Thursday, January 31, 2008

Taking the long way home

In reality, the scheduled 18 hour train ride from Chengdu to Kunming took our train 19.5 hours. Although long, it was a nice way to travel. We were able to see some of the countryside and small towns of southwest China.

C. enjoyed stretching out on his bunk. With the yin and yang nature of our kids, C. slept like a rock from 9pm to 7am. The train made a stop about every hour throughout the night. E. woke up screaming every time and had a restless night.

E. made friends with the girl in the next set of bunks. Most of the passengers were families and single men heading home for the new year holiday.

We've been back about a week now, catching up with laundry, grocery shopping and just kicking back. It's good to feel the warmer temps and see the sun once again. The kids also have a cold/respiratory thing going on, so we're taking it easy. We still have about three weeks until school starts up and plan to visit some sights in and around Kunming.

The Giant Pandas

The highlight of being in Chengdu is visiting the Giant Panda Breeeding Research Base. Lucky for us, the bears were wide awake and hungry, so we were able to see many. The cool temps (mid twenties) also helped. The most fun part was viewing the nursery where the bears are about a year old. They put on quite a playful show for us. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed.

E. and especially C. were thrilled to finally see the pandas up close. We've been looking forward to this part of the trip for months.

These bears are teenagers/young adults and like their human counterpart, a main activity is eating - a lot.

This is a red panda, much smaller and faster moving than his black and white cousins:

Here we are starting our morning in front of the kindergarten area. We were at the center until noon. Can't come to Chengdu and not see the pandas!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chengdu - Part 2

More hands-on fun at the Science and Technology Museum: Notice the wearing of hats and coats. Heat in a museum is not a high priority!

Water + Fun = Learning

Bubble Making:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chengdu - Part 1

While Chongqing evoked images of Chicago, Chengdu reminded us of Kansas City - flat land with mostly lowrise, squared buildings. Starting on day 2, the temperature dropped and the precipitation increased, leaving us with temps in the high 20s and seeing snowflakes.(Later we heard a news report that Chengdu hadn't had snow in a decade. The lowest temps normally are in the mid thirties). There were several outdoor sights (i.e. parks and temples) to take in, but we opted to stay indoors as much as possible. Chengdu is near to Tibet and several influences of Tibetan culture is evident. Outside of the city one can see the mountain ranges. We were impressed with Chengdu, a very vibrant city making it a nice place to visit or live.

The main square: Looks like we were traveling with our own "mini Mao".

We spent almost one full day at the Chengdu Science and Technology Museum - a very informative, fun place.

Two future mathematicians testing a theorm using sand. (Don't ask - I didn't understand the explanation given!)

Our "third kid" getting height and weight measured by this colorful butterfly:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Chongqing continued

Meeting of the Jiliang and Yangzi Rivers:

A city scene over the Yangzi River:

At the 1000 year old Arhat Temple: C. has been intriqued with Buddah since he first saw a statue. (Maybe he was a monk in a previous life??!) He asked if he could "kneel and bend my head like the Chinese". Maybe I should rethink those First Communion plans! (LOL-not a chance Buddah!)

One of many altars representing a few of the 500 plus images of Buddah:

Some inside artwork:


This city is so different in almost every aspect from Kunming. An added bonus was that the hotel was wonderful, the food was delicious, and because of the hilly terrain, no bikes! (Which means we only had to dodge four-wheeled vehicles to avoid being run over!) Unfortunately, we never did connect with Serena, which was disappointing. But Chongqing didn't disappoint.

The weather was cool - in the low forties, with perpetually overcast skies.

The Jialing River looking north:

This part of the city is built along the ancient Huangpo Cave dwellings. The city in general reminded us of Chicago in December. Must have beeen the combination of skyscrapers close together, the rivers and the cool temps.

Looking up from what now occupies the caves:

Stopping at Starbucks was a treat! The infamous coffee shop hasn't graced Kunming yet.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Stay tuned....We're on the road

We will be back in about a fortnight. We are traveling January 17 - 27 to Sichuan Province. We're not taking the laptop with us (traveling with two kids is enough to look after), so I'll write posts and upload photos when we return.

Christmas cards are continuing to arrive. Real mail! Thanks Marietta and Terry, Aggie, Carmen, Kate & Jim, Terry M., and Linda G. Also thanks to those who sent us a card at our U.S. address. We will most certainly enjoy reading them in July.

Gotta go and pack....

Monday, January 14, 2008

Funday Monday

We have a "kitty" and a "puppy" in the house:

And their names begin with E. and C.: The kids came home from school with these masks.

A family portrait drawn in school by C. From left to right: Mommy, Papi, MeiMei (little sister) and Gege (big brother). The parents are holding bowls of rice; the kids are holding pumpkin (C.'s favorite) pie - and lots of it! Not fair! But we are all smiles about it!

