Parsley & Coriander — Italians in China

So I just finished reading the newly released English translation of Parsley & Coriander written by Antonella Moretti and wanted to recommend it to you, my dear readers.

While fictional, the story will ring true with many expats in China as Antonella drew from her real life experience of quitting her job, and uprooting her life to follow her husband who was sent to China for work.

The book focuses on a group of Italian women, almost all of whom came to China due to their husbands job, and all of whom live a very privileged life, with money, drivers, aiyi’s and a whole lot of free time on their hands. The story revolves around several of these women and how they deal with their extra time and living in a foreign country.

Now, I’m not gonna lie. Most of Antonella’s characters are the worst kind of expats to someone like me. They have disdain for China, mock anyone who tries to leave the expat bubble and treat having Chinese food at a local place like a expedition to mars…something wholly new and unbelievable.

The thing is that while I hate these kinds of expats, I am painfully aware they actually exist, and in many ways I felt like I was getting a secret look into the lives of these types of women, and found they were not as all vain and shallow as I thought. Well, not all of them anyway.  Antonella drew from her own life and her own experiences and writes very convincingly. I would have no problem believing that the “fictional” characters are just her real life friends and acquaintances with new names. (Though in an interview at the Speaking of China blog, she swears they aren’t.)

This is not a book for someone who wants to get to know China better, or Chinese culture. This is 100% from the point of view of expat wives (called “trailing wives”) who suddenly find themselves living in another culture with basically no purpose and trying to fill their time and have a meaningful life. And that’s what I like about it. It gives a fresh take on the “foreigner in China” story. (No English teachers here bumbling their way around China.)

Instead it follows proper, almost prudish, mostly middle-aged women as they go about trying to figure out their place in this new world while trying to maintain their European sensitivities. My one critisism on the book is that the book focuses on the lives of several women and while each chapter is clearly marked over who’s story is being told, I found myself getting mixed up with the names and who was who at time. Parsley and Coriander gave me, someone who’s been here for awhile, a glimpse into this life of expats I’ve only seen from afar. And I found it fascinating!

If you would like to check out this book, and I recommend that you do, you can buy it on Amazon in both paper format or for your Kindle. Enjoy!

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You Know You’ve Been in China A Long Time When…..

Three years ago I wrote a post called 10 Signs You’ve Lived in China a Long Time. It was a post about all the culture differences I’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

At this point I’m so used to China I’m not really sure what I do differently anymore. I mean, it’s been almost 8 years and I would do things differently even if I lived in America. So I can’t really separate myself, and my habits, from Chinese culture. Maybe it’s just “getting older” habits.

But, lately I’ve come across a few things that made me realize just how damn long I’ve been here.

You know you’ve been in China a long time when……

You have medicine that expired 4 years ago.

I have no idea how this even happened. I have one tiny shoebox with all my medicine and I barely have any. A package of cold medicine, some Imodium, iron pills. Yet, I went through the box and cleaned it up the other day and found over 50% of it had expired. Then I found this little gem. Unbelievable that I have been here for so long that I can have such old medicine.

You have a Windows XP install disk

I’m not even a PC person anymore (I switched to Mac’s five years ago) yet I found a XP installation disk from 3 computers ago. It was the computer I brought with me to China and I’ve been unassumingly lugging this installation disc around with me since then. 16 year old technology anyone?

Your babies have babies

This one is the one that makes me feel oldest. My babies, my precious students that I taught for four years, have moved on and began their adult life. I remember when the first one got married and how excited I was for them. But now with 60 of my babies, and dozens of other students I keep in regular touch with, marriage and newborns is just the norm these days.

I was cleaning up my computer the other day when I looked through a folder called “future blog posts.” It was just kinda a catch-all for pictures of blog ideas. I haven’t look at it or used it for years apparently and I found all these pictures from 4-5 years ago that I totally forgot I had.

Look at this picture….

So cute, right? Well two are moms and 4 are married. (One I lost touch with so maybe she’s married with a kid, but I don’t know. So we’ll say no.) One of their classmates, not in this picture, went to America to have her baby so now her kid and I are countrymen.

Hella weird for me. They were just cute little students yesterday. How could they be married with kids today?!

Your lessons accidentally change

At this point, I have honed and perfected my speaking class lesson plans to a point I don’t need to change them, I just do the same ones year after year. One of the most popular lessons is a trivia game where I have prepared cards and I use the same cards I made around six, seven years ago.

Only time has moved on and some of my questions have changed and gotten more complex. Like “How many Star Wars Movies are there?” On the original card I wrote 6. But now, new ones are being made and is Rouge One an official one? I mean, it is, but it’s not the main story, ya know? So I allow the answer to be 7 or 8. And with more Star Wars movies coming, it will continue to change.

It’s weird to have so many reminders that time is passing because in many ways, China still feel fresh and new to me. Yet, with old medicine and new babies I’m forced to realize I’ve been here a long, long time.

 

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Tutoring Kids in China

I’ve always taught college kids because I don’t like to teach basics. You need to understand English fluently for me to want to teach you which pretty much rules out any child.

Until Lion. My friend moved away from Xiamen about a year ago and asked me if I wanted to teach a kid. “He’s fluent, though his grammar is sometimes wrong. He’s also a shy kid.” The price was right and he would be coming to my house so I wouldn’t have to travel anywhere. I figured I could try it out one or two classes, make some quick money and drop him.

This week is our one year anniversary and I think he’s the coolest kid ever.

He’s only 10 but he started learning English when he was about five so he’s basically as fluent as any shy 10-year-old kid.

And I don’t treat him like a baby, speaking slowly and using simple words. I treat him like normal, speaking in a normal voice and assume much of what I say passes over his head. But you know what they say about assuming…

The day Trump was elected president we had class. He’s aware of general world situations (knows Obama was president before), but isn’t aware of specifics. I told him about Trump.

“He’s very sensitive and he gets mad whenever anyone is critical of him. He hates when people make fun of his tiny hands so there are a lot of jokes about that,” I said. “Hillary got more votes but because of the special government rules he became president. A lot of people really hate him, including me.”

I then showed him the “Trump says China,” video and we laughed, and then started to play. We usually draw and that day I got some special scratch paper where you scratch away the black to reveal the colors underneath. Unprompted, this is what he drew:

“Look at his tiny hands!” he said proudly. “Trump is gonna be so angry with me.”

