Hurry Up and Say Goodbye

I walked in the door of the apartment after saying goodbye to my last class at NPU, and Jeremy told me to sit down. “Asher and I want to talk to you about something.” “Ok,” I said. “How would you like to go home sooner? Because we are ready to go home, and I think I can move our ticket up,” Jeremy said. And right then we decided that June 29 was too long to wait to return to Kansas City. So, Jeremy bought plane tickets for June 20. We should arrive in Kansas City at about 5:00 p.m.

Then we had to think about the ramifications of this decision. I still have four classes worth of finals to score and grades to calculate by hand. We have people to say goodbye to. We are leaving for our trip to Hong Kong Tuesday, so we will only have three days left in China when we return. And of course, there are goodbye dinners to eat.

We had the first set of these over the weekend. Several of Jeremy’s students organized a dinner on the roof of the Tang West Market. We watched the sunset from a glass dining room. It was lovely. Monday, we had lunch with more of Jeremy’s students. Then I met with my feminist friends for the last time at Meeting Jazz. I got a t-shirt that says, “This is what a feminist looks like” in Chinese.

I’m beginning to feel sad about leaving Xi’an. This is good. I stayed long enough.




Weekly Update


This week I spent all day Monday and all day Tuesday grading argument essays. Of course, that is what most people do when they are on sabbatical from their jobs teaching writing…they go grade papers in a different location. 🙂 Actually, most of the papers were interesting to read. Also on Monday and Tuesday we went to the newly re-opened Redfort Indian restaurant for their 50% off sale.

Wednesday I taught sophomore writing, and we spent time peer reviewing and discussing subject/verb agreement. And Wednesday night we ate pizza at Fly Elephant. That night I did my Chinese homework at Pacific Coffee. I had to write in characters for the first time.

Thursday I prepared for my weekend conference presentation and attended Chinese class in the afternoon. That night we went back to Redfort for the third time in a week. It was awesome because we met a family from Pakistan who had a darling one year old son who wandered around the restaurant. As we were leaving, our friends Stephanie and Bastian came in and we got to distract them from their dinner for a minute.

Friday, I took my very first tai chi class. I enjoyed it, but I found it surprisingly difficult. I spotted a young man in front of me who seemed to know what he was doing, so I just followed him for most of the class. Friday afternoon, I took a walk with my new friend Selena. She spent a year at JCCC in 2005, and she had pictures of herself with Ellen Mohr and Dr. Carlson. She told me she attended Steve Gerson’s tech writing class.

Saturday and Sunday I attended the International Workshop on Comparative Studies of Language Research and Education between China and the West. This was organized by the School of Foreign Languages at NPU, they invited faculty from a university in Sweden that they collaborate with to also attend. I presented on Sunday morning. My topic was American Teacher’s Attitudes towards MLA 8. I put my project on a padlet, and you can access it here if you are interested

This week, I will go back to grading papers. I also need to prepare for my other two classes (Freshman Intensive Oral English) which begin on Thursday. Maybe I need to track down more Indian food to sustain myself.


Lovely Moments


This week has some lovely moments. On Wednesday, I collected the first round of final drafts from my sophomore writing students. I have given them a preliminary read through, and the students made revisions based on my feedback. Not much makes a writing teacher happier than that. Also on Wednesday, we met with a former student and a few current students at the coffee shop on campus, and we chatted about education and American culture.

Friday, despite Jeremy’s warning that I was looking for trouble, I went to a studio and videotaped a lecture on how to generate a research paper topic.  It took two takes, but I still might have to do it over again. When I watched myself on the video, I realized that I licked my lips too often (my mouth was dry), and I messed up in one part and after that I got nervous.

I have done a few informational videos for JCCC, and none of them were quite as involved as this process. The instructional designer working with NPU made me bring four different outfits, and she was not happy with any of them. She also insisted that I put my hair up. Fortunately, my friend who really owns this project warned me about what would happen before I got to the studio. I’m going back next Friday to talk about how to find research paper sources. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, Asher couldn’t find his calligraphy materials. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because his teacher moved him from the pen to the brush. At the end of class, he received all new materials, and his joy in calligraphy renewed. While he was in class, Jeremy and I walked around Xi’an, and we saw a huge crane knocking down an old apartment building. We stood gawking at it for quite a while, and other people stopped to stare as well. We were all lucky we didn’t get hit by a bus while standing in the street. It is so satisfying to watch walls fall down.

Today, of course, is Sunday. And Sunday is our happy day. Father Steven’s brother (who is also a priest) came to say mass with him. Asher got to serve as an altar boy. After the service, we rode the bus back to campus with some friends, and we all got lemonade and then went to dinner together. Our friend who had been in the hospital was there even though he still doesn’t feel well. By the way, he is trying to get to India for better medical care, so if you are a praying person it would be kind of you to remember him.

