Campus Life, China, Educational System, Teaching, University Teaching

End of Semester Madness

Immediately following my birthday was the last week of the semester. Everyone is frantically marking papers, final exams, and tabulating grades while still giving classes.

Fortunately it’s a universally understood thing that there won’t be much in the way of teaching in the final week. Movies or conversation are the norm. That’s if the students show up at all as final exams might be scheduled during class time.

I had thought that I was on top of everything and would finish in good time, but as the week went along I realized I was hopelessly behind and would really have to scramble. This culminated in an almost all-nighter on Thursday night. I went to bed around 4 AM, not having had to stay up that late for work since I was in graduate school. Friday was a mad dash and I just barely finished. It wouldn’t have been possible without that late night.

That night we went out to hot pot to celebrate, and then came back and slept the sleep of the well deserved.

Campus Life, China, Food

Birthday Festivities

My birthday intruded itself upon our last weekend before the end of the semester. I rallied some of the FT community to have dinner at a local Italian place.

I spent the whole afternoon before baking a fabulous cake: yellow fudge marble with custard filling and butter cream frosting. I was in the interesting position of having no powdered sugar, which is the only way I know how to make frosting. Some research on the internet showed me that there are, indeed, other ways to make frosting. So I very carefully whipped up a frosting that is part boiled milk and flour and part creamed butter and granulated sugar. The final product was fantastic—highly recommended and very doable with some patience and care.

Why bake my own cake? Two reasons: one, I genuinely love baking and have few opportunities here; and two, most cakes I’ve had from Chinese bakeries have been all looks and no taste. Not what I wanted for my birthday.

The dinner itself was very enjoyable, but with the crowd of people we have here that’s never enough. Night is still young and all that. So the questions arose of what was next on the agenda. I wasn’t particularly interesting in hitting the clubs downtown, so that left us with . . . KTV.

For the uninitiated, KTV is private karaoke—all the rage in Asian countries. You go with your friends to a KTV, sing all your favorite songs, eat snacks, drink beer, dance—and it’s all in the privacy of your own little room. So different from karaoke in America, which I’ve explained as something only the incredibly talented or the incredibly drunk do.

KTV had struck me as something relatively enjoyable in the few times I’d been previously, so I was willing to give it a go. What followed after that was an extremely enjoyable several hours belting out songs and dancing foolishly among some really excellent people. We all agreed that it was a great time and I went home feeling my birthday had been celebrated in proper style.

China, Travel

New Year’s in Guanzhou

King Julian!

New Year’s was funny. Funny because for some reason we were given a four-day holiday when most Chinese don’t consider it much of a holiday. But we were given four days. Which meant it was the third longest holiday for us after Spring Festival and National Week. Longer than Mid-Autumn or Qing Ming or Dragonboat Festivals. Anyway. This logic did not work on my students. They still told me that it wasn’t “their” holiday and reported that they did nothing of interest for those four days.

Well, I wasn’t going to waste the third longest holiday even if they were! Another foreign teacher and I decided to trek to Guangzhou specifically to see the Chimelong Safari Park. This particular FT is animal crazy and had wanted to see this park for awhile. (She’d also carefully researched it to make sure no horrors would await us there. It got the A-OK.)

Though getting there was a bit problematic we did arrive in GZ and made our way to our hotel in Tianhe District. A bit pricey, but since we were only staying one night it didn’t seem so bad. We delighted in our room and then went looking for dinner. We parked ourselves at a Japanese noodle house, where we slurped long noodles and washed it down with cold beer. Excellent times. Excellent.

In the morning we enjoyed the breakfast buffet and I was surprised to find someone from Cupertino sitting at the next table. Sheesh. Small world.

The safari park was excellent. Really surpassed any expectations I might have had. It was truly lions and tigers and bears—oh my! Heaps of hippos. Mobs of monkeys. Gads of giraffes. And the tigers! I still remember seeing the white tiger in San Francisco Zoo when I was little. This park breeds white tigers; they claim to have 200 of them. We saw adult tigers, adolescent tigers, and even nursing cubs! It was quite phenomenal. And then you take a train through the other half of the park where the animals are not enclosed and may approach the train. The only problem was camera battery life. I made it through the tigers, but my battery died immediately after.

Did I mention they have pandas? Yes, about a dozen of them. Squealing. Lots of squealing.

Campus Life, China, Cultural Differences, Travel, University Teaching

December Recap

Apologies! Apologies! It’s been far too long! In the interests of time (and not boring you to tears) I thought I’d provide a summary of what’s been going on for the last two months, as there have been some interesting events and excursions.

Christmas season

Though Christmas is not a Chinese holiday many Chinese students have embraced it as a fun holiday to celebrate with their friends, in contrast with traditional festivals, which are generally family festivals. Christmas observance is mostly observed through decorations, especially the large number of Christmas trees around. Even the little market on campus had a Christmas tree and all the employees were wearing Santa hats for most of December.

My apartment looked very cheerful with all the items I’d bought last year and other things my mom had sent me: pinecones, mini Christmas tree, Christmas dish towels, etc. I even found some Christmas lights, which I’ve been reluctant to take down since I put them up.

Some of my students surprised me with Christmas gifts and cards. Three of my English majors gave me a cute mug, some candles and several apples. Other student gifts included a Yakult, random pieces of chocolate, Mongolian snacks, and more apples.

What’s the deal with the apples? Apple in Chinese is ‘ping guo’ which shares a Chinese character with the word ‘peace’, so to give an apple has become representative of good wishes/peace for Christmas. Which I thought was super cool, once I understood what it meant.

Macau for ‘The Hobbit’

Also in December, a group of foreign teachers decided to venture to Macau to see ‘The Hobbit’. Though it likely would be arriving in China sometime in the future, many of us couldn’t wait that long. So we ventured across the border to Macau. Zhuhai borders Macau and whenever I go to there I think “Why don’t I go to Macau more often?” Then, when I’m waiting in long slow lines to exit “China” and enter “Macau” I remember why I don’t. Yeah. That.

‘The Hobbit’ would deserve a long post of its own. To be brief, I’d say that as a movie it was acceptably entertaining, but as the film version of a beloved childhood book I left disappointed. The Gollum and Bilbo scene was excellent, but that was the high point for me.

Christmas Party

Last year the foreign teachers of my school were extremely lacking in a sense of community. Though a friend and I tried to organize a Christmas potluck, it was essentially a no-go. We managed to scrape together 4 people for a modest evening. Fortunately many of the new teachers that arrived this fall are extremely community-minded. We had a FANTASTIC Christmas party, complete with lots of good food, drinks, conversation, games and really loud off-key caroling. Most excellent.

So December was a pretty good month all around, if not exactly an American December.

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