said. “Why else would they wear these tight shirts and pants, getting all wet and flaunting their hot bodies? They want me to take pictures. They like it. Honey! Give me a smile,” I yelled to no one in particular.

I like turning the tables on objectification.

Xiamen dragon boat races

The actual festival went on for two days and they had races of varying length and even some fun races like “tug of war” (a rope is tied between two boats and each one paddles furiously in the opposite direction, trying to pull the other one towards it).

But it was really hot, I got sunburnt being out just a few hours, and I had gotten what I came for. So I left early and sat the rest of the races out. (Though they were close enough to my home I heard the constant banging of the drums.) I thoroughly enjoyed my first official dragon boat races in China and already looking forward to next years races! What can I say? I’m a fan of traditional Chinese culture.

ready...set.....

ready…set…..

Go!

Go!

And they're off!

And they’re off!

 

To find out about the other traditions and cultures behind Dragon Boat day, check out this post.

Categories: China, Chinese Culture, Dating | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

How to Teach English in China and Not Loathe Yourself

Teaching English in China is known for many thingThere is a way to be a successful English teacher in China without going crazy. All you need is two ingredients. s, but having a fulfilling, enriching life isn’t one of them. In fact, most
English teachers end up down one of two paths: they grow to hate themselves, and their job, more and more. They get angry at Chinese things, and basically just talk about how “dumb” China and Chinese people are. They turn nasty, they turn cranky and go eat at McDonald’s waaaay too much. Basically, they burn-out and the only solution is to leave.

The other path is the party path. With lots of free time, an elevated social status and an easy life at their fingertips, English teachers tend to party away their time, drinking all night, having fun all day and wake up 10 years later thinking “what have I done with my life?”

I’ll admit, back in Hangzhou I thought I was a bit of an oddity because I didn’t fit into these two categories. The more I live here, the more I like it, and I have never felt burnt-out, or tired of my life here. But then I moved to Xiamen and met other “successful” teachers like me. People who liked living in China, found enjoyment and growth and meaning in their daily lives even if they have been here five, ten or fifteen years.

And I realized we all had two things in common. The two secret elements of teaching English in China without hating yourself. And now, I will pass them on to you…

Follow your passion

It’s a cliche, I know, but it’s essential for life in China. Truth is, for most teachers in China, our job is not our passion. Of course there are some, but very few teachers in China have grown up wanting to be teachers or go back to their home country and teach as well. No matter where you work in China, private or public school, elementary or college kids, there is always the element of “dancing monkey” hanging over your head. And foreign teachers can’t go very high in the chain of command. We start at a higher salary than new Chinese teachers, but within a few years they can outpace us and get promotions and more duties and responsibilities. With few exceptions foreign teachers can’t.

So to be a successful teacher you have to find your own passions and your own hobbies and do them. You can’t rely on your job to give you growth and satisfaction. (And I say this as a teacher who really loves teaching.)

For me, traveling and writing, has always been my passion and now badminton is added to the mix. One of my friends has found a passion in Ultimate Frisbee and building up the Xiamen team. Another plays music, another began learning yoga and is now training to be a teacher. Also several people have come here with the purpose of learning the language and really immerse themselves in all things Chinese.  This is what I mean by following your passion. It’s no coincidence that these teachers have been in China for years and are happy here.

Jen Yoga

My kick-ass friend doing yoga. She never did yoga before coming to China but now does it everyday, teaches several classes and is studying for more certification. This weekend she’s helping to organize more than 100 people to do sunrise yoga on the beach. She has found her passion and going with it!

You don’t even have to come to China already knowing your passion. Many of us have found it thanks to opportunities that opened up for us in China,. I mean, I’ve always been into traveling and writing, that’s why I came here originally, but this crazy badminton obsession passion only came about after friends invited me to play in China. And I’m not alone. My friend who plays Ultimate Frisbee is also obsessed but he admits that if he stayed in America he never would have gotten into it because he’s just not a natural jock. It was being in China, where the sport is less established, that gave him an opportunity to make a difference.

And the truly happy teachers usually have several passions. A main one, and then some secondary ones that are almost as important. For me, writing and badminton are battling it out for top billing, with traveling coming third. My yoga friend has recently started boxing, and my Ultimate Frisbee friend is passionate about learning Chinese and writing as well. Having too many passions will just dilute you and your time, but having 2-3 serious ones seems average for the happy teachers.

