Friday, November 30, 2007

Teaching English, Learning Mandarin

Gustavo is teaching English three times a week to one of the "Kindergarten Moms". We are also doing a weekly language exchange with two students. I'm proud to announce that I now can recognize ten (!) addtional characters. However, to read Chinese for understanding, one needs to be able to read the characters as a group to get the meaning. Reading individual characters is similiar to reading syllables - it doesn't mean much unless it's connected to another syllable. But it's a start! It's also a thrill to see something in print and pick out a "tree" among the "forest". Our speaking skills are improving, too. Gustavo is still ahead of me, but he always talks way more than I do anyway - in Spanish, English, and now Chinese...

Gustavo with his student ZhangJie demonstrating a common photo pose.

Our very patient tutors DanQing (on the left) and Liu.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The English Club

Tonight I was honored to be the guest speaker at the KMUST English Club. The club consists of about 100 students from various majors. They come together to speak the language and to learn about the cultures of English speaking countries. I spoke for a few minutes on American cultural expectations of invitations to a dinner/party at someone's home. Then, a Q & A on anything related to U.S. culture. I answered some very insightful questions ranging in topics from American football to politics for two hours!

Some of tonight's club attendees:

This young man is preparing a thank-you gift for me.

Traditional brush and ink caligraphy is a true art.

The end result: a wish for a long life filled with happiness! I couldn't ask for anything more!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Downtown Sunday

We went downtown today to try out a new restaurant. MaMaFu's comes highly recommended in the guide books, on the Kunming message boards and from people who've we met. The kids loved their grilled cheeses and french fries. Gustavo raved about his meal - a hamburger - and said that it was the best meal he's had in China. (I took a bite of it and wasn't that impressed!) However, his hamburger was a lot better than my order. I thought what I ordered was a baked potato with cheese, broccoli and bacon bits. What came was something similar, but not exactly what I was hoping for (plus it had too much pepper on it!). So Gustavo ate that also, and I finished off the left-over grilled cheeses (and the salads that came with it!! First time we've seen salad in China). We'll return, but next time I need to read the menu more carefully! Here are some sights on our way to lunch:

The entire country is eagerly awaiting the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I bet every city has some sort of display like this one that's made with local flowers.

The Olympic mascots with names are depicted on the reverse of the display.

Another flower display in front of Government Square. Can you tell who the ruling party is? LOL!

A part of the government square complex. The morning fog was just about to lift.

"Hey! Whatcha lookin' at?"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Holiday Bazaar

A Scandanavian business, Nordica, hosts an annual Christmas Bazaar. Most of the booths showcased the area's minority Chinese arts and crafts. There are over 50 ethnic minority Chinese groups and about 25 of these groups live in Yunnan Province. Nordica is a cafe (outstanding Swedish meatballs and desserts, we've been told), an art gallery, holds dance and art classes, concerts and sponsors tours to the minority regions. During December, special Christmas smorgasbords, concerts and Scandanavian traditional crafts classes are held. It was a fun afternoon and we will return.

Two pairs of busy hands decorating paper ornaments to give our home the holiday look.

A scene from the fair. A nice mix of Chinese and European ethnicities in attendance.

Goods from one of the many tables.

Two "Northeners" enjoying cups of hot chocolate. Even though the weather didn't warrant it (the temps were in the low 60's), it sure tasted good and reminded us of a real winter.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!

Enjoy the food, the game and the company! Take a moment to count all your blessings. We are thankful for the wonderful people in our lives, the opportunities given and the men and women in our armed forces and veterans who work hard everyday to protect the freedoms we often take for granted. As we witness our 1.3 billion neighbors live without the freedoms of speech and a free press, to worship, and have a choice in family planning, etc., we can only wish that everyone in the world could be half as lucky as we feel. It's just another Thursday here, but you are very much in our thoughts today. Have a wonderful holiday.

--The more we count the blessings we have, the less we crave the luxuries we haven't. --William Arthur Ward

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Up and Down and In and Out

That is how my Tuesday went. On Tuesdays, after our coffee outing, I usually head downtown to Carrefour to pick up more baguettes (the best and least expensive around - leave it to a French company) and maybe a few other things for the week. This particular day I was on a mission to pick up some Frosted Flakes - known as Frosties here. The kids eat it everyday for breakfast (and sometimes dinner). There were about six boxes or so on the shelf when I was shopping on Friday. I thought we had enough... So, of course, by Tuesday, the shelf was empty. I'm suspecting the two Western people I saw entering as I was leaving Friday, snagged the remaining loot :). I buy my few items, board the bus, and return home.

Tuesdays or Monday afternoons are the days I have a long enough block of time to get to a store that requires taking a bus. My other options are the Metro store (long bus ride) or Wal-Mart (which I despise). I decide on Metro because I can pick up the tea we like (Jasmine in teabags - the Chinese prefer their tea loose) and I wanted to see if they carry graham crackers. So, down the four flights of stairs, walk to the road that I need to catch bus 96, walk to Metro from exiting the bus and enter Metro. No Frosties!! Apparently, the weekend crowd bought all and the restocking hadn't yet taken place. But, I scored a coup - they have graham crackers! I head back once again. Walk to the bus stop, etc.