Also please note that he is saying “I like China” while bombing it, has a TV show (although I didn’t tell the kid that Trump was a reality TV star so that was awesome). And he has no pants.

“Why does he have no pants?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Cause he’s stupid,” he giggled.

Also, the top says “Four years go he is not president, ever people hate him.” (He was 9 at the time, give his grammar a break.)

He came up with all that, by himself, after listening to me talk for maybe four minutes. How could I not love this kid?!

For awhile I had a leaky air conditioner and the tub of water underneath became a regular part of our games. The scarf he is wearing on his head is his “Young Pioneers” scarf, which he has to wear at school to shows his loyalty to the Communist Party. Most kids wear them.

He’s also hilarious. His birthday fell on a school day and the next day I saw him.

“Did your teachers give you a present?” I asked.

“No,” he said. Then excitedly he said, “Oh wait! They did!”

“Oh yeah? What did you get? Cookies? A little cake?”

“Homework,” he replied dryly.

And if he wasn’t awesome enough, he fully cemented his place in my heart one day when he sat down and started drawing a big, round base.

“Is that…..the death star?” I asked.

He had just seen Rouge One and without knowing it, picked up on my love for all things Star Wars.

He didn’t know Luke Skywalker, but he drew Darth Vadar and lightsabers, and the Death Star all by himself. I drew Luke’s body, but he drew his head.

He’s a total little nerd in a real stereotypical way. He already read Harry Potter (in Chinese) and now is into wizards. (He calls Jedi’s “wizards.”)

Also, one time I threw an apple at him because he wanted one and I was a few steps away. Instead of reaching out his arms, he shied away, the apple hit him on his back and fell to the ground. Total nerd move! I might be a bit of a jock now, but my childhood nerdy self totally gets where he’s coming from.

Like all good nerds, he’s also imaginative and the pile of mahjong pieces I have is now called “the mahjong factory” and “workers” are called out to build all manner of things each week. Not just the mahjong tiles but he wants a specific thing to use and he walks around my house looking for something to fit his idea, like paperclips, books, medicine bottles. Anything in my house is subject to his building designs.

This was a battlefield with two castles and the pens are missiles. The Queen of 7’s was my queen while he had a wizard on his side. The pieces in the middle are boats, because that’s a river between them ‘natch.

We never speak Chinese and even when he mutters to himself he speaks English (like if he quietly counts out pieces to himself he uses English.) He once even explained how to play chess, using all English.

A few weeks after Rouge One he saw The Force Awakens and came to my house bearing the Lego toys and he talked about Han Solo and Rey all without me telling him the English names. They were behind a fruit shield while the “enemy” was in a mahjong fort. Don’t worry, the Star Wars guys won.

I really like this kid, but there is one thing I’m worried about. I see the pressure he is under. Mine isn’t the only class he goes to, but he has weekend English class in a training school, piano class and others, and I’m afraid he is taking too much of the pressure on himself. He loves getting praised about how smart he is, but can’t handle looking stupid. He always cheats in games to make sure he wins.

 

He also has a tendency to find things in my house that I don’t want him to. Bye bye expensive imported gummi bears I forgot to hide before class! What didn’t get played with got eaten pretty quickly.

I’m also worried about him growing up. Right now he spends all weekends “doing homework” and as a shy kid he doesn’t seem to mind not having friends. But what about when he gets older?

The Chinese education system isn’t kind to creativity and play and as he gets older the pressure will grow and he might not be content just playing. I’m a little scared to witness his fall from “playful imaginative boy” to “Robotic recitation drone,” as so many students do in the Chinese system.

Until I’ll keep playing with him, trying to act as an antidote to the rigidity of the public school system. (And I’m also waiting for him to be old enough to read Lord of the Rings.)

Happy class-versary Lion!

 

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Is Xiamen the Most Bike-Friendly City in the World?

Recently Xiamen has been getting a lot of attention from the world because of a new bike path. Not just a bike path but the world’s longest elevated bike path. It’s almost 5 miles long and built like a little bike highway with exits and entrances along the path, all hovering over the street (and the cars) below.

They also have guards stationed throughout making sure no wayward walker ends up on the path (you gotta have a bike). But that’s not a problem because hundreds of bikes are available along the path as well, available for rent for a teeny tiny price.

Have bike apps become a thing in America? Because here in China they have recently just blown up.

I think most of you are familiar with a city bike share program. You get a card, add a deposit and you can check out a bike from any bike stand for usually 1 or 2 rmb per hour (less than .20) with each additional hour going up in price. That’s to ensure you don’t bring a bike home with you.

But in today’s modern world, that seems like ancient technology. You need a card, you need to find a bike stand (on your own) and you need to go to a recharging station to add money to the card.

Bikes just waiting on the street to be used. No need to bring it back to a specific area.

Today it’s all about apps, and bike share apps have been making riding a bike cool again. There are three major apps in Xiamen; hello bike, ofo and mobike. All bikes from these companies are clearly marked with a QR code. You download the app, pay the deposit (ranging from $20-50 depending on the company) and you can check out any bike you come across. No card, no bike stands, no hassle. (Unless you are a foreigner. Most of these apps require a chinese ID. I’ve heard OFO allows passports though.)

Some of the bikes come equipped with GPS trackers on every bike. So you can use the app, locate the nearest bike and grab it. Some don’t have GPS trackers but they have decided to blanket the city with so many bikes you don’t need to walk far to find one. Each bike is usually less than 1rmb per hour and doesn’t go up in price.

Each bike has a QR code. These bikes have a GPS tracker so you can find a bike on your app.

Some you scan the code and it unlocks the bike for you. When you lock the bike, the meter stops. With one company you enter the bikes number and it sends you the code for the lock. Then, they trust that you sign out of the app when you lock the bike up. The lock code doesn’t change though, and this has led to people scratching out the number (so others can’t enter it into the app) and then just using the bike whenever they want.

Yeah, people are dicks.

But this hasn’t stopped these bike apps from blowing up. They are investors wet dreams and they are raking in the cash. One, OFO, just received a billion dollar valuation. Not bad. Many Chinese tech companies like Tencent, Xiaomi and didi are all getting in on the game.