A birthday gift: I've been eyeing a traditonal Chinese-style jacket for a while. Here's the perfect gift any Mom would love - being woken up to the kids singing "Happy Birthday" - in 3 languages.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Ho-Hum (?) Weekend

We had a non-eventful weekend (which is probably an oxymoron when you are a foreigner in China). G. played soccer both days as the teams are winding down the season. With the universities ending for the semester and the Chinese New Year approaching, many of the team members are or will be traveling. Matches resume late February. The kids needed new shoes, so I and the kids headed downtown to make that purchase, lunched at Dicos and enjoyed the playscape, then stopped at Carrefour to pick up a few things. As usual, on the weekend, the store is mobbed. We couldn't help but notice a big commotion (i.e. more than the normal insanity) going on in the books/media section. Many people were gathered, pointing and talking excitedly. There in the middle of all this, stood a very bewildered-looking (and probably somewhat frightened) African couple trying to edge themselves to the exit. Upon seeing that, E. said, "I think those people want to go home now". She most likely was right! Looks like they picked the wrong time to check out Carrefour!

As we were getting ready to start our day on Saturday, we heard some banging, pounding, and several male voices shouting. Then the electricity was cut. We opened the apartment door and saw this:

The meters were being taken out of the building. Everyone has their own meter right outside their door. Ahh, so that was the notice that was posted on the entrance all week. Oh, the annoyances and perils of illiteracy!

When we returned a few hours later, the spot looked like this:

Wonder if it'll be smoothed over and painted? LOL! We're not counting on it. The hallway of the building looks like it has only seen one coat of paint - the original one!

Our new meter now keeps company with the others in the building two floors down. We are #404. To our Wisconsin friend TJ the Electrician: May we have your professional opinion? Is this new or old technology?

See what I mean about "non-eventful"?!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Final Exams

It's that time again on campus. Exams are given over a two week period, followed by one week for teachers to get grades turned in. Then the semester is officially over. I was able to give two (Oral English and Writing 1) of my three finals during the last week of December (last week of classes). The third course, Survey of English-Speaking Countries was given during the set examination schedule. (BTW - this is my favorite course. Who would have thought that I would enjoy preparing and giving a 90 minute lecture on the ecomony of New Zealand or the governmental structure of Australia?!) Since there are three sections of the course, help was given to administer the exams in the needed rooms. Two proctors were assigned to each section and the section with me, also had two proctors.

Finals are serious business. Purses, bags, books were left in front of the room. Each student had their photo ID on the desktop. The exam was printed out in a special format on a particular style of paper. The students were given another special type of paper to write their answers (comparable to the U.S. BlueBook system). Then there were certain procedures for collecting the exams. Also, more set procedures for turning in the exams and grades, including the use of a special pen! All this for an English class at a third-tier university. One would've thought it was a high stakes exam like the SAT or GRE. But, in fairness, the final exam is high stakes for the students. It counts for 70% of the course grade (university policy).

One of the proctors assigned to me was a hoot. I'll refer to him as "Captain Military aka CM". He had quite the "Napoleon complex" - all 5 foot (if that) of him (he only came up to my shoulder)! He either stood at attention or marched up and down the aisles for the two hours. About three-fourths way through the allotted time, a student was near tears. She suddenly realized that she was writing the answers (it was a short-answer question format) on the wrong side of the paper. CM marched over to her and was talking sternly. I surmised he was saying she had to start over on the "correct" side. I, then walked over and told her "No, you do not need to rewrite your answers. I will accept the paper". The other proctor, who knew just enough English to understand, set CM straight (after all, it's my course). The student was relieved and CM was probably thinking "softie foreigner"!

About half-way through the exam time, two young women came to the door and summoned me and the two proctors. We signed a paper and each of us were handed 20 Yuan (about $2.50). I can understand the proctors getting a little something for their time, but me? For proctoring my own exam?! Well, thanks, that'll buy a Western breakfast, two large beers or better yet, two manicures. Hmmm, maybe a beer and a manicure after all that grading is done and turned in!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Button-poppin' time!!

A story to share:

Returning from our excursion to Dali, we had about a fifteen minute walk from the bus stop to our apartment. Usually, whenever we walk to/from anywhere, E. grabs G.'s hand and C. holds mine the whole distance. But, this time, as soon as we got inside the campus gate, C. and E. broke free and started walking with their arms around each other. This is a very common scenario, friends (girls with girls, boys with boys, girls and boys) of all ages walk around this way. As the kids were walking, they spoke Mandarin to each other the entire way home - and still with their arms around each other - up the four flights of stairs - just chatting and laughing, absorbed in their own little world. Real Chinese! E. usually will speak to people on the bus, etc. in Chinese, but this is the first time C. spoke Mandarin in front of us! His teacher told us he speaks to her and his classmates in Chinese all the time. Almost 4 months of language immersion and so impressive. We are so proud of their willingness to try and positive attitude. Payoff! - this is why we made the sacrifice to come to the unknown.

Malinda, whose blog Xiamen Adventure that I followed last year, commented that after one semester in a Chinese preschool, her daughters were beginning to really take off in the language. And now, we are hearing those same sweet sounds. The kids cheerfully go to school everyday without a complaint. They speak Chinese during the day, and when returning at night, switch to Spanish with G. and English with me, all with ease. Our kids are on the way to being trilingual. The hardest part will come - maintaining and expanding the three languages once we're home. But you bet, as language teachers, we have a plan in mind.