Now this leaves the dreaded Wal-Mart option. But, they usually have the coveted Frosties in-stock. After a brief rest (it's now almost 4 pm), I head out. Down the stairs, walk to the road to bus 98 etc. I get to the store and climb four more flights of stairs to enter (another reason why I don't like that place) and claw my way to the cereal aisle. That store is always jam-packed. Frosties! Yes! I pick up four boxes (they're little, like everything else in China). On the obnoxious P.A. system, Christmas songs in Chinese are blaring away. So there I am, in line at Wal-Mart (shudder) with my boxes of Frosties, humming along to a Chinese version of "Rudolph", while waiting for the guy in front of me to pay for his two huge bags of seaweed and hunks of shrink-wrapped "mystery meat?"!

It's now shortly past five. I decide to walk the under two miles home because the busses are very crowded with the downtown folks returning. I didn't want to hassle with the crowds while carrying bags. The sidewalks are pretty clear at this time because schools are not dismissed until 5:30 or later. Then, it's teeming with kids from Kindergarten to high school. I return home a bit after six, wiped out. The kids are home from school, ready to eat dinner. Good thing I have some Frosties...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tang Dynasty Pagodas

Just a few blocks south from the downtown area are these two wonderfully preserved pagodas. The Tang Dynasty period took place in the years AD 618-907.

The west pagoda:

Close-up of one of the many statues of Buddah.

Ornate topping of the adjoining building.

The east pagoda.

A relief depicting daily life during the Tang Dynasty era.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Lazy Saturday

Since there weren't any classes on Friday, I was able to grocery shop a day early (alone in peace and with the added bonus of no crowds). So we had a very laid-back Saturday. Here are some high(low)lights...

This is a very typical China scene. With no dryers, everyone must hang-dry. When we are walking around, we'll play I Spy..."I spy a red shirt..." The kids are getting very good at picking out details.

Elena spotted this orange tabby. She loves kittens (and penguins). And of course she wanted to take it home.

Love those quesadillas! Mommy & Papi enjoyed the chips and salsa, too.

We watched some old men fly kites. It was amazing on how high in the sky they could get.

It's not Fall unless you play in the leaves at least once! No big maple or oak tree leaves here, so these little bamboo ones will have to do.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

KMUST Sport Days

is an anuual event of intramural activities involving students from the 3 campuses. The student teams are grouped by Majors. It's not held on our campus because we do not have the large stadium that can handle the crowd. Everyone loves these two days - mostly because classes are cancelled for Thursday and Friday! International students and teachers were invited to participate in the opening ceremony.

Here's a team ready to go...

Our campus has about 100 Vietnamese students. Here are a few of them.

A few more international students from another campus.

End of the ceremony. Let the games begin...


On Tuesday November 13, the directors of the Colorado China Council (CCC), Alice and Ellen, paid us a visit. CCC is the organizaton we went through for a university teaching position. The ladies are on a two week tour of visiting this year's 20 teachers in 7 cities. They come to check on the teachers' adjustment to China, the teaching and living conditions and try to resolve any problems that may be happening. It was good to see them once again. We last saw each other in Shanghai.

Ellen is on the left, Alice on the right. We are in an Indian restaurant waiting for our food to be served. What a delicious meal - a real treat!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Yuantong Temple

We spent a peaceful afternoon at Yuantong Temple - the largest and oldest in Kunming. Some areas are over a thousand years old and other areas are newer, as evident of the contruction we saw. The surroundings are quiet, with the chanting of Buddhist monks in the air. Elena was mesmerized by the hundreds (maybe thousands) of fish and turtles in the ponds. Carlos was fascinated by the many images of Buddah. Here are some scenes from today:

Aside from the many statues of Buddah housed inside smaller temples, there were several in grotto-like areas, near the back and in the oldest sections.

This sign was found across the street from the temple. Interresting use of the word "weapon" and so close to a sacred spot whose religion's main tenet is peace. But, I do consider mastering Chinese as my "weapon of choice for survival" these days!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

100 Days

We're at the one hundred day mark here in China and so far, so good! It's past the mid point of the first semester too.

The Chinese love foreign kids! Everywhere we go, people smile and say "hello", teenagers want their picture on their cell phones, ladies will put them on their lap on the bus and grandpas are constantly giving candy. We've received a few puzzled looks if we mention that the kids are adopted. Although thousands of Chinese children (mostly girls) are adopted internationally and domestically every year, adoption is not well known to the average citizen. Most people are very accepting. However, ever since knowing that our kids are adopted, one parent from the kids' school no longer speaks to us! Many of the blogs that I read are wriiten by Caucasian parents in China with their adopted Chinese child(ren). They are constantly questioned and stared at. Today, while shoppping at Carrefour, Carlos and I were waiting for Gustavo and Elena to come back from picking up an item. A grandmother stopped, looked at me, looked at Carlos, touched her face and said something that included the word "Baba" - father. She was asking me if Carlos' father had the darker skin! Then she kept repeating and pointing to us about our difference in skin tones, shaking her head as if to say "impossible!". I do often wonder when the four of are out and about if people assume I'm the step-mother, since the kids and Gustavo share the "latino look".

