Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Twenty million babies

are born in China every year. 20 million. Every year. That is more than double the population of Michigan and approximately the population of Australia - a continent. Perhaps some of you read the recent article about China's increasing rate of detected birth defects due to the effects of pollution and it cited some staggering numbers. China has a people problem. There are too many. It is a hard concept for an outsider to grasp that a country views its people as a burden, and not as an asset.

But that explains why everything is overcrowded. There is not enough to go around. The schools are at over capacity. (We had some strings pulled in order to get the kids into Kindergarten. They are set up for a class size of 45. Carlos and Elena are both student #50 for their class.) Stores are always jammed pack, no matter what time of day you go. You wait with everyone else to get a haircut, to get a seat in the dining hall and do banking. Bus drivers try to squeeze in just one more. The universities do not have enough room to accept nearly the number who qualify to attend. Even if you do graduate with top honors, job prospects are few. There is competition for everything. Even in preschool, one needs to outsmart and outspeed your classmate or you're the one that gets left behind.

China's one-child policy has been in effect for almost 24 years. Now the products of the beginnings of that policy are now having children. One child born to one-child parents. That means that baby has no siblings, no aunts, uncles or cousins. Family consists of parents and grandparents. It is the strangest sight at the kids' school to see no other parents with other children and no pregnant moms picking up their preschooler. Parents constantly fill their "only's" after school time with more lessons and tutoring. The hope of a good future for the parents in old age depends largely on how well their child does in his/her adult years. Everything rides on the competition for the best schools, etc. Our kids are the only sibling group in the school (I haven't seen any twins yet) and their classmates don't have the concept of "brother" and/or "sister". Surprisingly though, there are exceptions to the one-child policy. Rural people can have more than one child. Many of my students come from rural areas and have one, two and even three siblings. But people in the cities are much more restricted. There are heavy fines (some wealthy people just pay the fines - money talks), loss of job and losing face with your neighbors are some of the consequences. Also that second child doesn't "exist". He/she can not get an education or medical care because that child cannot be registered - it's "one per customer". The one-child policy is very unpopular. No one likes the government dictating family planning. But yet, everyone understands the need to curb the population because they personally feel the not-so-pleasant side effects of a super-sized country.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Carlos also gets a haircut

Between the AM and PM school sessions, I took Carlos to the same barber that I visited yesterday. He didn't want to go to the "outside barber", but also didn't want to get his hair washed with the "inside barber". After he was assured that he didn't have to have his hair washed first, off we went. The price of his cut was Y5 ($0.65). Mine was Y8. Why the difference? I don't know. Maybe because it's the child's rate, a cut with no wash or the old double standard that females pay more than males for services like haircuts? Elena stayed back with her Papi. Her hair grows so slowly that she won't be due for a haircut until the end of the year. And if I'm charged Y8 for her cut, I'll have my answer! Here are a couple of scenes:

The "before ":

And the "after".

Notice that the barber is wearing a hot pink shirt. Chinese guys love to wear pink! Light blue is considered a feminine color. So when you see a baby in China dressed from head to toe in blue, most likely that screams "I'm a girl!". And the same in pink? Probably a boy, because the color red (and it's various shades and hues) is considered "masculine" and a symbol of power. Oh, how our culturally-ingrained minds get fooled!

Carlos loves his haircut. When he returned to school, ALL FORTY-NINE of his classmates just couldn't resist giving his head a rub!

Monday, October 29, 2007

A thirty-nine cent haircut

We are starting our fourth month in China and our hair has been on the shaggy side for some time now. Gustavo's hair gets very curly and my hair develops "wings" that I can't tame. We needed haircuts badly. Gustavo opted for our downstairs neighbor. He finally snagged him - there's always a line of men (and an occassional woman) waiting. Our camera was down, so unfortunately, no photo of the barber cutting hair under the bamboo trees.

Gustavo likes his cut and he really enjoyed the head and shoulder massage that came with it. Not bad for Y3 ($.39).