Last but not least, we were finally able to have good internet long enough to finish Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It took us three different days, but we now know how it ends.

Little Projects


This week in Xi’an has been full of little projects. I started coding the data for a small survey I did on teacher’s attitudes towards MLA  8. I also met with the producer to discuss the part of a MOOC I’m going to help create. My co-worker and I divided up the chapters to translate into video, and I chose the section on writing a research paper. I also continued with another interview for my research on the Ecology of English Instruction at NPU. And I met with my friend Pricilla and discussed a future course in Christian education for children and youth.

In addition to the academic projects, we have been exploring new culinary delights that are not on the menu at a halal restaurant around the corner from the college. So far, we have enjoyed a total of three dishes that our friend Jabran went back into the kitchen and requested. They include shedore, naan pero, and youxiang de pero. The other important thing about this experience is bringing new people to try the amazing food with us. It is fun to see the delight on their faces. In fact, our friend Curtis initially declined to share the youxiang de pero. After the food came out, he went back into the kitchen and ordered some to take home.

We have also started focusing on the Lenten season. As a family, we are reading through the Gospel of John in Spanish. I am also trying to take a prayer walk every day to practice gratitude. Yesterday, though, I went for a ten-mile run instead. This is the longest I have been able to run since I left the US. I was especially grateful for Jeremy and Asher who ran various segments with me and who brought me a Gatorade around mile 7. That was one of the best parts of my week.

Chinese Education System: Part 1


This week has been quiet. Many stores are still closed because of the Spring Festival, and the street vendors are just starting to reemerge on the sidewalk. We finished reading Harry Potter (1-7), so we have been trying to watch the movies. Since this has been a non-exciting week, I will take this chance to list some things I’ve learned about the Chinese education system.

  • Children start to go to state sponsored school very early—around age 3. Even at that age, they begin learning the English language.
  • When children start to go to Primary School, they begin to have two hours of homework per night. (Sometimes more.) Their parents must take a picture of the homework and send it to the teacher. If the parents don’t send it, the teacher will ask them about it on the public WeChat group for the class, therefore shaming them into doing so in front of the other parents.
  • Sometimes children in Primary school stay home from school on “Smog Days” which are like Snow Days without the snow. Except, these children have a whole day’s worth of school work to do. Their parents must send it to the teacher at multiple times during the day.
  • When children in Primary School take exams, the teacher will post the results in the public group so that all the parents know how their child did in comparison with the other children in the class.
  • Middle School and High School are usually together. The first three years are sometimes called Middle School while the last three are called High School. However, it is not unusual for a Chinese person’s transcripts to list a Middle School in the High School slot.
  • Don’t let the name Middle School fool you. Chinese High school is all consuming and highly competitive. Students attend class from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Then they go home and do homework for hours.
  • I was told by a high school student who I tutor that after the ninth grade, students take a test. The ones who do well on the test (she said “the smart ones”) are filtered into the science and math track. The ones who do poorly (she said “the dumb ones”) go into the humanities. By the time students are seniors, there is no time for arts, sports, or any extracurricular activities.
  • The entire last year of high school, students prepare for the Gao Kao. This is the Chinese college entrance exam. It is only given once per year, so if a student doesn’t pass, they need wait another year to try again. They take several practice exams during the year to help them study to get the score they need to get into college. While the rest of the school takes time off for the National Holidays, the senior students might take one day when everyone else gets a week. Or they might have four days off over Spring Festival when everyone else takes three weeks. They don’t even get weekends off after October.
  • After student take the Gao Kao, they find out what college they got into, and they find out what the school says their major is. Since the Gao Kao is given in June, students find out where they are going to college in July. Then school starts in September.
  • Students who earn the very highest scores on the Gao Kao have some choice about where and what they study. A very bright son of one of my colleagues was allowed to choose his school, but his parents chose his major.

I will come back to this topic soon, and write about the University system as I understand it. Monday we leave on the train to visit Shenzhen and Hong Kong. I hope to have beautiful pictures to share next time.