This is a great thing for congested, clogged China. Getting people out of cars and onto bikes is a smart move. And somehow these apps have made riding a bike cool again so you’ll see plenty of young people out on dates with dresses and high heels riding them, or groups of friends riding them. It’s very cool.

These girls just did a little shopping and instead of getting a taxi or uber home, they rode a bike. Pretty cool.

But there is an obvious problem, and one that is growing. With no specific drop-off point, these bikes end up everywhere. Just everywhere. In the bushes, in puddles, in giant heaps in dirt lots. And outside high traffic areas, like a mall or something, they can pile up into a huge mess on the sidewalk.

Shanghai is having the biggest problem. The police have recently seized 4,000 illegally parked bikes. While not as drastic, Xiamen is having problems too and the government recently released a statement saying bikes must be parked at specific parking locations (basically a part of the sidewalk with spray-painted borders).

I ran across this bike in a tiny little village street up a hill away from any major sidewalk or pedestrian area. Unless the people that live there use this bike, it will never be used again.

But that’s basically impossible to police, so people are still leaving them wherever. In fact, a few times I’ve seen the police using the bikes, so obviously they are fans. And it’s kinda cool they are all over the place because it means you can find one with very little searching in all parts of the city. But, the companies don’t really take good care of them. They are making enough money to just resupply any empty street. Maintenance isn’t worth it.

So, between the new elevated bike path, the rental bikes and Xiamens previous bike paths, including the 20+ mile bike path along the ocean, I think Xiamen is a serious contender for World’s friendliest bike city. It’s definitely another reason I love living in the place so much.

Xiamen elevated bike path!

 

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Medical Tourism– a Review of Bumrungrad Hospital

(This post got a little away from me but I wanted to be thorough for people going there. If you read my blog cause you’re interested in China, feel free to skip this one.)

In my last post I kinda hinted that I was in Bangkok for a special reason other than traveling. And that during my trip I couldn’t walk.

That’s because I went to Bangkok to go to the hospital. Chinese hospitals aren’t the best and you only go of you need something solved. (There is no such thing as a doctors office in China. If you feel sick, have a cold, blurry vision, broken arm, gunshot wound, you go to the hospital and see whichever doctor is available.)

As a result, preventative care isn’t really a thing here. Pap smears, cholesterol tests, skin care check, eye exams, aren’t done unless you are having a problem. Even then it’s sometimes a problem.

“Does this mole look cancerous to you?” my friend asked the dermatologist at the best hospital in Xiamen. He just shrugged in response.

“Dunno. Do you want it removed? We can do that.”

“But does it need to be removed?”

“If you want it removed fine, we can do that.”

“I want to know if it needs to be removed. Does it look okay?”

“It’s your call,” said the doctor.

Sigh……

And I’ve been in China for almost 8 years now. I go to the dentist on my own but trying to get the other basic tests are just too annoying. So I skip it.

Bangkok is a city famous for cheap, really good hospital care and the most famous of them all is Bumrungrad. They have a full body check that is incredibly comprehensive and cheap as dirt. Since I’m 40, I figured now was the best time to fill up on pad thai, thai iced tea and get a series of medical tests.

So what did it measure? Pretty much everything a person in their 40’s requires: deep panel of blood tests including CBC, cholesterol, all kinds of cancer markers, liver functions, hepatitis among others, urine examination, stool sample examination, EKG, full torso ultrasound, mammogram and boob ultrasound for the ladies (exercise stress test for the gentleman), pap smear and pelvic exam and an eye exam (more than just if you can see clearly). If your over 65 you get bone density and other tests that I don’t quite need yet. Check out their web page for the entire list.

The whole process takes about 4 hours, but it’s as painless as could be (besides not peeing for awhile). Everything is located on one floor, and clearly marked. You check in, then pay, then follow the nurses orders at each station, going from section A, to B, to C.

The first part is blood tests, height, weight, blood pressure quick eye check (the real one comes later) in little rooms that are very classically “doctors offices” but a nurse takes care of everything. You’re out within minutes.

The next part you need to change clothes. They have a really nice locker room, with big booths for changing your clothes. It’s a shirt/pants combo that is more like a spa outfit than a hospital gown. They give you a locker and a key, but you are free to take your phone with you. Also, they give ladies a free shawl to keep warm with and they let you keep it after!

I carried it around with me and used it a lot during my trip.

At this point they give you bottles of water, which you should drink, but be careful. You have to do the ultrasound with a full bladder, but first you have to do the X-Ray, EKG and mammogram/breast ultrasound so ladies, drink carefully. I’d say I did the torso ultrasound about an hour or so into my visit. I was bursting by that point. If you mess up and pee earlier you just have to sit there and drink and wait till your bladder is full again.

The X-Ray/EKG/mammogram and Ultrasound rooms are all in the same hallways. They call your name, you go in, get taken care of by a technician and then released. You don’t necessarily get to meet the doctors, but they are in rooms next to you looking at your tests. I was “lucky” enough to meet two doctor because my results were so wacky. One was because of the mammogram. I had another one and the doctor called me into her room and showed me the results (the second was was clear, no worries).

Actually everyone was very nice. The nurses, technicians and doctors were all very friendly and also very careful. Like, that ultrasound goo. First off, the goo was warmed (nice touch) and they have copious amounts of towels to carefully wipe it off you. I had an ultrasound in China and they just threw a packet of tissues at me when they were done. Here, they are much more careful and considerate.

I should also mention everyone was super careful. There is a bit of a “conveyor belt” feeling to it all, since everyone in this are is doing the same thing as you, but every single nurse and technician checked my bracelet before giving me a test, and had me check their paperwork to be certain. I also don’t know what process they use for calling patients but they never forgot about me, and there wasn’t much wait time between tests.

You wait in a hallway and they call you into various rooms to get tested. Most people just sit and play on their phones while they’re waiting.

After those tests are done you get dressed again and move onto section C. But first you pass through a little buffet setup and maintained by Marriot. It’s nothing fancy but after starving yourself the night before (you can’t eat anything 12 hours before) it’s a welcomed sight.

The little food bar area. Simple, but a nice break halfway through.

It’s also cool because they keep their clients in mind. There are a lot of middle eastern customers (as obvious by the hijabs, burkas and taqiyah worn by many of the people, including doctors and nurses) so the little snack bar had hummus and pita! I live in China! Do you know how RARE hummus and pita are?! They also had banana bread!