I wasn't quite ready to trust my head to our neighbor, so I went to one of the dozens of hair cutting places that line the nearby streets. They all seem so busy, so I went to the nearest one. A nice young man washed my hair, cut it, washed it again, then blow dried it, but :( no massage. All for Y8 ($1.04). My Chinese must be better than I thought; I managed to convey to him that I like my hair off my face and he followed my directions. Now, if only the hair stylists at home would listen half as well when I ask in English! I like my cut, but I'd really like to return just to get my hair washed!

Progress reports: Kindergarten style

About every two or three weeks, a "progress report" is written for each child. Here's Elena's: (sorry for the blurry photo.)

Three stars mean "excellent". The third picture on the left side depicts "nap time". Since the kids come home during nap time, that area is left blank. The narrative states that "Elena is adjusting well to a Chinese classroom: she is speaking the language, uses chopsticks well and washes out her drinking cup. However, Elena is very active and she will leave the classroom to go visit her brother down the hall. Please speak to Elena about the importance of staying with her own class."

This is a problem I didn't anticipate since the kids never attended the same school together! And Elena does like to wander. I can just picture her thinking "I wonder what Carlos is doing? I'll go see". Carlos' report will come this week. He usually has one or two areas with two, not three stars. Future report card competition in store for our household?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

To Mimifrancoise

Thanks for your comments. As you know about the peculiarities of blogging and commenting in China, you'll understand why I'm writing this post addressed to you. Yes, Ann from Buffalo's blog (Our Year in Xiamen) mentioned that Malinda has been ill. Please know that she is in our thoughts and prayers. Please keep us posted on her progress.

To our readers, even though many of us only know her via the internet, Malinda seems like a real friend to those of us now in China. Her blog (Xiamen Adventure) is an excellently written and informative read. It's a true inspiration to those of us who want to live or are living in China with children. Please keep this beautiful woman, her gorgeous Zoe and Maya, wonderful Mimifrancoise (her mom) and the rest of her family in your prayers.

More Zoo Photos

As nice as the Kunming Zoo grounds are, Chinese zoos in general are way behind in providing the animals a "natural-like habitat" as seen in American zoos. Many of the animals are in cages (as evident from the photos) and they still have circus-like animal performances.

Luckily, this giraffe has tree leaves to munch on.

Maybe this says the elephants are here on loan from somewhere for the year???

The kids were surprized to see brown, not grey, elephants.

This is an example of what we deal with daily. If we're lucky, a sign (or a grocery item) will have a couple of English words (and in this case, Latin) and maybe a picture so that we can make a guess at the text. Here we most likely missed out on some White Tiger facts. The kids always ask us what a sign says. Probably to them, if you can read, you can read everything!'s the sleeping kitty.

Zoo time

It was a beautiful autumn Sunday - blue skies, sun and temps in the low 70's, so we headed to the zoo. The Kunming Zoo is quite a nice park and big. Today, we saw about one-third of the exhibits; mainly birds, monkeys and the larger animals such as bears, elephants, the big cats, etc. There is also a butterfly house, reptile house, an aquarium, a flower and plant garden, and two amusements parks for kids. It'll be a nice place to visit again during the year. We had a nice afternoon but had a heck of a time returning. We had to wait over an hour for our bus, then it passed us because it was at capacity. During the next fifteeen minutes, 3 more buses came... and again passed us. Finally, the next packed bus stopped and let us on. Meanwhile, Elena fell asleep and poor Gustavo had to carry her and I feared that Carlos would be trampled on. We were smothered in that bus and luckily only had 4 stops to bear. That was our worst bus experience to date. After, at our "corner store", we treated ourselves to some well-deserved ice cream!

The entrance: Looks like the Detroit Zoo, no?! yes?!!

Map: Yay for pictures and the word "welcome".

2007 is the Year of the Pig. (The 2008 zodiac animal is the Rat)

There are many huge cedar trees.

A relaxing scene::

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Illiteracy stinks,

espcecially when you're the one that is illiterate. In Chinese characters I can read and write the numbers 1-100, the words Kunming (to see the weather forecast on tv), male and female (to identify the correct bathroom). Yet somehow with my limited reading ability, I managed to spend over two engrossing hours in a mega size bookstore (6 floors). Although the sections were labeled in English (world history, biographies, etc), the books were not. There was a half a floor dedicated to English language textbooks. But a bookstore in any language is fun to browse! Most of my time was spent in the travel (beautiful maps, too), art and cooking sections. Also, quite a bit of time was spent browsing the children's section. I found some familiar looking books and I'm always curious to look at elementary school texts.

