In The Way

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An Amateur Working With Tantrumming Kiddos: What would you do?

Before I came to China, to be blunt, I was terrified of children. I have some experience learning and teaching languages, and have worked quite a bit with middle school and high school students, but I have never before been thrown into a class with 3-6 year olds to teach. I basically have had no formal training on working with or teaching this age, but thankfully Valerie has the superpower of being amazing with her kids.

Altogether the classes are going well, I like my students, my students like me, and they are learning English. Most of the time it is really fun. There have been many formative moments where I have felt only what I can describe as feeling like an amateur first time parent. Most people in China ask if we have kids, and I say “Yeah, we have like 30 kids at school each day.”
Here is one of the most challenging moments of the school year that happened back in January. Before I start the story of What Would You Do?, here is some fun bonus vocabulary.

Characters = Pinyin = My own pronunciation = literal meaning = English translation

小朋友 = xiao peng you = shao pun yo = little friend = child

雪人 = xue ren = shweh rghren = snowman

幼儿园 = you er yuan = yo are youen = young son garden = kindergarten

My question for you is: What Would You Do?

Here’s the scenario:

 

It snowed in January for one day. I, and most of the kids, were really excited about it. I took my oldest class outside to make snowmen. No other teacher could go outside with me, which, in hindsight, was my biggest mistake. I violated the Rule Of Three because it was either break the rule or not go outside. We made a snowman on the field and threw snowballs at each other. One student, Cherry, was making a head for the snowman, when my phone alarm went off indicating that it was time to head back inside. So I said we have to finish in 10 seconds, take a picture, and then head back inside. So I quickly grab her snowman head, stick it on top of the snowman, and get everyone to take a group picture. 

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At some point during this, Cherry started to cry, something to do with her not wanting to use her snowman head for the main snowman. I think she wanted to make her own, but we just did not have the time. So I get the other 4 students to stop throwing snowballs at me for 2 seconds and get a picture of the students. Cherry wants nothing to do with the picture, and then we start to head back inside. I did my attention getter, and we started to head inside. The other students tell me that their hands are getting really cold from their wet gloves so I take their gloves off and say we better hurry up and get back inside!

Except Cherry wouldn’t budge. She was crying more vigorously, and very much not going in. I tried persuading her to come in in English, then in Chinese. I look at my clock, we are already at the point where class should be over, and we still need to head inside and change out of our wet clothes.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

After I get some responses I will respond with what I did.

Thanks for reading.


 

My wife Valerie and I are currently living in Wuhan, China, teaching English at a kindergarten. You can view her blog over here.

Halloween Celebrated in China

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Costume Board Game night at our apartment with awesome missionary friends and teachers from the school. We played Saboteur & Carcassonne!

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WeChat obscene emoticons meet Walter White and Jesse from Breaking Bad. Awesome.

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Morning Halloween commute to work

 

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Pumpkin Joe

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Pumkin Aimee

Maze view from the top. So much fun to make and the school loved it so much they are keeping them up indefinitely

Maze view from the top. So much fun to make and the school loved it so much they are keeping them up indefinitely

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Teaching my kids the word for Spider and to not be afraid of scary creatures. They absolutely loved it.

 

Today Valerie and I started teaching Swing Dancing to some expats, mostly the people you see in the first photo at the top of this page. 🙂 I personally had just as much fun listening to the music when making the playlist as I did actually dancing, ha!

Here’s one of my favorites.

Enjoy.

October Update: Highs and Lows

Things in China are going pretty well for the most part. I haven’t updated in a while besides lots of pictures on Instagram / Facebook, but I figured it was high due a new blog post. I would like to write about our first Taobao order, which was a whole blog post worth of experience in itself. So, without hesitation, here’s some current highs and lows of our experience in China.


 

HIGHS

  • We got paid! Our first payday came October 10th, and it is nice to have some cash in our pocket here. While we have plenty of cash saved in our emergency fund to fly home at any point, we had not been paid since the end of July in Milwaukee, essentially going all of August and September without any income.
RMB, Yuan, Kuai, Money, complete with our Dave Ramsey style Envelope system. Budgeting gone global!

RMB, Yuan, Kuai, Money, complete with our Dave Ramsey style Envelope system. Budgeting gone global!

  • Figuring out how Taobao works. Thanks to a very helpful post on Reddit we figured out how to order things on Taobao, which is basically like Ebay for Everything in China. We got lots of American food including BBQ sauce, spices in little baggies that look suspiciously like drugs, CHEESE!, butter, whole wheat flour, all sorts of stuff like this.
Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, yummy Italian seasonings!

Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, yummy Italian seasonings! Definitely not drugs!