I had two plates of this size, a bowl of granola and a bowl of yogurt before I was called to continue. But I eat fast and I basically shoved it all down quick. (That’s an egg sandwich you see, not the pita.)

I think I managed to shove down 4 pieces of it before I was called to the next tests. (Suggestion. If you want to sit and eat leisurely for awhile, don’t give your paperwork to the next nursing station until after you eat. I gave it before I ate and I had maybe 15 minutes before I was called. Not enough time to eat a lot.)

Next up is meeting a doctor. He/she looks over all your tests that are finished and discusses it with you. This is where you can ask questions, but be warned, it’s not a specialist, so they can’t get too deep into anything. If there is something terribly wrong, the doctor would recommend a specialist and the nurses outside would hook you up with an appointment.

But the blood tests are done in-house and were finished by this time so she could review them. She also looked through all my x-rays and ultrasounds and pointed things out to me. It was very helpful.

Then I got up on a table and did the normal doctor stuff, looking at eyes, ears, throat, feeling glands, that sort of thing. Even though I had given my urine sample just minutes before the results popped up on my file and she explained them before I moved on. Incredibly quick results.

Next was the pap smear and the doctor was hilarious. She had this very soft, lilting accent that was hard for me to understand but also totally hilarious. “Takeoffyourpantsandputyourfeetonthestttttiiirrruuuppppps,” she said so quickly and smoothly she had to say it twice just for me to understand. “verryyyyy gooooooood,” she would say totally calmly and peacefully and she was checking my hoo-haw. Several times I looked at the nurse and she just gave me a “don’t worry, no one understand her,” look. It was quite funny.

Then I had the eye test, which measures cornea pressure, colorblindness, eye levels and what-not. I don’t have cataracts or any eye damage, and that was that. I checked out and they told me I could pick up my compete test results two days later.

Almost. I had two more things to conquer: an added-on skin care check and the dreaded poop test.

I tried once already to give the stool sample, but the poop slipped down into the toilet. The toilet has a bit of a ledge and they tell you to poop on the ledge part, scoop a piece out–they give you a small spoon with the sample cup–and then flush. But my poop fell into the water and they can’t use that.

I was all apologetic and embarassed but they were super nice and said I could turn it in at anytime. Even the next day. I imagine a lot of people skip this part of the test entirely.

But lo and behold, with the almost everything done and the pressure off, I felt the deep rumble and before I left for lunch I was able to deposit my poop sample. Ta–dah!

The hospital looks more like a fancy hotel. They even have a koi pond!

After lunch I had the skin care check in another area of the hospital (I paid for it when I paid for the health care check as it was one of the add-on options.) The check was good and thorough and she found one mole that needed to be removed and a few that I should keep my eye on. I also have these bumps on my head, cysts really, and one had been getting bigger and uglier so she looked at it. She said it was infected and I should get it removed.

She called up to the plastic surgery office and got me an appointment. I ended up waiting quite awhile but it was nice they squeezed me in.

The doc examined me and laid out the game plan. As I was leaving Thailand in just 4 days he would give me the stitches that dissolve so I wouldn’t have to deal with going to a doctor in China.

Also, he would put a waterproof bandage on my foot and use some waterproofing spray on the head stitches so I could take a shower starting the next day. Talk about technology! I thought for sure I wouldn’t be able to shower for 5 or more days.

The small surgeries were carried out quickly and professionally. Besides the doctor I had two nurses and an aid who stayed in the room to help.They used numbing medicine and it didn’t hurt exactly…but they are literally cutting into you and you can still kinda feel the tugging and the pulling. It was a bit traumatic.

I’m not grossed out by cysts and stuff, but he showed me the thing he pulled out of my head as soon as I sat up and it was just a bit too much too soon. I had to lay back down again because I felt dizzy. They kept monitoring my blood pressure but it was a psychological problem, not a physical one. They brought me juice and water and stayed with me as I lay down, the nurses cleaning the blood out of my hair with wet wipes.

Compared to Chinese hospitals there was very few people in all the waiting rooms.

Two days later I went back and got my results in this really awesome, very comprehensive folder. The first part lays out all the test results in layman’s terms and gives you direct suggestion. For instance I have high cholesterol but it’s because my good cholesterol is high. My bad one is normal range so the print-out says I don’t need to worry. It breaks down everything like that.  At the end it gives suggestions on what you should do to improve your health specifically based on your results.

The place was spic-and-span and everything was modern and professional.

The second part is just a sheet of all the tests with the medical abbreviations you can show another doctor. The third part has printouts, like of your heart rate and hand written notes from the doctors. They also give you a CD with all your x-rays and ultrasounds to take with you. It’s incredibly comprehensive.

If you’re still reading this very long post I assume you are going there yourself and wanted an idea of what it is like. Totally don’t worry at all. I know I have a very low bar, coming from China and all, but I’ve spent my share of time in hospitals in America and this is much nicer than even them. If you’re thinking about it, I give it two thumbs up.

I think in my future life plan, I’ll go back every three years to get this same check-up again. After all, it’s in Bangkok and do I really need an excuse to go back?

And if I ever need any serious medical treatment, like a big surgery or something, I would think about going back, even if it cost a little more out of pocket, just because the service and techniques are so much more superior to China. (They accept a lot of insurances, just not mine which is from the Chinese government.)

If you want to find out more, check out their website. Everything is listed, as well as the prices, and there is no secret fees or anything. I paid exactly what they said I would. Everyone speaks fluent English so you don’t need to worry.

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

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Where in the World was Becky? (Yes, past tense. I’m back now)

I hate when people do “sorry I haven’t blogged for awhile” posts because they quickly become outdated. Someone who reads this blog even a few months from today won’t even notice the break in days unless they specifically look at the date.

That being said….sorry for the thin content here! Blame badminton. I’m not the kind of person that just talks about doing something, I do it. So I’ve been busy with badminton training pretty much everyday. the little time I find to write I’ve been writing on my badminton blog. Please go check that out as I’m updating that very regularly.

I didn’t write much about my classes this past semester and that’s fine. It’s my 15th semester teaching in China, and while I have a little something to say (in a later blog post) basically most of what I have to say has been said already. With almost 8 years under my belt, teaching is officially the longest job I’ve ever had. Scary!

This was my favorite semester since I came to Xiamen, but look at the joy on my face during my last class of the semester. As much as I love my job, and I do, I love holiday time more.

I’ve said many times that I love Xiamen in winter, but I have to go somewhere to feed the wanderlust beats in me.

So this year I went to Shanghai (hence the Shanghai Disney post.) I stayed an entire week just to squeeze in seeing everyone. I don’t know why but more and more friends seem to be moving there these days and Shanghai is still one of my all-time most favorite places to go. I literally stepped off the train and went to a burger joint to meet a friend. I didn’t even put down my stuff but carried it with me. The whole week was whirlwind like that but so, so, so much fun.

My friend Armani (his english name) was the first and last person I saw during my week in Shanghai. In between was filled with tons of amazing dinners, hangouts and KTV sessions.

The most exciting reunion was me and Harbin jacket! As Xiamen was in the 70’s and Bangkok, my next destination, was in the 80’s the last thing I wanted to carry with me was a heavy winter coat. But Shanghai was in the 30’s and cold, so I needed one. Luckily my friend Rebecca who now lives in Shanghai still had the precious Harbin jacket, my traveling companion last year. It was such a sweet reunion as girl and jacket were reunited for a week.

Together agaiiinnnnnn

Then I went to Bangkok! I went for a specific reason (to be talked about in a later blog post) but somehow I ended up with several friends living there I could visit. My one friend Gabby even let me stay with her in her amazing place. 17th floor suite.

Check out this amazing view over the city!

I couldn’t walk much during my short visit (wait till the next post for the details), but I could eat! Gabby is a chef and Bangkok is a food lovers paradise. So I had the best guide and we basically just ate our way around the city.

Gabby is a chef at Scarlet, one of Bangkok’s best restaurants (rated 56 out of almost 10,000 restaurants). Dinner here was a real treat (I got steak tartar) especially as I got visits from the chef herself to see how my food was! If you go to Bangkok you MUST go!

 

We even managed to fit in healthy food, like kale smoothies and granola. But I mostly ate street food like pad thai and other local dishes. And thai milk tea, so much thai milk tea….

Then I came back in time for Spring Festival (Chinese New Years) and I took a little trip to Chaozhou, China, my coaches hometown. I wrote about it at my badminton blog.

My coach and I in a rare moment of not playing badminton or drinking tea. You can read about my trip at my badminton blog.

Now I’m back with a few weeks left of holiday before my 16th (!!!) semester starts. I’ll be doing badminton training every night of course, but now I have a bit of a pause from my busy life and can hopefully catch up on some past blog posts! I haven’t been skipping posts because I have nothing to say, quite the opposite. I’m so busy doing new and exciting things these days I don’t have much time to catch up on my blog, but I will do my best to remedy that.

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Shanghai Disney– A Review

So this winter holiday, I spent a week in Shanghai visiting an every growing number of friends. But what I was looking forward to the most, was visiting the recently opened Shanghai Disney (Sorry friends).

And it did not disappoint! Just so you know, while I don’t like “Disney” as a brand, I love the theme parks. Unapologetically. I’ve been to the Florida and California ones more times than I can count, and Hong Kong once. I love cynicism and snark, yet at the theme parks, nothing but love and childlike wonder, baby.

Rebecca at the Alice in Wonderland garden maze. I actually got slightly lost in the maze trying to find the steps to bridge to take this picture.

Shanghai Disney is the latest, and according to the literature it’s “the largest one in Asia.” Well, it’s big, and fun, but if you go on a weekday, during a normal work week (as I did) you can pretty much do every ride if you plan well, use the app and your fast pass logically. So it’s not that big.

Like the other parks, this has various “worlds,” with Tomorrowland, Adventure Isle and Fantasyland being near identical to the ones you are familiar with. There was no Toon Town, or Toy Story World, like some of the others, but they did have a Treasure Cove which was pirate themed and awesome. They also had something called “Gardens of Imagination” which was the area in front of the castle with the super lame rides they couldn’t fit into Fantasy Land like Dumbo and the carousel.

The carousel at night, pretty but I’m not gonna wait in a 40 minute line for this one.

As a Disney park expert, I googled “Disney Shanghai secrets” beforehand to get the low down. It was there that I learned of the super cool Mickey Mouse ears. Yes, at any park you can get your name stitched onto a pair of Mickey ears, but at only ONE shop in the entire world can you get your names stitched in CHINESE.

I was warned by the internet that this shop can get crowded, so my friend Rebecca and I made this hat shop our first order of business. I got a few ears, one for me, some for friends, and Rebecca got one.

Now this was weird. For some reason they refused to put Rebecca’s English name on the hat. She was only allowed the name as it was written on her Chinese ID card. Initially, I was told this too, but I said I wanted my Chinese name. This caused a bit of a kerfuffle, until one said “Oh, your Chinese name is just your English name exactly translated right?”

“No,” I said. “It’s a different name. I also have two I want as gifts.” This made them frown, and they sent for a manager who then went to the back somewhere to talk to the big boss.  The boss reluctantly agreed but they still needed a record of my passport for some reason. My friend and I later joked that it must be because the hats can be used as a ID form recognized by the government. Seriously, I don’t know why it was so strict.

It was worth the hassle though. Isn’t the hat cool?

After that little mess was done, we ran over to the Tron ride. I had read that it is the most popular ride in the park, and you must go early to avoid the major lines all day long. Now, I was kinda swept up in all of the excitement of Disney because I don’t know why in the HELL I even considered going on it. I HATE roller coasters, even if this is an indoor, slightly small one. Hate, hate, hate.

I should have run for the hills when we had to put our stuff in lockers before being allowed on. That’s not a good sign for me. But the ride goes outside a bit and it seemed like it was okay. Everyone is on personal motorcycles (you’re hunched over the handlebars) and there are no loop-de-loo’s or anything.

The ride at night. Looks pretty and not tall so how miserable could it be?! Turns out, pretty miserable.

But OMG, it was the worst! It’s not a tall ride, but it makes up for it in speed. It’s a SUPER fast ride, so much so your face kinda hurts and I could do nothing but close my eyes, grit my teeth and pray it would end soon. It was over soon, maybe like 1 minute? But it basically ruined the next 60 minutes for me as I had to hold down my puke. My friend meanwhile, loved it.