The kids, however, are doing wonderful in Chinese. Elena comes home with a new word everyday and can sing four songs. Either her day is filled with language-rich activities or it's the natural talker in her that is causing her to pick up Chinese so well. Carlos is more hesitant to use the language, but will always speak to his teacher in Chinese. Both kids love Chinese TV cartoons and want Chinese books read to them. ("What does this say, Mom?" I look at the pictures and make up a story!) Carlos does well in his classwork, so we know he's understanding the language. His age level is now concentrating on math concepts. They have been doing sequencing and patterning and just started addition. In the bookstore today I looked at a first grade math text. In the second half of the book, multiplication facts are going strong! The Chinese also do a lot of mental math exercises (such as adding a series of numbers quickly) and this is also introduced in grade 1.

So I continue the struggle to add to my spoken vocabulary and depend on my students to read the notes that come from the kids' school. It sure would be nice to know what all those signs say and to know what really is on the grocery shelves. Hopefully by the end of the school year, I'll be able to read some of those signs and labels.

Coffee Tuesday Update

After a couple of months of trying out coffee at different places, we now just go to two favorites - unless there is a compelling reason to get on a bus and also do some shopping. Salvador's is our favorite - great coffee and a soft bagel that is the closest to toasted bread that one can get here. They also have free refills until 2 pm ( three cups is just the right amount) and offer a free cup after purchasing 8 cups. The French Cafe is also good. A bonus is they serve wonderful crepes. The owners are a mid-thirties (French) couple with 2 kids: a 6 year old boy and a 3 year old girl. They have been in Kunming for nine years and Monique has been giving me the low-down on Chinese schools and the first grade from a foreigner's perspective.

There are many, many places to get coffee. Yunnan Province provides the plants for China's domestic coffee industry and it's good! A lot of independent stores exist, such as Jazz Island Coffee and UBC Coffee. No Starbucks in Kunming yet, which I don't mind because I don't like Fivebucks Coffee anyway! We actually could have coffee everyday at home if we wanted to. There are coffee makers, ground coffee and filters to buy. I'm doing fine having tea during the week. And if we had our own brewed coffee, we wouldn't have our Tuesday treat!

At Salvador's...

Coffee and the newspaper (the China Daily) ...we LOVE Tuesday mornings!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Additional photos from Yunnan Provincial Museum

Our own two treasures....

Lots of jewels...

Ivory carved elephants

Very delicate, fragile and old - covered in gems (can't tell from the photo)

The museum as it looks from the street.

Yunnan Provincial Museum

The weather was cool with overcast skies, so we decided to spend some of the day indoors. We pass this museum when we head downtown for our Saturday shopping and say just about each time, "Let's go there someday". "Someday" was Sunday. The museum is divided into three sections: 1) the ancient Dian bronze wares, 2) ancient Buddhist objects of art and 3) a temporary exhibit of "Treasures" - precious gems on loan. The bronze wares were discovered SW of Kunming about 50 years ago and now much is known about a civilization that was once here. The Buddhist art objects were unearthed a mere 30 years ago from the nearby (and touristy) town of Dali. We enjoyed another Sunday of history and geography. I was surprized on how the museum's collections kept the kids' attention for two hours!

A bronze object dusted with gold.

Carlos standing in front of an image of a life-size warrior of long, long ago. He's just about the size of an ancient warrior! And maybe the same size...the statue is mounted on a 2-3 inch base.

Here's Gustavo to show the size comparison of modern man and ancient warrior. But it does sometimes feel as though (to a 5'7", size L) that the Chinese are STILL that small!

A golden Buddah in all its glory.

One of the many images of Buddah on display.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Woo-hoo!! Look what a Michigan Angel sent us!