Dali - Part 2

Dali is a city that has some preserved cobbled streets and traditional stone architecture within its old walls. Outside the Old City's Nan Men (South Gate):

Part of the Wall and Gate:

A scene within the Wall:

Fruits of Yunnan Province for sale:

Traditional Bai restaurants display the ingredients that you choose for your meal. We had delicious huge bowls of noodle soup - I like a vegetable base and G. prefers a meat base - here. Another meal we enjoyed was at a Japanese/Vietnamese/Thai restaurant. I enjoyed a good size plate of tempura for $2. We enjoyed every meal we had!

Dali - Part 1

In short, we had a wonderful respite. Dali is a four hour bus ride west of Kunming. It's a popular vacation spot; it offers mountains, lakes, warm sunny weather and delicious food. I was mistaken about the snow-capped mountains. One needs to travel to Lijiang - four hours further to higher elevation to see snow.

This is a typical 3 star Chinese hotel room. It's very clean, comfortable, and includes breakfast. At breakfast, we shared a table with a Russian couple and their two young daughters who were touring southern China during their Orthodox Christmas holiday. Depending on the season and location, this type of hotel runs from $20-$50 per night. A comparable Western name hotel goes for 5 times the cost!

One of the views from the hotel we enjoyed. The building is one of three of the hotel complex. That's Changshan Mountain (4000 meters) facing west and facing east was the vast Erhai Lake.

We were also located next to the Qianxun Pagodas and Chongsheng Temple which were built in the mid 9th century.

The main inhabitants of the region are the Bai, who number about 1.5 million. This lovely lady checked us in.

These young Bai women are dressed in the traditonal formal style:

Saturday, January 5, 2008


We are starting our sixth month in China and have six more months to go! Time is flying and we have so much more to see, do and learn. The target date to be home is June 25, give or take a few days.

FYI - the buzz is The Party hacks are up to their ol' tricks. If you don't see a post for a while that means the routes to blogs have been shut down. We have been lucky so far and even had access to Blogger for a week or two. (One needs to go through the "back door" to post and read blogs.) The concept of free speech hasn't exactly been embraced by the Authority. We just heard that Skype (internet phone service) will be compromised by the end of the month. And by coincidence maybe (?), our cable tv service is "out of order" today! Cable tv doesn't offer too much, but it does have one English language news/arts channel and two or three kids' channels (Mandarin) that C. and E. enjoy. Sigh...these are the times we long for life in "the land of the free and the home of the brave".

We're off to Dali Sunday morning for a three day trip and will post when we return.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Planes, Trains and Busses

Our plans for getting out of Kunming and exploring a little bit of China is fast approaching. On January 17, we're headed to Sichuan Province (the province just to the north of Yunnan). First stop is Chongqing (less than 90 minutes by plane). It's a big city with plenty to do and see, but our primary reason for visiting is to see Serena and her family. Serena is an English teacher we hosted for six weeks during the summer of 2006. She and her husband now have a baby and it'll be wonderful to see her again and meet her family. On January 21 we will take a 5 hour bus ride west to Chengdu. Chengdu is home to the famous giant pandas. Carlos especially (major panda fan) can't wait for that part of the trip. Then on the 25th, we will board a train for the 18 hour trip back to Kunming. This will be the first train ride for the kids. And we are anxious to see some of western China's landscape.

When we return, we will have a month more of vacation time (classes resume February 25). There are several sights near Kunming that take a full day to do, so in February, we plan to see as much of those as possible. The Chinese New Year is a two week holiday starting Febraury 7. Travel is difficult and expensive during this time and that's why we opted to stay local. On February 8, a fellow CCC colleague from Shanghai will be traveling through the area and it'll be nice to catch up with Helene. Maybe other people we know might be coming through, as Kunming is the gateway for very scenic Yunnan province.

Because of my schedule (classes ended December 28, but have a final exam to administer on January 10), we have a three day trip planned for January 6-8 to nearby Dali. We will see snow where it belongs - on mountain tops!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

May you have joy, peace and prosperity throughout 2008! New Year's Day is an official holiday, but the real New Year begins February 7, aka Chinese New Year. We were downtown in the afternoon and the mood was festive on December 31. We then spent the evening watching the various televised conceerts. At midnight, the university community (most likely majority students) gathers in the library square and from our apartment we heard the screaming of "...wu, si, san, er, yi...Xinnian Kuai Le!!". We then saw and heard twenty minutes of fireworks coming from every part of Kunming. On tv at midnight, with a huge log, a gong was rammed 12 times, then President Hu Jintao spoke for about ten minutes.

These nifty hats were had at Green Lake a couple of weeks ago.

Our little Miss all dolled up for the holiday and for her 4 year 9 month birth"day" (the first of the month). E. is really into all the available hair doodads. Unfortunately, her mother, who inherited from her mother, the inability to do anything with hair. Thankfully, we have Papi...

Is it 3 o'clock already? Here's G. enjoying a cup of his Clasico coffee. We just came back from a nice lunch out.

"Hmmm? What? Something burning? Kids playing in traffic? Yeah, yeah, ok..." Hey, for us, old news is new news!