Be Self Motivated

Of course, finding your passion doesn’t help at all if you don’t have motivation. That’s why the party path is such a common one: it basically falls into your lap. You can be a total annoying douche and you’ll still get invited out regularly for dinner and drinks. And if you have no motivation for doing your own thing, then you’ll get sucked into that easy life.

I spend a lot of time writing, even missing events if they conflict with my writing schedule. Things can fill up my time, so I make writing a priority so I feel like I'm not wasting my time.

I spend a lot of time writing, even missing events if they conflict with my writing schedule. Things can fill up my time, so I make writing a priority so I feel like I’m not wasting my time.

I’ve known teachers who had their own passions but lost it because they had no motivation. They arrive all gung ho talking about writing, or learning the language, traveling the world, yet a few years later have done nothing because they’ve been “busy” (aka partying ) and broke. Or they just got too lazy.

Xiamen is especially bad for this. It’s an amazing sub-tropical city ringed with beaches and coffee shops just begging you to laze away the day. And the people in Xiamen are really good about arranging events like arts fairs, African nights, sporting events and the infamous beach parties that you can have a full and varied life while actually accomplishing nothing.

Look at these girls, don't they look sweet and cute? Don't be fooled. They are stone cold killers and could shoot any of you with their lethal archery skills.

My friends are especially troublesome. They love organizing activities every night. And they are healthy, active and fun activities (like hiking, swimming, archery etc). I find myself getting sucked into it but always take a step back to focus on writing and badminton.

You have to set goals and work towards them. It means you have to turn down bar invitations (or go home early), it means you can’t sleep late, or waste all day on the internet. You need to have goals and stick to them yourself. No one is gonna hold you accountable and your close friends will probably do everything they can to (unconsciously) sabotage you.

That’s it. The big secret revealed.

It’s that simple.

I know this sounds like basic information, just general life stuff in fact, but it’s absolutely critical for life in China and yet so many people don’t do this. I have a few friends who are incredibly motivated and do a lot of stuff, yet have no real passion. They like the things they do, but not love them, and after a few years here they are feeling dissatisfied. The same goes for people with passions but no motivation to pull it off themselves.

Teaching in China isn’t a punishment or a chore. It’s a choice and usually not an easy one. So if you come here you should see it as an opportunity for self growth, not as some prison sentence you have to survive. By following these two steps you can make your time in China so much more meaningful and life-changing than you can imagine.

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Settling in a Routine when you Hate Routine

I know I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog recently. It’s not because I stopped doing things, or because I’m tired of writing. It’s also not because I’m so busy I don’t have the time. It’s more than now my life has a schedule and an order that repeats week after week.

Yep, the girl that hates predictability had settled into a routine. *shudder*

I blame badminton. I now play three weeknights each week and as a very efficient person, I have figured out the best use of my time. I go a few hours early, eat at one of four restaurant, then drink tea and write for an hour (at one of four cafes) and exactly at 7:25 I walk to badminton so I have time to change and warm up.

badminton in China

Xiao He is my closest friend that plays amazing badminton. Much higher level than anyone in my group. Sometimes, if I beg hard enough, he’ll come play with us.

The two weeknights I don’t play badminton I have tutoring late in the day, keeping me home. Daytime is also routine. Monday and Wednesday are my writing days in which I spend 2-3 hours in a cafe editing my book. The other three days I have classes.

Basically, I know exactly where I will be every hour of every weekday. This is so un-Becky like.

I hate is routine. As a wanderlust soul I hate having an obligation, even if it is to myself. I hate knowing what this week will be like, and next week, and the week after. I’ve always resisted it.

But I really love what I’m doing now. Playing badminton and writing are my passions and I’m organizing my week around them. I don’t want to change my routine because I have found it to be the most efficient routine possible, and efficiency has always been important to me.

Still tea drinking even though I haven't written about it.

Still tea drinking even though I haven’t written about it.

For instance, I chose those four specific restaurants before badminton because they are good for one person, and the food they serve is suitable before badminton (I can’t eat anything too heavy, but I need to fill up). I write in my journal because I need time after eating to digest a bit, and writing is the most efficient use of that hour. Every now and then, to try to “mix things up” by trying a new restaurant or new cafe, but it always leaves me disappointed (I feel too full, or the cafe isn’t comfortable or too expensive).