Treats for the kids: juice snacks, dum-dums, M&Ms and Mac & Cheese (!!!!). For Gustavo, some of his favorite coffee. The kids went nuts when they saw their favorite treats. And Saturday's lunch? Some delicious Mac & Cheese, of course!

And for me... newspapers and magazines! Yes! Do you think Heaven subscribes to the Freep and/or the AA News?? I hope so, because if it doesn't, I ain't interested in going!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Dance to the Music !

Today, the kids' school put on a dance/exercise performance for the parents. Carlos and Elena did an excellent job following the instructions in Chinese. Note that Elena is NOT wearing a red jacket, black pants and white shoes- well, a pink and purple jacket and blue pants are close enough! There were two or three others that were also not wearing red. Mental note to Elena's teacher and parents in attendance: Yes, the Foreign Mother did know to dress the Foreign Girl in a red jacket, black pants and white shoes. However, this Foreign Mom did not want to spend the time, energy and money to buy a red jacket, black pants and white shoes for a 15 minute event! Mental note to Carlos' teacher and parents in attendance: See note to Elena's teacher regarding why the Foreign Boy isn't wearing the requested black pants and white shoes. Here are some scenes:

Can you pick out the "foreign girl" among a class of 50???

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Forks, spoons, knives, dinner plates and napkins

are sure signs that we are eating at a western-style restaurant. This past Saturday, we decided to have our monthly treat of eating western-style food at Wei's Pizzaria. Wei's has excellent wood-fired pizzas, a selection of Mexican food and a variety of Chinese dishes. We certainly enjoy (most of) the Chinese food, but it sure does feel good to have something different and to eat differently. After finding Wei's, (they recently moved to a new location, (which fortunately, is a better location for us), thus, the address in my guidebok was outdated), we had a wonderful meal of 2 pizzas, beers for the adults, and juices for the kids. An added bonus is that the restaurant has a kids' play area, a good selection of books and magazines and a pool table. We arrived a bit after the usual lunch time , so it wasn't crowded. After eating, the kids played on the playscapes (and were delighted they had the whole room to themselves), while Gustavo and I enjoyed a game of solids and stripes.

The rest of the month we eat the everyday Chinese-style food with chopsticks. When I have soup, I need to ask for a spoon, and I'm usually the only one in the dining hall eating soup that way! I just can't drink my soup like the locals do. (Gustavo and the kids do, though.) Eating at most restaurants or at someone's home, the food is served in large platters. The table is set with small plates, small bowls (and in better restaurants, small, wide spoons). Each diner justs picks and chooses among the dishes and puts small amounts on their plate. So, it's a real treat to have silverware, a large plate and a napkin. (Everywhere else you need to bring your own napkins, except in better restauants.) Even when we eat at home, Gustavo and the kids first use chopsticks, then revert to silverware when the chops just can't get everything. Me?? I start out and stay with my fork, knife and spoon!

Also, the Chinese do not use their fingers for eating. The only thing I've seen eaten with bare hands is a piece of fruit. So in places like McD's and KFC where there is no tableware (except for spoons) or chopticks, the Chinese will eat their burger, chicken and even fries (!) with a piece of paper or napkin between the food and their fingers. I'm not sure how pizza would be handled. Most don't like pizza because of the large amount of cheese (dairy).

When you are earning the local wage, western-style food is expensive. The cost is at least three to four times the cost of Chinese food. For example, at a Chinese restaurant, two to three dishes, 2 beers and 2 juices would cost under Y30 ($4). At Wei's, 2 pizzas (they're small, like everything in China is), 2 beers and 2 juices cost just under Y100 ($12). !Buen provecho!

Trains and New Friends

Sunday started out as wet and dreary, so we decided to visit the Yunnan Railway Museum, only a short bus ride away. It was a nice museum and gave us a bit of a history and geography lesson of the railway system between Kunming and Vietnam. We and our Thomas the Tank Engine fans enjoyed the displays. It was also a good preparation to our upcoming February trip to Chengdu and the Panda Preserve which we plan to do by train.

A beautiful mural depicting the golden days of train travel.

A model of a famous bridge on the Yunnan-Vietnam line.