  • We finally got a vacuum & an air purifier! While our apartment was relatively clean compared to many Chinese apartments, it had not been vacuumed since we arrived. Being able to vacuum gave us a bit of our sanity back as there was hair and other dusty particles on our couch from whoever lived here before us. The air purifier, I’m not really sure how much it does, but it takes out some of the pollution and dust from the air. Since we are trying to treat our apartment like its own contained International Space Station with plants and an air filter, this is nice to have. Makes our air more pure in our apartment.
Our air purifier. The blue light at the top means the air is relatively clean right now. This was about $110, but compared to lung cancer is quite cheap.

Our air purifier. The blue light at the top means the air is relatively clean right now. This was about $110, but compared to lung cancer is quite cheap.

  • We have found food that we like! We typically eat cookies for breakfast, but there is also sometimes 包子(BaoZi), which are a hot steamed bun stuffed with meat and sauce on the inside. There are also 热干面 (ReGanMian), which are a kind of hot noodle slathered in sesame butter. The Ramen noodles here are surprisingly good and there are about 100 varieties of them at the store. We also enjoy some street wraps, which are called 卷并, which literally translates to Rolled Tortilla Frybread, or something like that. We told the school that we didn’t really like the food they were serving us for lunch and they have succeeded in fixing it by making it hot, having more, and making it taste better, honestly. So now we eat at the Kindergarten for lunch most days. The food here is SUPER SUPER cheap. We can go out to eat at a restaurant for anywhere from 园10-25 RMB, or $2-4 USD. This is, for the most part, cheaper than it costs for us to cook within our own home, so we end up eating out probably about 1/2 of the days and eating in the other half.
  • We are learning some Mandarin, so can now sort of kind of communicate with people. Valerie and I meet with a teacher from the school on Tuesday nights for about 2 hours to study mandarin. We are focusing on questions, basic grammar, food vocabulary, pinyin spelling, character and stroke order, and pronunciation. All very helpful. While I typically do not understand hardly anything they say back to me, we now have learned some of the basic ways to form and pronounce questions.
  • We really enjoy our jobs. Working with 3-5 year olds is very rewarding. Kids are able to love and appreciate you as a teacher in a way that I did not even know possible. Several of my students run up and give me a hug spontaneously each day. We really connect with our students and the work is rewarding most of the time. Obviously, with any job, it has its challenges, but we really enjoy working at the school.
Chinese Fire Drill at school! A real live Chinese fire drill!

Chinese Fire Drill at school! A real live Chinese fire drill!

  • Our internet is good so we are able to Skype and call people in the USA pretty easily and consistently. We try to call someone almost every day despite the 12 hour time zone difference. This is really awesome, and I have started videoing with people on a very regular basis. This has been really nice, as we were skeptical about how good this would be before we came. China + Internet do not always get along very well, but thankfully Skype and calling over wifi works most of the time.
  • Badminton. We have been playing 2-3 times a week, and we both really enjoy it. There is a pretty OK gym at the school that we go to and play at, often with Wesley and Marissa, our friends/coworkers, and sometimes withsome of the Chinese teachers and other ESL teachers as well. They take this very seriously here and I really enjoy the sport.

    A badminton tournemant at a local university. Unfortunately they had the entire rock climbing wall closed for some reason in the other room due to this event. We asked the people at the front desk if they have a schedule of events for the gym so that we could check if it was going to be closed before travelling 1 hour across the city to go to the gym, and they said no. We asked them if it was on their website somewhere, and they said no. We asked them how we were supposed to know when the gym is open and she said the only way to know is by asking the rock climbing professor.

    A badminton tournemant at a local university. Unfortunately they had the entire rock climbing wall closed for some reason in the other room due to this event. We asked the people at the front desk if they have a schedule of events for the gym so that we could check if it was going to be closed before travelling 1 hour across the city to go to the gym, and they said no. We asked them if it was on their website somewhere, and they said no. We asked them how we were supposed to know when the gym is open and she said the only way to know is by asking the rock climbing professor.

 


LOWS

  • Air Quality. The air quality is really unbelievably bad. It is overwhelming at times. Last weekend we wanted to go out and do something instead of staying inside our apartment all day but as soon as I stepped outside I got a headache. I am very health conscious and so rather paranoid of things like lung cancer and other issues. It sometimes burns by eyes, and throat, and will leave me with a sore throat and cough for days. This is incredibly discouraging and we are trying to figure out ways to cope with it, but in my opinion, this really affects the quality of life for everyone in a city in China. The best way I can describe it would be to be walking next to a person grinding concrete with dust flying in the air, except that it tastes like dirt and chemicals. It’s really the worst. We are even considering getting a Wii so that we can do more physical activities within our apartment without exposure to the polluted air.
    Nice day with blue skies our second week in China. It was like this for about two weeks straight at the beginning of October.

    Nice day with blue skies our second week in China. It was like this for about two weeks straight at the beginning of October.

    More average day with pollution outside. I swear it is not natural clouds, just smog. Notice the lack of sunlight.

    More average day with pollution outside. I swear it is not natural clouds, just smog. Notice the lack of sunshine.