Trains VS. Hospitals

img_11361This week, we learned about two important Chinese institutions: the train and the hospital. At the beginning of the week, we rode the high-speed train to Shangqiu to visit one of Jeremy’s KU classmates. Asher said we flew on the train which is true because the high-speed train runs on magnets, not wheels. Therefore, the high-speed train is suspended about an inch above the track. The train won our hearts, and Jeremy said he never wanted to fly on a plane again after the joy of train travel.
The train station was easy to navigate, and we did not have to take out our liquids or remove our shoes to get through security. The train itself was roomy and the seats were comfortable. Plus, passengers could get up and walk around at any time. We got the added bonus of seeing some of China’s countryside from the windows.
In Shangqiu we had an amazing visit with Jeremy’s classmate. She took us out for hotpot, to a temple where people were celebrating the new year, and back to her parents’ house for homemade dumplings. The next day we visited the Shang Dynasty city wall and the South Lake. We also got to peer in the windows of the Catholic Church. After a huge meal back at the parents’ house, we rode the train again.
We thought we might try the train again later in the week, but the tickets were sold out when we tried to buy them. This was a blessing in disguise because one of our friends went into the hospital with unexplainable pain. We have spent the rest of the week visiting him, and trying to cheer him up.
On the first visit to the hospital, seven of our friend’s countrymen from Burundi were there trying to help him. Our friend told us he had pain from his back to the top of his head. Plus he could not eat, nor could he feel his feet. It did not seem that the hospital had done anything but put him in a bed. He had no IV and no medicine. The doctor came into the room to check on our friend’s roommate, but was going to leave without talking to our friend. Another friend flagged the doctor down, but it was hard to communicate with him.
We returned the next day to find that our friend’s cellphone had been stolen in the hospital. No one seemed to be doing anything about it. His pain persisted, but at least he was trying some medicine and he had an IV. A nurse came in and told him they would do more tests the next day.
The next day, we asked one of our Chinese coworkers to go to the hospital with us. He was able to translate between the doctor and our friend. He was also able to read the medical chart. It turns out that our friend has an ulcer and he was supposed to be on a special diet. He also had problems with the discs in his back. So at least that is something.
In the Chinese hospital there is a total lack of privacy. In addition, the family members of patients crowd the elevators at meal times because the hospital does not provide food. We took the stairs three different times because of elevator crowding (and our friend is on the 17th floor). Of course, the lack of security is disconcerting. However, the fact that two nurses came into my friend’s room and giggled while they bullied him for more money was probably the worst part.
So this week, we learned about two Chinese institutions. The hospital is a scary place, and I hope that I don’t have to be a patient there. On the other hand, the high-speed train is better than flying. I hope to ride it again and again.

Random Bus Rides

My recent days have been filled with random bus rides. Since I am on vacation for the Spring Festival, I finally have time to wander without worrying about making it back in time for a class or a meeting. This has left me free to choose a bus line and a direction, and then to see where it goes. Coupling this with an English language GPS map of the city has significantly increased my awareness of where I am located.

On one of my first bus trips, Jeremy and I rode the number 24 to the Qujiang Bookstore. It took almost an hour, and we were wondering how we would know where the bookstore was when we got off the bus. Once we jumped off the bus steps and looked up, we realized we needn’t have worried. The Qujiang Bookstore was huge, and it was right in front of us. We spent a good part of the afternoon browsing on all the different floors. Of course, if we could read Chinese, our pleasure would have been so much greater. In the end, we still managed to walk out with two books each, two coffees, and a brownie.

The next day, we rode two buses to the Xi’an North Train Station. We started very near our home, but had to follow the GPS to see where we should get off and change buses. This went fairly smoothly on the way out. The second bus was old, and the driver seemed upset. He jerked the bus around and honked the horn for no reason. He let us off at the Train Station which was the end of the bus line. We followed the crowd up to the huge station, and then tried to figure out how to collect the train tickets we purchased online. Even though we did not have directions for how to do this, we managed to retrieve our tickets without waiting too long or having to change lines.

A few days later, we thought we might try to find a mountain park we had read about. We waited for about twenty minutes, and the bus never came, so we decided to get coffee and salamander food instead. Later that afternoon, we tried again. I found Daming Palace National Heritage Park on the GPS map, and we agreed to catch the bus to see what it was like. It turned out that it was a huge park with a pond, three museums, and an IMAX. It also had REAL running trails. We look forward to cleaner air and a bit warmer weather, so we can go there and try running for an hour or two. We wonder why it took us so long in our time here to find such a great park.

Our latest bus adventure was simply supposed to show us where the number 43 bus went. We already knew that it went inside the City Wall and past the Bell Tower. So we stayed on for a while to see where else it went. The GPS said we passed a zoo, but we were not ready to commit to that level of tourism yet. Instead we got off the bus at a place labeled Jinkang Tea Culture Street. Wow. It was beautiful and full of tea stalls. We bought some fruit tea and some buckwheat tea. Many of the stalls were already closed because of the Spring Festival Holiday, so we plan to visit again when more of them will be open.

That adventure ended with a short trip to the nearest McDonalds for coffee and French fries. We also ended our day today with a McFlurry and coffee from McDonalds. We have been here long enough, and we have had enough adventures that we don’t feel like we are cheating to find a little comfort food at the end of a day of random bus rides.