A couple of "boxcar willies". I don't even know what a "boxcar willie" is! It just sounds poetic. Isn't there a kids' book series with "boxcar" in the title?

One of my students, Susie, has been wanting to introduce us to a New Zealand couple that she and her boyfriend Henry knows. On Sunday evening, we finally met. Henry is Lew's Chinese language tutor. Lew and Kris have been coming to China, and most recently to Kunming, for several years. However, this is the first year they will stay the entire year. In past years, they would come for 4-5 month stints. Lew works in agriculture (his speciality is fruit trees) and Kris recently started teaching a few hours a week English to pre-schoolers. They are a wonderful couple and Kris and I have a lot in common - i.e. mainly looking for an English-speaking friend who is not twenty-something and single! They live in the western section of town where many of the ex-pats live. Kris will show me the sights of that side of town soon.

That's Henry in the middle and Lew and Kris. Susie took the picture.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Students, Desks and a Chalkboard

Here is a typical classroom setting for me. I'm in different rooms, but they all look the same. The exception is the room I use for the Oral/Speaking classes. It has tables that can be arranged, not rows of desks bolted to the floor.

This is my view of a class of third year students - the Friday afternoon section of Survey of English-Speaking Countries. I think they're smiling because it's Friday or they're nervous because the oral reports will begin shortly!

This is the class view of the classroom. I never stand at the podium, towering above the students. I prefer to talk at ground level.

The College of Applied Arts is where all my classes are held. The building is situated between a massive library and a small dorm, therefore, I can't get a full front or rear view photo.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Toolin' 'round Town

Since Elena had been sick last week, our time was limited for our "Discover Kunming" bus adventure. But, after consulting a map, I realized we only needed two days, not four. Making the outer ring of the city are what the Chinese call "resident districts". These are newly developed (and developing) housing blocks. Miles and miles and miles of highrises. That's it. As far as the eye can see. There are only a few "mom & pop shops" for the residents to get essentials and not much else. It's very sterile looking, boring and depressing. (I saw the edge of one a few weeks ago when traveling to a dinner function.) We live near the northern edge of Kunming, and what lies further north are the resident districts. No need to take a bus there! To the very south, before the resident districts begin, is the airport. We already have seen the route from the airport to campus and I don't remember anything that was particularly interesting. (Although, one day we will take the bus to the airport just for fun to see if we're missing something.) So, no pressing need to head south. That left us with east and west.

We first headed west on bus 66. A goal of mine was to find the hotel (written in Chinese characters only) where the ex-pat crowd has a Christian service on Sunday mornings. A group reserves a meeting room for a general Christian service and children's Sunday school. To enter, one needs to present a foreign passport and by law Chinese nationals cannot attend. I'd like to attend and hopefully connect with some other foreign families. Well, we found the street, but not the hotel. Maybe, by getting off the bus at the street and walking (and asking someone), we'll be able to find it. Heading west, we also found a Trust-Mart, similar to Wal-Mart, but smaller. It didn't have a vast selection of food, but did have a decent children's clothing department. There is also some kind of membership requirement to get the discounted prices. We were not impressed with the store and won't take the trouble to return. We also found a park. Small parks like these are common. They have several exercise stations, along with badminton and croquet courts. It's most popular with senior citizens, but people of all ages use it regularly.

It's an "exercise" for Gustavo and Carlos to figure out how to work the equipment!

That was about it for the route. There is a large park with playscapes on a different bus route. Also heading west/southwest, one can access the mountains and lakes just outside of the city. We plan to do that during the next vacation.

Heading east on bus 96 was a lot more fun. We finally made it "over the river" to the other side of downtown. Here are the big hotels, western style restaurants and large government buildings. We traveled a beautiful boulevard filled with gorgeous flowers and landscaping. Also, we went by two churches! Yes, a building with a cross on top! They were locked up, of course, and I have no idea if they are in use. There are Christian Chinese. (A few very vocal students made sure that I knew they were Christian.) Kunming has a French history and perhaps the buildings are from that era. We couldn't see from the bus if there was any Roman script on the buildings. We also passed two more Carrefour stores and stopped at a Metro store. A Metro is a warehouse style store without the required membership. It was fun seeing what they carried. This is the one store you can buy things in LARGE quantities. Shopping for food/paper products in China is like shopping in a minature world. Everything is packaged so teeny, tiny! Metro had a decent selection of products in every area, minus the bakery department. Except for a few things that we want in larger quantities, we won't make Metro a regular shopping stop. I guess that leaves us with our favorite downtown Carrefour for our shopping needs! Also heading east from our home is the zoo. I think I read the zoo has panda bears. It will be a surprise and a delight for Carlos to see!

We don't see many gas stations. Prices range from about 54 cents to 60 cents per liter. What do people in Windsor pay per liter? What are gas prices in Michigan now?

Thanks for joining us on our "Discover Kunming" trip. Another day, another bus!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A trip to the hospital

in any language is scary, but in one you don't speak OR read is downright daunting. Elena has been fighting a cold with a nagging cough for a few days. Then a fever started. It would spike, decrease, spike again and decrease. On Friday afternoon, the fever was really high and the upper whites of her eyes were red - a "scratchy" blood red. I never saw anything like it. I called a Chinese friend and fellow English teacher Den (English name Annie). Her daughter is in Carlos' class and they also live on campus. I was hoping that she would go with me to the pharmacy to explain the symptoms and get some meds. She suggested and we agreed to go to the university clinic. Since it was the holiday week, they had a skeleton staff on duty and referred us to the local hospital. Yikes! I had visions of that awful The People's No. 1 Hospital that we visited last month. Oh, no....

Instead, we went to a nearby hospital called The Red Cross. It was modern, clean and professional. We did the usual up and down stairs and in and out of buildings to finally locate the proper departments. And this was with a native speaker! If we were alone, we'd stil lbe wandering those grounds! In the end, Elena was seen by a pediatrician and an opthamologist. We were given some eyedrops, eye cream and instructions to return to the university clinic to get an IV drip (the Chinese treat EVERYTHING (modern medicine vs. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) using the IV drip). We returned to the clinic and Elena was hooked up to the IV. She was a real troooper and did well. Carlos was worried the whole time that she wouldn't be coming home for the night with us. We started on our way at 3:00 pm and arrived home around 8:00 pm. Total cost for the hospital, clinic, medicines and cab fare to and from - just under Y100 - less than USD 13. We're happy to report that she is now 1000% better. We have our active girl back!

Here's the unhappy camper at the clinic. We can only summize that the eye infection came from her touching her eye or from the water. The water IS toxic. She did get water in her eyes from Thursday's shower.

Our "Laynee" would only lay in her Papi's lap - no hard Chinese bed for this patient! Look at the first photo. You can see the "hard slab foundation" with only cotton batting on top.

Wanna invest in China?? My top 3 stock picks!

There seem to be thousands of different banks, all in huge buildings and always busy.

Packed 24/7. Ditto for KFC.

Construction (highrises) everywhere! Who makes those big cranes?? I think the crane will soon be a national symbol.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More Square Pegs

On Sunday, Gustavo and I took advantage of a scheduling opportunity and had lunch at Salvador's, THE place for the foreign crowd in the university area. Monday, October 1 was China's National Day and all schools and many businesses are given three days off. However, the government strongly encourages travel to beef up the tourism industry. So what many schools (KMUST included) and businesses do, is treat the Saturday and Sunday before the holiday as a Thursday and Friday. This way people have off from Monday-Sunday. Therefore, on Sunday I had my regular Friday schedule (one class at 7:50, the other at 2:00) and the kids had school, too. But, the kids had a field trip to a park and would be gone all day. We didn't have to pick them up at noon as usual. We took the opportunity of being sans kiddos and enjoyed a whine-free lunch! The food was very good (their specialty is Mexican!!) and the coffee is local and wonderful. They have quite an extensive menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts. We'll most certainly return and the kids will also enjoy it.

The best part of the luch were the people we met. Kunming has several thousand foreigners living amongst the 4 million Chinese residents. We met 2 other mid-50's recent retireee couples and 3 single women in their late 50's-early 60's who are also teaching English, One couple just arrived a week ago and for one lady it's her ninth year. Although we were at separate tables in a small room, we were having lunch together. What a treat to see Cuacasian faces and converse in English with people my age!

The majority of the foreigners are English teachers, with a company or are study-abraod students. From what I've seen (at a dinner for English teachers and company people recently), most of the English teachers are single males 25-35 and 50+ single women. The students are typically college age, under 22, more males than females. The company people live on the west side of the city and don't frequent the university area. They are well taken care of and don't have a need (and probably the desire) to be with the regular Chinese. There is a K-12 International School (instruction is in English and it costs mega bucks) in that area and I did see a few foreign younger teenagers on a bus a few times. While shopping at Carrefour or Walmart's, I'll usually see a few foreign women ages 35 - 65. They may be company people, English teachers or one of the teachers at the International School. I rarely see a foreign man at these stores. Another group I've seen (always at McD's, btw) are families with younger children (under 10 and usuallly including a toddler). They have a confused look about them (but being in China w/ young children can give you that look - I'm sure I have it at times!). I don't know if they're tourists, company people, (doubt they're English teachers, but it's possible) or adopting parents picking up their child (although I haven't yet seen a foreign family with a Chinese child.)

We are very comfortable with our immediate surroundings and the downtown main shopping area. We want to explore other areas of the city. Since we have the week off, we decided to dedicate one day each to the 4 cardinal directions, get on a bus and take it until it ends. If we see anything of interest, we'll stop on the return trip. I'll report on our findings.

Monday, October 1, 2007


We've been in China two months already! Thanks to everyone who has commented on this blog or sent an email. We've heard from several family, friends and e-friends from the Xiamen Adventure blog. Please continue to let us hear from you. For those who are just beginning to read this blog, the comments are set to accept anonymous comments, which means you do not have to have a blogger or google ID. In the comment section, click on "anonymous", type in your comment, include your name so we know who's writing, and submit. The comment will appear as "Anonymous said...".

As many of you know, I'm here teaching English Majors in the College of Applied Arts at Kunming University Science and Technology (KMUST) in southwest China. It's a wonderful university and an AMAZING campus. I will need to dedicate several posts with pictures to try to capture this incredible place. As many of you know, I've been on a LOT of college campuses, and there is no U.S. campus that I know of that resembles this one.

So far, I love teaching here. The students are wonderful, the department is helpful, and the classload and schedule is a dream. There are twelve other English teachers in this college. Another College handles the English classes for non-majors. The Chinese English teachers exclusively handle the reading, grammar, test prep and non-majors classes. They also do teach some of the speaking, writing and culture classes. KMUST prefers to have their "foreign experts" also teach these classes to expose the students to native speakers and different teaching methods and styles. I'm pretty much left alone to do my thing. The textbooks were already preordered, which was nice for me. There are language and computer labs. There are also classrooms equipped with all the latest technology. My classroom has just desks and a chalkboard, which suits me just fine. That's how I learned to teach - with students, a chalkboard and creativity! It's amazing that this is another example on how I've come full circle in the last couple of years.

The classes are held in a 90 minute block with two 45 minute sessions.The class size is 25-30 students and about 85% female. I have two sections of Speaking with first years, two sections of Writing with second years and three sections of A Survey of English Speaking Countries (basically a reading/lecture history and culture class) with third year students. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings the class starts at 7:50 and the afternoon class begins at 2:00. On Monday, I only have a morning class and am free on Tuesday. Each section/block meets weekly, which means we only meet 16 times a semester. It also means that I only have three preps - yay!

So that means most days Gustavo alone gets the kids to the Kindergarten by 8:30. We have lunch in the cafeteria around 11:00, pick up the kids at 12:00 and Gustavo returns the kids to school by 2:30. Then both of us do the pick up at 5:30. If it's not raining, they always like to play on the playground until 6:00. Then we either head to the cafeteria or home for dinner.

That is basically our Monday through Friday schedule. It's great living on campus because I only have a 10-15 minute walking commute and can return home between classes. It's also nice because it's not taxing at all and I have variety throughout the week. So far, so good!