I feel super lame doing the same thing every week, but the stuff I do is so satisfying. My weekends are open, and I keep them free which gives me some semblance of free will, but come Monday-Friday I’m the easiest person to stalk. I’m even beginning to recognize the construction workers I see getting off work as I am walking to badminton, because we pass each other several times a week at the same time.

Luckily I’ve made sure, by choosing my job, that my life won’t fall totally into routine forever. My semester is only 16 weeks long (I’m more than halfway through right now) so soon class will be over and I’ll need a new routine based on my new schedule.

So while this schedule is super conducive to badminton, and my life right now, it’s not incredibly inspiring for writing on this blog. I’m not having a lot of new experiences or learning things about the culture. I’m writing, a ton, over at my badminton blog (please check it out!), just not here. So syck with me. I’m quiet now, but this time will pass and soon enough it will be all “blah-blah-blah,” again. Just once I end this frustrating, yet perfect, routine.

Weekends are still free to do fun and crazy things. My friend Uno opened up a new spa and we went to the opening to support him. It's the best massage place in the city.

Weekends are still free to do fun and crazy things. My friend Uno opened up a new spa and we went to the opening to support him. It’s the best massage place in the city.

 

One weekend I played an extra day of badminton and went to a pizza party afterwards. Perfect day.

One weekend I played an extra day of badminton and went to a pizza party afterwards. Perfect day.

Still supporting my frisbee friends, but I don't go watch them as much as I used to.

Still supporting my frisbee friends, but sadly I don’t go watch them as much as I used to.

Categories: China | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Empress of Bright Moon

empress of bright moon coverI consider myself to be a discerning consumer. I’m not highbrow, but I like shows that treat me like an intelligent person, like House of Cards or Game of Thrones, not things like dumb sitcoms or cheesy soaps.

Or so I think. I recently realized when it comes down to it, every show is basically a soap opera. Sure, House of Cards might be a “political thriller” but it’s basically a soap. Game of Thrones? Same thing. So I guess what I actually like is strong, well developed characters, in a rich and detailed world going through a lot of crazy shit. (Think about it people, that’s exactly what every good show boils down to.) Now, enter my book review….

Based on the true story of Empress Wu (the only female empress in China history) The Moon in the Palace, written by Weina Dai Rendal, is a richly researched, thrilling story set in ancient China. Just my cuppa. The main story starts with Mei’s youth (Empress Wu’s younger name) to her entry into the palace. The second book Empress of Bright Moon, covers the rest if her story with the rise and fall of a woman in the palace, and all the crazy shit drama that goes with a woman in power in ancient China.

As it’s a story about a woman, everything is from the woman’s point of view, and the female experiences. (A point-of-view you don’t get a lot, but I like.) Yes, there are bigger picture things going on with China and the world, but for Mei her whole world is the palace, first the outer area where the concubines wait to be chosen, and then the inner area where they are there to serve the emperor. Both are confining, small worlds (they aren’t allowed out and can’t walk around freely) but there are enough dramas and battles to be waged indoors.

And for women, the battles are with lies, wit, actions and getting the more powerful man to protect you publicly. Man, it must have sucked to be a woman back then. Although men weren’t spared their own political drama’s. Without giving too much away, Mei’s lover becomes emperor but quickly finds himself usurped by his uncle with no real political, or personal, power. Man, it must have sucked to be a man back then.

Another thing I really liked was the detail. You can tell Weina spent a lot of time researching this period. (In this interview at the Speaking of China blog she told Jocelyn it was ultimately 10 years of research.)  But just like a pro athlete making a sport look easy you don’t think too much about what must have gone on to get these seemingly easy results. Weina doesn’t bog the story down with unnecessary descriptions. She tells just enough to make sure you have a crystal clear mental image, but aren’t distracted from the story at all. As a writer myself I know how hard that is to do. (And I’m a bit jealous of the apparent ease in which Weina, a non-native speaker, pulls it off!)

As with all historical novels based on real people, you know the end of the story. She was empress (and a good one), so you never actually fear for her life. But that doesn’t mean the story isn’t exciting. I read the two books in just a few days because it’s an interesting story, in a classy soap opera way: lies, betrayals, deaths, secrets, love affairs. All the good drama.

I know summer is coming and I could see this as a perfect summer book. The kind that makes you skip going in the water with your kids because you wanna find out what happens next.

Categories: China, Writing | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment