Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mid-Autumn Festival

These are a few of the many mooncakes we received. Elena had the pleasure of eating most of them!

The Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month when the moon is at its fullest- today, September 25. It has originations from the imperial days and different ethnic groups observe the festival in their own fashion. Generally today, in the cities, it's a time for families to share an evening meal and enjoy a special treat - a mooncake. In some parts of China the day is also called Family Reunion Day.

There is great deliberation of which part of China has the best mooncakes and each region has its' own specialty. The mooncakes are small round tarts with meat or fruit filling. Stores began on September 1 displaying the various exquisitely wrapped cakes, which people buy for themselves or as gifts for friends and relatives. It's one of those "holidays" that people observe but it's not an official government holiday, comparable to our Valentine's Day. Happy Moon Day everyone! Don't forget to look at the moon tonight. We're all under the same one - we're just on the other side!

A close-up of an ordinary mooncake.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Feast and a Humbling Experience

This is a typical meal for a group. Lots and lots of yummy choices. The empty spot on the table was soon taken up by a delicious fish dish. I shot the photo too soon.

First the feast... Last Thursday we were invited by the International Office to a "Welcome Dinner" for the KMUST foreign teachers/administrators. There are three campuses. On one campus, there is a younger single American man, along with a older Spanish man and his Chinese wife. This is Matt's second year in Kunming and Arturo has been in China for 10 years. On another campus, there is an older man from New Zealand and a twenty-something American boyfriend/girlfriend. Nate has been in China for 5 years and it's his third year in Kunming. Brady and Catherine are from Idaho and this is their first year in China, too. On our campus with us, is a thirty-something single man from Canada. Ken, however, was born and raised in Tiawan, and came to Canada in his early twenties. This is also his third year in Kunming. Also joining us was Gary, head of the IO and Kiri, is the woman who "takes care of" us foreigners. So that means, on a campus of 10,000+ students, we are the ONLY FOREIGNERS and I am the ONLY NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKING person! Well, maybe we can count Carlos and Elena...

Now the experience... I was invited to be one of the judges of the annual English Speaking Competition that was held on Sunday. Do you think being the only native English speaker on campus had any bearing on my invite??! This particular competition involved 17 finalists from the three campuses and two winners were to be chosen to represent KMUST at the Yunnan Province competition in October. The two winners from the October event will represent the Province in the national competition to be held in Beijing in the Spring. The topic was "What it means to be a global citizen". Each student gave a three minute prepared speech, then was given an impromptu question scenario and had two minutes to respond, and finally given a question to answer from the moderator with also two minutes to respond. Most of the students were third or fourth year English majors. All of the participants were fantastic! Such poise, breadth of vocabulary and the ability to THINK QUICKLY AND ACCURRATELY in English was amazing.

I thought about the third and fourth year foreign language majors that I once was a part of - most of us could barely manage a decent conversation in the second language, let alone think fast and accurrate. It just saddens me that the U.S. places so little importance on world languages and that people in general, do not VALUE bilingual/trilingual skills. Wake up America! China's 1.6 BILLION people begin learning English in preschool! There is also TV English lessons daily and language video snippets on the buses. And what does the U.S. do? It CUTS world language program funding and discourages the use of native languages in the home!! Please encourage your children/grandchildren to learn/maintain a world language in addition to English. Their future depends on it. Or your kids may end up working for the Chinese... or for my kids! **

**Please bear in mind that this biased rant of frustration comes from a language teacher and a mom who has been and will be trying to raise her bi/tri-lingual children in an unforgiving monolingual culture.

What a difference a week makes!

The kids have been in Kindergarten for a full week now and LOVE it. Elena enjoyed it from the start and Carlos, who had three rough first days, now can't wait for school to begin the next day. He cried again, but this time, it was because there was NO school on Saturday and Sunday! They are having fun, learning Mandarin and making friends. They come home happy and tired.

An after school playground scene of kids and parents.

Carlos with a friend.

Elena with a friend.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

If it's Tuesday, it must be coffee time.

I don't have any classes on Tuesday, so once the kids are in school, Gustavo and I have a weekly coffee date.

First, we have some choices to make. Do we walk? This is the main street outside the west gate of the university. It's an easy downhill going to, but a slower uphill on the return.

Or do we hop on a bus? Here is our dependable #98 . The decision on whether to walk or bus depends on where we want to have coffee and the weather conditions. The fare is 1 RMB ($0.12)

This is the closest and is an easy walk. There is also another restaurant close by, Salvador's, that we haven't tried yet. It's known to have great coffee, wonderful baked goods and generally excellent food. We walked by several times and the place is always packed with ex-pats. I haven't had a hankering to try it, mainly because I haven't had a strong need for a jolt of Americana just yet. The next closest coffee place is KFC. Walmart is next door, which makes it convenient if we need to pick up a few items. The furthest place is McDonald's, near the downtown Carrefour. We'll go to McD's if we have the time. Sometimes we get a later start and we need to be back by noon to pick up the kids. A cup of coffee costs almost 5 RMB ($0.60). That's pretty expensive in comparison to a bottle of juice (1-2 RMB ($0.12 - $0.25) or a can of Coke or Pepsi (2-3 RMB).

Here's my handsome husband enjoying his Tuesday coffee. Looks like it was KFC this Tuesday.

Another Sunday at the park

This was a surprize to see in China - a structure of the colonial era style. This style (and color) is very typical in Latin America, where much of the colonial heritage is preserved.

Bumper or dodge'em cars! What fun!

Paddle boats on the lake. We'll have to give it a try one day.

Last week we saw a funeral. This week - a bride and groom! (Sorry for the blurry image.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

First Day of Kindergarten - Tears & Cheers

After much anticipation, the kids started Kindergarten on Friday September 14! But first, as part of the enrollment process, a medical exam was needed. On Wednesday, the four of us, plus a student of mine, Adalie and her boyfriend Jim, boarded city bus #98 to The People's Hospital No. 1. It had that Communist look and feel as the name suggests! It was quite a simple exam - weight, height, eyes & ears checked, a general look over the body and a blood test. Elena was a real trooper! She didn't even flinch with the blood test (a finger pricked to get about 5 drops). Carlos, on the other hand, started screaming and crying the moment we got off the bus! Somehow, we made it through the exams and the process - up and down stairs, in and out of rooms, each with a different doctor performing a certain exam. We were so thankful for the two university students who took time out of their schedule to help us get through that maze and translating (oral and written). They even returned to the hospital on Thursday to pick up the results. Here's the front cover of the "official medical exam results".

Everything was checked fine, but they told us and had written in the booklet that the kids are "small". Yep, they're Guatemalan! They are small according to U.S. and Chilean norms, and now they are small in comparison to Chinese kids. This probably means they likely won't be in the" 6 foot plus club" as teenagers!

With the exam results in hand, the kids were enrolled on Friday. Elena, our trooper, was excited and ready to go. She walked into her new classroom of 40+ classmates (all screaming "hellloooo!") and said "See ya later, Momma!" Before I turned around to leave, I saw her chattering away (in English or Spanish) with her teacher. That's how she's been communicating so far -she listens to the question in Chinese, then continues in English or Spanish!. To her it's one big language! Carlos - you guessed it - was crying and screaming all the way up the 3 flights of stairs and the long hallway to his classroom. His wails of "Momma, don't leave me!!" was a sure heartbreaker for me. His classmates also were gathered around with screams of "Hellooo!" After a few minutes, the teacher took over and Gustavo and I left our kids to the good hands in charge.

The school day starts at 8:30 for breakfast, lunch is at 11:30 and the kids nap from 12:00 - 2:00. We decided to bring the kids home for these two hours. (We're less than a 10 minute walk away.) They rarely nap anymore and we don't want to mess with their 8:00 bedtime routine. The kids return after 2pm and the school day ends at 5:30. So at noon and at 5:30, we picked up 2 SMILING and HAPPY kids. One was covered with stickers and the other had a fistful of candy! Can you guess which one had what?? When the school day ended, we hung around for a while so the kids could enjoy the various playscapes and play equipment and we met a few parents who spoke pretty good English. They welcomed us and made us promise that we will join them for dinner soon.

Here is the one of the several murals around the outside of the building. I didn't take my camera on Friday becasue I knew how Carlos was going to be. I'll post more photos of inside of the school at a later time.

Carlos is in the corner room, far left side, top floor of windows. Elena's room is two classroom to the right. The tree is blocking the view of her room.The wall is also blocking the first floor. The photo shows floors 2 and 3. The very top floor with the awning is the gym.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Hola a todos, por aca estamos todos muy bien. Bueno después de 6 semanas en China y 3 semanas en la Ciudad de Kunming, puedo decir que ya estamos bien adaptados al clima, las comidas, el idioma y a la cultura china.
Sobre el clima en Kunming es bastante agradable entre 15 y 22 grados celcius, promedio de 20 grados celcius. Septiembre es el mes de las últimas lluvias de la estación del verano, porque el 21 llega por estos lados el otoño. Los paisajes son muy bonitos con muchos tonos de colores y muchas variedades de árboles, como por ejemplo: Pinos de diferentes clases.
El idioma no ha sido tan complicado para nosotros porque los chinos casi todos saben hablar en Inglés, pues así es fácil de comunicarse , no?. Bueno cada día aprendemos nuevas palabras y las ponemos en práctica cuando salimos a pasear o cuando vamos a comprar siempre con un libro de bolsillo que encontramos en una librería muy útil titulado; "El intérprete de bolsillo" Español-Chino por Lydia Chen y Ying Bian. Carlos y Elena ya saben muchas palabras en Chino y desde hoy viernes 14 de Septiembre están asistiendo a un Kinder, por lo que les ayudará mucho a progresar en su aprendizaje en Mandarín e Inglés.
En relación a la cultura china, puedo decir que es muy rica en muchos aspectos y llena de sabiduría, pues son muy prácticos, lo difícil lo hacen más simple y no se complican mucho en detalles que les puedan hacer perder mucho tiempo. Siempre estamos aprendiendo algo nuevo de ellos, especialmente su espíritu de trabajo.
Finalmente, las comidas son muy deliciosas y variadas. En esta parte de China resaltan los platos picantes, pues en cada restaurante que hemos visitado siempre o casi por obligación se debe comer algo de picante, es enevitable. El arroz se come todos los días y hay diferentes clases de arroces también.
Al despedirme hoy ,no puedo dejar de saludar a todas nuestras amistades y familiares. También enviamos un gran saludo en este mes de la patria, pues deseamos que pasen un muy feliz "18" de septiembre y que lo celebren en forma sana y segura, desde la distancia estaremos celebrandolo también en nuestro corazón y bailando muchas cuecas!!! VIVA EL 18 MI ALMA!! Y VIVA CHILE.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Typical Saturday Afternoon

This is a daily scene. The Chinese LOVE foreign kids! EVERYWHERE we go, kids and adults alike want their picture taken with the Carlos and Elena.

This beautiful archway welcomes us to a shopping center we frequent near downtown Kunming.

Here we are chatting in our best Chinese with two of the Beijing 2008 Olympics mascots.

The kids love to visit the many pools of colorful carp.

Our favorite supermarket - the Carrefour. Gustavo is enjoying a sample of Nescafe that afternoon.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Walk in the (Green Lake) Park

Here's a scene from the park. Notice the musicians in the background. The park is teeming with impromptu jam sessions, costumed dancers of all ages and many, many foursomes of mah-jong.

We have been slowly exploring Kunming. We're doing it at a snail's pace, because with two kids in tow, we really can't move any faster. On Sunday, as on the previous Sunday, we spent a little bit of the afternoon at huge Green Lake Park. We took a slightly different way there and discovered a delightlful street of shops, tea houses and to Carlos' delight - a panda bear toy store! The different route also took us to a different park entrance. At that park entrance we saw 3 "strange" sights. The first one was a funeral procession. At first glance I thought it was a wedding procession. The first car was decorated with many red flowers and had a white box sticking out - not a trunk, but also not a hearse. The next car (the immediate family?) had a huge flower arrrangement, mostly of roses, attached to the hood, and the next 3 or 4 cars all had small (real) red flowers attached as we would see on wedding cars. The second sight was an old lady (90's??) with the small, bound feet that was common long ago. What caught our attention, was her shoes - (colorful, almost round balls) and how she was walking (painfully). The third sight was much happier - a young couple with TWINS! In this one child centered country, twins are a rarity. The babies were very young (under 3 mos maybe), one each strapped and wrapped to a parent's back with matching bright rainbow knitted caps (so no hint of the gender(s)). As we were leaving the park, we spotted bumper cars! I love the bumper cars at amusement parks. Guess what we'll be doing next Sunday?

The kids really liked these animal-themed plant/flower holders.

The weather has been up and down this week (so unlike Michigan, right?!). Earlier in the week, it was cloudy and cool. We wore pants with jackets or sweatshirts. On Sunday, it started out cool, by afternoon it was sunny and hot, so we returned home and changed into shorts and t-shirts.

This is a typical Chinese breakfast. An egg with nuts/or other protein item, 2 types of "bread/rolls", a bowl of rice and water with hot milk and another hot or cold bowl of noodles. This is 2 orders which would satisfy the four of us by sharing. The kids love the hot milk.

We love your comments. Please keep them coming. Also, accessing blogs can be tricky here. If we haven't posted in awhile, that means we're "experiencing techinical difficulties". Bear with us and check back. We'll post as often as we can.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Ex-pat families in China

Please go to www.xiamenadventure.blogspot.com to get a listing of some blogs being written by US families currently in China. We're mentioned as one of the blogs! The Lewis Family blog is another family from our CCC group.

I love reading the stories. I think it's really amazing how many people have upper elementary school age kids.. Now that's a challenge! At least when they're 4 and 5 years old, they don't enough yet to complain! Read Xiamen Adventure, too. Malinda wrote some very interesting posts about her 6 month stay in Xiamen with her two young daughters. It was her description and photos of Chinese Kindergarten that convinced me that Carlos and Elena will be just fine.

Monday, September 3, 2007

First week in Kunming

We spent the week getting familiar with the surroundings. Our apartment, which is basic and functional, is all set up. We are on the fourth floor of a five story building. There are only 2 apts. per floor and we have only seen 2 or 3 of our neighbors so far. The apt has some nice features - high ceilings, nice woodwork, large windows and the kitchen is bright and sunny. I went from a bright kitchen in Dearborn to a dark kitchen in Jackson and back to a bright kitchen here. I prefer the bright kitchen! It's on the university grounds, with a lot of greenery. Since it's university housing, our neighbors are young couples with a baby, older couples with school age children and retired employees/faculty. Outside the kitchen windows are some tall pines. There is a living room, dining room with an enclosed "porch" for hanging laundry, a bathroom and 2 bedrooms. It's not really that much smaller than the Jackson condo. At a later time, I'll post some pictures of the apt., campus and Kunming.

During our adventures of exploring Kunming we found a Walmart (yuck - it's even yuckier in China), but it's closer than the other option of a superstore - Carrefour (which is French based - I remember those from the Brazil days). I found some shoes for Elena at Carrefour. Walmart has KFC, Carrefour has McDonald's. We found two fantastic bookstores - yay!. We rode the bus several times already to get to said Carrefour and Walmart. We explored the campuses of KUST (our home), Yunnan Normal University (Teachers' College) and Yunnan University. They are all connected (along with 2 more universities.) There is a grocery store across the street. We usually eat breakfast in and have lunch/dinner in one of the 6 student cafeterias. The food is just as good, if not better, than most of the restaurants and cheaper too. The four of us can have a good size meal for about $1.50 total. On Sunday, we strolled through a tiny part of huge Green Lake park.

Classes start for me on September 10. Hopefully, the kids will be enrolled in the Kindergarten this upcoming week. The school is on campus and is only a 5-10 minute walk from the apartment.

School starts in Michigan September 4. Happy New School Year to all the teachers, parents and students! May you have a wonderful year of learning!

More photos of Shanghai Part 2

Gustavo with Shanghai U. soccer mates. Although they were half his age, he really enjoyed playing a few games with them, and vice versa.

The kids in front of the "Welcome to Shanghai University". What else would a big rock/sign say as one enters the campus gate??!

Scene from our campus hotel room. See those highrise housing units?? They and office buildings cover most of the land in Shanghai.

Here I am at the RT Mart. Those signs say "Back to School". I know this only because there were corresponding signs in English!

RT Mart - similiar to a Super Target. Whatever the hour, stores are packed solid with shoppers.

More photos from Shanghai Part 1

Although we are a bit late posting these photos, we hope you will enjoy viewing some of the scenes from our last week in Shanghai.

Example of one of several motivating/propaganda signs at the high school

Some of the students at the high school - This was the final day and we were all together in one room doing some good-bye activities.

Feng Hua High School- Shanghai. Beautiful building and grounds. This is where we did our practice teaching.

Elena sure is hungry... and as always, she likes everything!

Restaurant staff w/ Carlos. We ate dinner there almost every night of our 3 week stay and they always made a fuss over us.