That’s us from the ride picture. That was my face the entire time. 

Afterwards we made our shaky way to the Star Wars exhibit. This was cool, but due to my nauseous state I was having trouble fully appreciating it. There were a few costumed characters with no lines, so I was able to snap my pic with them. There was a mock Millennium Falcon cockpit that actually kinda sucked. It didn’t look like the real thing to me, but whatevs. Taking a picture in it let me sit down for a minute. (We took our picture with many themed characters that day as the lines were so short.)

Yay! Me and Darth! (Real guy, not a statue.)

My friend was actually totally spooked out by him, bwahahaha. Look at how far away she is from him and how uncomfortable she looks.

There is no way I would ever want my picture with Kylo Ren, but there was no line at all so I figured what the heck. This guy was trying to be all cool and scary with me, but this is my best, “THIS guy, am’miright?” face. Kylo Ren suuuuckksss.

After that, we went to Fantasy Land where everything is more my speed. They have the classic Peter Pan ride, as well as Winnie-The-Pooh, two of my all time favorites. (Be warned, all the rides only speak Chinese. It was very cute to hear Winnie and Tigger and Roo speaking Chinese.)

Then we went to Treasure Cove with the Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, I’ll admit I am a DisneyWorld purist and nothing will ever be better than the original ride. But this one was pretty cool from a ride point of view. It was updated with a story from one of the movies. Captain Jack Sparrow was there, in anamatronic glory, but the story took place with sea monsters under the water.

The pirate part

The boat kinda glides through a path like normal, but in many rooms there are screens all the way to the ceiling and they move and make you feel like you are going quite fast. It was a cool affect and there was some story going on, with Jack fighting Davy Jones, but again it was all in Chinese and I didn’t catch it. You don’t need to follow the story to enjoy it though.

Treasure Cove is also where we got our “lunch.” Giant turkey legs! Like a renaissance faire! Turkey is hard to get in China, but based on the HUGE lines at the turkey leg shop, I think it’s time is due. In fact, you were only allowed 2 per person due to the huge demand and the line was really quite long with a lot of workers keeping everyone in order. As it was a “quiet” day in the park I can only imagine the place when it is more crowded.

Treasure Cove and Adventure land are next to each other and bleed pretty organically. Adventure land is thin on rides, but has a lot of interactive stuff. Like, challenges where you need to strap on a safety harness and do a obstacle course.

It looked fun in theory, but you are harnessed in, and therefore must stay in line. So, if the person in front of you is scared, or slow, or whatever, you would get stuck. We also had “fast passed” Winnie the Pooh and our time was soon so we didn’t have enough time to wait and do it.

But next to the main obstacle course is a kid one, and this was empty and free. Rebecca got yelled at when she wanted to go on a slide (though the attendant finally let her) because it was for little kids only. But it was fun anyway.

Playing around in the kiddie area. It’s nice because they have sinks with soap by the entrance so if kids play in the sand and get dirty, they can wash their hands after.

The only rides in this part was a water roller coaster (which was closed due to the freezing temperatures) and something called “Soaring over the Horizon.” We were gonna do it but the lines were HUGE and we were using our fast pass at the moment so we skipped it. Lucky too because the day before they had a malfunction and people were stuck dangling high up for awhile. No problems the day we were there, but I don’t mind missing it.

Afterwards Rebecca wanted to go on another roller coaster, so I went to “Barbossa’s Bounty” cafeteria to wait and look for somewhere to charge our phones. Outlets are extremely rare at Disney, so don’t forget your battery charger. I looked all over a huge cafeteria and found only one tucked away in a corner.

With the sun set we went back to Tomorrowland (which always looks better at night lit up, then during the day) and did all the other rides. I used the app quite a bit that day and double-checked the rides were for “all ages” and not puke-inducing. Tomorrowland has never been my favorite.

At this point it was about 6 o’clock, and we were tired and cold and hungry. We had pigged out all day, pretzels, popcorn, turkey legs, but hadn’t eaten any real food.

In the morning, to make myself feel better after the Tron ride made me pukey, we got a waffle to share. Believe it or not, the sugar, ice cream and candy pieces DID settle my stomach.

So we left the gates and went to “Disney town” a shopping street open to the public right next to the park. Why leave the park? Because….CHEESECAKE FACTORY!!!!

That’s right fellow expats! There is only one Cheesecake Factory in China and it is in Disney Town. And OMG, it is exactly like the American Cheesecake Factory with the same exact food and the same exact menu. It was soooo good.

Same exact menu. I got my standard Thai chicken lettuce wraps appetizers that I like so much.

We finished in time to re-enter the park and watch the firework show. I’ve seen a lot of Disney firework shows over the years and this one was amazing. They project scenes from different movies onto the castle, and play songs and have timed fireworks. Star Wars had its own little bit. Also the funny thing was, a lot of the famous songs, from, like Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid, were translated (and sung) in Chinese, while some, Hakuna Mata and Let it Go, weren’t.

Overall it was a great day. It felt very Disney in all the right ways and while I had heard a lot of “Chinese tourists behaving badly,” I didn’t see anything egregious that day.

One other cool thing was the Disney “Photo Pass.” They have photographers all over and you have a card with a barcode. They take your pic and scan your barcode and it all goes to your account on an app. All you need to do is download the app and scan the barcode yourself to see them. Also, the pictures of you screaming on rides goes to your account if you scan your card. It’s all very neat and tidy and of course it’s crazy expensive to buy, but fun to look at.

Actually, in every photo place there is a cast member who will take pictures of you along side the professional park photographer. We found these pictures to be really good quality and were impressed. So there was no need to buy the professional ones.

We went to see Mickey because the lines were so short, and I took a selfie of us with him…..

….Meanwhile my friend had given her camera to the worker who was standing next to the professional photographer. She took a bunch of pictures including this one. I love it. I think it looks like an ad (“Adults can have fun at Disney too!”) and sorry to the pro but there was no need to buy the park photograph.

Some Suggestions:

Download the Shanghai Disney app and use it. It shows all the wait times (updated constantly) and how scary a ride is.

Bring a phone charger. Outlets are hard to find.

Use the fast pass right away. Once you use one, you can get another one, so don’t be shy and wait all day to use it just once.

Chinese New Years lanterns, Disney-style

Go to the Whistle Stop shop to get the hats in Chinese. Beg if they won’t let you add a different name then the one on your ID/Passport because they can do it.

Even if you are with a friend, take the “single riders” lane if possible (like on the Pirates ride, or the Seven Dwarves roller coaster). Saves time and we still ended up riding together.

Everything is written in English (and Chinese) and I think workers can speak a bit of English, but all the rides speak Chinese only and it’s much easier if you can speak Chinese. But if you can’t speak/understand Chinese, don’t worry too much.

If you like Disney, you’ll like Shanghai Disney, and if you’ve never been to Disney before, it is a great introduction to the theme park. Totally recommend!

And thanks to my partner in crime Rebecca for another fun Disney adventure!

 

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Using Courage over Comfort

I’m gonna start out with a bold statement: I lead an inspiring life.

I’m the kinda person that once I make up my mind to do something, I do regardless of how hard, or weird, it is. I’m not afraid to take risks, look like an idiot (or a egomaniac–clearly) and put myself in terrible, uncomfortable situations with no escape route.

Yangshuo, China July 2016

You could call my life unconventional, but I don’t really see it that way. I’m just not lead by the same things society tells us to be lead by. My values don’t include money, a big house, a good job, stable family or a career.

To me, having adventures, pushing myself, trying new things is what I value. Even if that means I lose a lot. Even if that means I look like an idiot more often than not. Even if it means people laugh at me (behind my back or in front.)

Because I know the benefits of what I get. I know the huge amounts of meaning, and gratefulness I feel all the time because of my life. I know that when you lose big, and look the idiot, the opposite happens every now and then and ultimately, even the losses and the embarrassments take on more meaning then a more “comfortable” life.

And with that knowledge, that sureness, comes a bit of cocky confidence. I’m basically bullet-proof. You can’t insult me, truly insult me, because your opinion doesn’t matter to me.

“Even though you dedicate so much time to badminton, why are you still so bad?” “Aren’t you embarrassed that your spelling and grammar is poor, don’t you have any pride in your writing?” “Don’t you feel embarrassed that at the age 40, you still take money from your parents?”

All of those things have been said to me, sometimes often, in the past six months and I’ll mock huff and puff, but I don’t take these insults to heart.

Because you don’t know me. Not like I know myself.

Sure, I’m an average badminton player now, but I was a miserable badminton player one year ago and I’ll be a great one one year later. Sure, I could improve my spelling and grammar, take a class even, but then I would become self-conscious, worry too much about how I was saying things, not what I was saying, and be paralyzed and unable to put anything out in the world. And yep, I’m a 40-year-old woman who is happily letting my mom pay for my airplane ticket back to America this summer. My dad, who’s not chipping in, said that obviously I’m embarrassed about that because I would never mention it on my blog. Well, no dad, I’m not. (She’s also gonna cover a rental car and, since I’m airing it all out, I use her Netflix too.)

My first badminton tournament, November 2016

Hell, I feel like I should be embarrassed about this very blog post, because I can’t imagine that I’m coming off as very likable right now. But here’s the thing:

I don’t need you to like me.

I love that you (yes YOU) are reading this blog. It makes me really happy. But if you don’t, I don’t care. I write this blog for me and would keep it up if it was the most unpopular blog in the world with the worst grammar you have ever seen.

I also don’t play badminton for you, I don’t look good for you, I don’t have a high paying job, or a house for you. I don’t act my age for you.

Basically, I give very few fucks about your opinion of me. And that’s where I think the inspiring part comes in.

Because it’s hard. It took a long time for me to get here, including a few near-death experiences,  to not care what others think. And yet it is a very fragile place to be. Even with me, and all my positive experiences and hoity-toity attitude to back it up. Even with my clear mind and understanding of myself I feel the pressure of what society wants and expects, and it weighs on me just as much as anyone else.

Freezing my ass off in Huangshan, Anhui, Jan 2016

I binge watch every episode of Gilmore Girls and think “Wow, Lorelei and Luke are perfect for each other, maybe I should have a serious relationship too!” (Even though I know it isn’t suitable for me and doesn’t make me happy.) I hear a friend lucked out at work and ended up with a huge bonus and I look at them admiringly (even though I don’t care about money, and know money doesn’t make a person great). I see a picture of a friends face, covered in makeup, and I can’t stop but marvel at her skill and beauty and wonder what she could do for me (even though I think makeup is the devil’s tool).

So what do I do? How can I stay on my own track? How do I hear my voice out of the millions of other voices constantly bombarding me? How can any of us do that?

I need to constantly inspire myself. I need to watch movies of unlikely heroes, listen to podcasts about Oprah making her own life, and listen to songs like “To the World.

I need to not only read poems like “Invictus” I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul, I need to teach them in class partially because I want to share my ideas with my students but I also need to reaffirm it to myself. I need to not only regularly read books like “Man’s Search for Meaning” and “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” but I need to talk about it with others, to really get the ideas soaked into my brain. I need to write blog posts like this one to remind myself at some later date how I feel now.

Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto Japan, 2016

Because the biggest problem I see with my healthy ego isn’t arrogance. It’s complacency. If I think I got it all figured out now, and forever will, then I will slowly be corrupted by the forces of society. If I don’t constantly question my motives and desires then I will be lead down the dark path of “what everyone else is doing.” Because it’s hard to go against everyone. If I just did things more normal, I wouldn’t have to confront these difficult things again and again. And it would be easier for me to make friends. I’d be normal, cooler, not an apparent narcissistic nut-case.

Yet, despite all my effort at constantly inspiring myself, sometimes I do get complacent. This week is a perfect example of that. Last week I thought everything was perfect and great and I had been as brave as I wanted to, and said everything that needed to be said.

But after randomly listening to a few podcasts, watching a few TED talks and helping a few students with a few life problems I realized that I had grown complacent. There were things I wasn’t addressing in my life because, deep down, I was too scared. Scared of rejection, scared of looking foolish, scared that I would reveal myself to be not at all together as I people thought I was.

So what did I do? I said “fuck it,” screwed up my courage and put myself out there. I decided to not care about my feelings, what was “right” or what I “should” have done. I said what I needed to say, and I made changes in my life.

The Becky Cup badminton competition, June 2016

So what happened? Well, when you do something big, changes don’t happen immediately. The results, and meaning, will come months or years later. But actually the results are meaningless. The meaning, and the value, comes from the fact I did it. I put myself out there and I made myself vulnerable. No matter what the results, I won today’s fight.

That’s why I think I live an inspiring life. Not because I don’t feel shame or embarrassment. I do. It’s there, just as much as much as you feel it, possibly even more (I’m an introvert). But I don’t ignore it or fight it. I feel it but I don’t let it control me. Wherever the shame and embarrassment point, I want to walk towards, not away. And fuck if I’m not proud of myself for doing that.

I heard a question once on a podcast, and it’s one I have repeated to myself, in my diary and in my head, regularly. “Did I use courage over comfort today?” I can’t answer yes everyday, but I can answer yes more days than no, and for me that’s what’s important. How about you?

2016 will go down as a tough year in the world, but personally it will go down as one the the best. Let’s see if we can’t do better next year.

Bring it on, 2017!

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Post Typhoon Clean-Up

Xiamen typhoon

Cranes were everywhere lifting the huge, heavy trees. Or, in the case of this ginormous one, they lifted a platform with workers who proceeded to chainsaw the tree.

You know, whenever there is a natural disaster we always see real-time pictures and video over the drama that it wrought. But we hardly ever see the after pictures or any of the clean up effort outside of the first few days.

So how does a major natural disaster change a place long term? Seeing as I just lived through “the biggest typhoon of the year” and I’ve been watching it firsthand, I thought I would report.

Now, keep in mind, while it was one of the biggest storms to hit Xiamen in decades, the city was pretty ready for it. Outside of broken signs and a lot of shattered glass, the biggest problem was fallen trees. Not only did tens of thousands of trees fall in the high winds, but they smashed cars and buildings in the process. (Check out my previous blog post for pics on that.)

Xiamen is a gorgeous city with trees serving for more than just aesthetics. They are also necessary to keep things cooler in the unrelenting, sub-tropical climate. Losing them is more of a loss than just eye candy.

Luckily a lot of the trees just toppled right over, which meant their roots and the tree itself was still healthy. If they could be replanted immediately then they could continue to grow.

But first order of business was clearing the roads and sidewalks. China can mobilize large groups of people in a very short time frame and before you knew it there were groups everywhere. The military training in the school stopped immediately as the army guys who were leading it were called to help clean up the city.

Some volunteer group already had red vests and hats and you could see them all over the campus cleaning up the trees.

Some volunteer group already had red vests and hats and you could see them all over the campus cleaning up the trees.

Then the students, with no military training anymore, were called to go out in small groups and start cleaning up the campus. In addition different volunteer groups went out (including some foreign teachers who wanted to pitch in). In the expat community word went round for group cleanup days in different locations around the city.

Clearly, some of the volunteers had no idea what to do, This girl had a broom and dustpan and was just lazily sweeping at a piece of muddy ground. She could have used a bit more direction I think.

Clearly, some of the volunteers had no idea what to do, This girl had a broom and dustpan and was just lazily sweeping at a piece of muddy ground. She could have used a bit more direction I think.

Replanting

A lot of people chipped in and the main priority, after clearing the roads, was keeping the trees alive. There was a flyer being passed around social media where the government was encouraging people to at least cover the exposed roots of a tree with a blanket or towel and keep it wet, hoping that would be enough to save the tree before it could be re-planted.

Within about two weeks most of the damage had been fixed as best as possible. A lot of trees were replanted but for some it was too late. They continued to withered and die, and on my campus they went through about a month later and removed the dead trees or branches.

Before

Before

After

After

Elsewhere in the city you can still see a lot of missing signs, or some crazy bent metal on the sides of buildings. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone and I think it will be slow to fix. It’s been a few months now and while my coach fixed the doors in his badminton courts, he still hasn’t gotten a new sign (his old one was destroyed).

The last I saw of my coaches sign before it was cleaned up and thrown away.

The last I saw of my coaches sign before it was cleaned up and thrown away.

But the saddest, and most obvious loss is the trees. The ones that are still standing lost a lot of their branches and the sad little top-less trees are a reminder that the storm happened. Even when they were able to save the trees, the roots are now weak, and barely in the soil. So each tree has a little bamboo trio around it to keep it standing tall. Though if we get another typhoon they will be knocked down easily.

Xiamen typhoon

Also, more selfishly, waiting at the bus stop now SUCKS. There used to be one tree, a big one, and everyone would kinda gather under it waiting for the bus. Now there is nothing and the heat, mixed with the busy road and the sidewalk, make it pretty unbearable to wait for the bus (and this is in October, I can’t imagine how horrible July will be.) I felt like I was almost gonna pass out the other day, that’s how hot and unrelenting the sun was in OCTOBER. And there is no place within walking distance to stand, not even a store awning or anything.

This used to be a nice path to walk by. Now it's a sad, and hot, reminder of the missing trees.

This used to be a nice path to walk by. Now it’s a sad, and hot, reminder of the missing trees.

But considering the storm didn’t kill anyone here, or topple any major structures I think that’s a small price to pay. We have had a few typhoons since then, but they have hit Taiwan first, or gone further south, and all we’ve had was a bit of rain and wind. The sad empty trees have even started sprouting new green leaves thanks to Xiamen’s ideal hot and humid climate.

Xianen typhoon cleanup effort

In China, the answer to every sickness is an IV bag of medicine. Apparently the trees get the same treatment. Trees all over the city are being dosed with whatever tree medicine this is.

 

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Seeing the Chinese Military Makes Me Nostalgic

Five years ago I wrote about military training in China, and how it is mandatory for all freshman college students before classes begin.

I originally wrote about how it felt a little intimidating, but over the years my feelings have changed.

Now I find it a symbol of the changing year. Just like leaves turning orange or red and falling to the ground, military training signals another year here in China, and a new school year beginning. I’ve never participated in it, but seeing it happen, and hearing that familiar “One! Two! Three! Four!” yell across campus makes me feel downright nostalgic.

Military Training in China

“Another year has begun,” it says when I see all those bright eager faces peering out from under the camouflage. “The years roll by and students come and go, but there are new students to be taught, and new friends to be made.”

Who knew after all these years not only would I not be nervous around hundreds of little soldiers in training, but I would find it sentimental and almost sweet.

A new year has begun. One! Two! Three! Four!

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