Now that we are pretty much in a routine, know our way around some and the sheer overwhelmingness has subsided, Gustavo and I have decided to become more serious about learning Chinese. This week we will start a language exchange with one of the university students - 30 minutes of English for her and 30 minutes of Chinese for us. We are getting frustrated not knowing much more than from our days in Shanghai. Gustavo has been studying and trying more than me. His learning style is very different than mine. He likes the integrated approach: with words and sentences, he wants to hear, say, see and write it. In language learning and teaching, there is a method called the Natural Approach, where one component is a "silent period". This is akin to a baby learning a language. A baby will take in a language silently for months, then suddenly begin to speak. This is how I operate. I like to hear the language for a while, then pick out sounds and words, and put more and more together to form my own speech. I've also become much more curious and aware of the written characters and am now ready for it to make sense.

The kids are progressing nicely in Chinese. Elena will tell me a word, I'll repeat it (usually incorrectly) and she'll say "No, no, like this. Listen!" and repeat it. She gets the tones naturally and knows I'm repeating it wrong, but can't say "Mom, use the second tone, not the fourth tone"! This evening, the kids were "playing school", being teachers and students. The two of them talked in a "pretend Chinese" for well over a half-hour. To them, that's how school is - in Chinese.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Continuation - KMUST Woods

Looks like the U. is replacing some extinguishers.

We can't figure out what this is! It looks like a slide, but it's all cement. Any guesses??

A nice quiet seting to get started on weekend homework.

TaiChi is also practiced throughtout the many quiet, natural settings of the university.

Exercise equipment is placed all about the woods. I don't need this equipment. My legs get a good workout from all the walking and stair climbing I do everyday!

The Woods at KMUST - Friday, 4:30 pm

It was a beautiful suuny day, so I took a walk in the woods to see what was going on. We sometimes take a walk after dinner and it feels like we left the city for a few minutes. Only another row of buildings separate us from the woods and we can view it from our kitchen.

A badminton game: No need for a fancy court like this. Badminton is played anywhere and everywhere there is a flat surface and a little space.

People having an afternoon visit:

What do you think? Poker or Crazy Eights? If this is too low-brow for you...

How about a game of mah jong? These matches get competitve. You often hear the "heat of battle" in the voices.

A game of bocci ball, anyone?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"I'm a Chinese girl!"

Today, when telling me about her day, Elena announced "I'm not Guatemalan, not 'Merican, not Chilena - I'm a Chinese girl!" I asked her what makes her Chinese. She replied "I love eating with chopsticks." I thought, "Oh my, what have we done? Should we be thrilled that she's embracing the Chinese culture and feels like she's a part of it? Should we be worried that we're setting her up to have a major identity crisis? etc., etc."!!

Later, Carlos was looking at his English book practicing today's lesson. His teacher is a young Chinese woman and English is her second language. Carlos was saying "Where is she goING?" She is going to her grandMOTHer's house." - putting emphasis on the wrong syllable in a sentence which many Chinese English speakers do.

So there you have it. We have one child who thinks she's culturally Chinese and one that may end up sounding Chinese!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Outside of O.H.A.

Entrance to our building. Press the buzzer for #404. Come on up! It's a walk-up. Only new construction with at least 10 floors have elevators.

As we exit the door, this is to our right.

And to our left.

University housing is up the hill from the main campus. Behind the housing are woods that act as a buffer from the noise from the main road behind. I'll post later about the woods - it's much more than a bunch of trees.

University housing consists of about 120 buildings with 5 to 7 floors with two or three entrances. We are in an older section, built around 1970. The newer buildings were built in the early 90's. The outside design is the same but there is a variety of floor plans. And peeking in some of the flats, many are furnished beautifully! Those buildings "look" newer. All ages live here - retired folk, young and middle-age families. Single employees live in dorm-style accomodations located closer to the student dorms. Non-university people were recently allowed to buy, so a few residents are not affiliated with the U. Employees do not have to live on campus, but the location can't be beat. Only a ten minute walk to the classrooms and to the Kindergarten. The grounds are kept up nicely. It looks like it would be crowded and noisy, but it isn't. For the amount of people in a small area, it's very peaceful. And when we walk around at lunch and dinner times, the aroma is heavenly! An opera singer lives nearby. We hear her singing almost everyday when we walk the kids back home for the break. Our section of the building has 10 flats. We've only seen about half of our close neighbors so far.