  • Mandarin is really really hard and can be quite discouraging at times. Sometimes when I try and talk to someone in Chinese they will just not talk to me at all and go find someone who speaks English. And I don’t mean try and talk to me, I mean, they will completely stop talking and go find someone else. Very discouraging. Anyways, we have learned some food, but conversation is difficult. Just today I took this picture below to memorize what is on this menu at the Baozi (steamed bun with meat inside) restaurant/tienda.

    Baozi menu. I will learn all of these characters so that I can try all the different kinds!

    Baozi menu. I will learn all of these characters so that I can try all the different kinds!

  • Making friends is difficult. I would really like to make some Chinese guy friends to be able to play badminton or soccer or something with, but there are not very many opportunities to do so. There is literally one male teacher at our school who is Chinese, the rest of us guys are English teachers. We have connected well with the group that we meet with on Sunday mornings for church, but I am having a hard time meeting new people and making friends. My plan for this is to just be really outgoing at the gym and join some people in basketball or badminton, as well as starting to play Xiangqi, a funky and very popular Chinese chess.
  • Traveling anywhere in any mode of transportation can be really frustrating. Biking is dangerous as people, scooters, buses, taxis, and vans will come out of nowheresville and cut us off. It is constant conflict management and it really stresses us Americans out. People walk out without looking to see if traffic is coming. It takes FOREVER to take the bus anywhere. Taxis are the best way to get around as they only cost about $3-5 USD depending on how far we are going, but in certain parts of the city it is just basically impossible to get a cab so we end up taking the bus which can take literally like 1.5 hours to go something like 6 miles.

    This was a car accident on a very major road. They were completely stopping traffic, and traffic was backed up for, literally, like 3 miles on this road. When people get into an accident, which happens very frequently, they stay in the exact spot until the police arrive. On this day it delayed our bus for about 40 minutes. Ugh.

    This was a car accident on a very major road. They were completely stopping traffic, and traffic was backed up for, literally, like 3 miles on this road. When people get into an accident, which happens very frequently, they stay in the exact spot until the police arrive. On this day it delayed our bus for about 40 minutes. Ugh.

  • Backwards China. Many things are done very inefficiently. Banking is a nightmare. Websites are buggy. Sanitation is a complete joke. Children are undisciplined. Bikes are super slow. People avoid saying no, instead of communicating directly. This list is long, but a lot of this is just culture shock, not right or wrong. Just challenging to adapt to.
  • Missing America, especially friends and family. 

 


That’s all. I am still posting consistently on Instagram, although I am considering switching to wordpress as a platform for the photos instead of Instagram for all of the people who are interested but not on Facebook or Instagram.

Questions? Want pictures of something in particular? Let me know!

First Week in China

We have arrived in Wuhan, China.

Valerie with some other teachers from the school after getting breakfast after going to the Grungy "hospital."

Valerie with some other teachers from the school after getting breakfast after going to the Grungy “hospital.”

Here’s a summary of what’s been going on.

We arrived on Thursday, and have spent this week either getting physicals, at the school preparing for students who come this upcoming Monday, and resting and recovering from jetlag.

A combination of the nasty pollution here and jetlag resulted in me being sick pretty much since we got here off and on. Upon immediately arriving I felt super dizzy. I thought that this was just from lack of sleep, but it continued for several days, and I still have it a little bit. Jetlag also results in me not being hungry when I am supposed to, and having a hard time sleeping at nighttime here.

The pollution is bad here. Very bad. Surprisingly bad. Valerie and I have bought a few plants for our apartment, and plan to buy more. We want to treat our apartment like the International Space Station – creating our own oxygen with plants.

Some examples of the pollution here:

  • The visibility is extremely low. You can probably not see for more than a few miles away, whereas in the states you can see for more like 10-20 miles away, if not farther on a clear day.
  • We have not really seen the sun very much since we got here. Some of this I think may be due to the weather system, but instead of having sunny days it seems like we have hazy days where the pollution, quite literally, diffuses the sunlight and stops it from reaching the earth.
  • We mopped our porch outside and after about 4 days it needed mopping because it was covered in a thin layer of dust/dirt/pollution.
  • I sneeze at least a dozen times a day, and try and blow my nose constantly. I am trying to keep my lungs clear of the stuff.

    While you can buy pocket kleenex here, this is the more popular option. A rather genius little device: Toilet paper roll/kleenex dispenser.

    While you can buy pocket kleenex here, this is the more popular option. A rather genius little device: Toilet paper roll/kleenex dispenser.

 

We feel quite helpless most of the time — we had to have other teachers from the school help us setup our gas, internet, phones, gas, and water. You cannot drink the water — it must be drunk from a water cooler. It costs $2-3 USD for 5 gallons of water or so. Now that we have everything setup we are able to relax at home much better.

Here’s how stuff is going with the school:

The teachers at the school are quite friendly. A new principal of the kindergarden arrived the same day we did for work, so she is new. She smiles a lot, but is very strict and we refer to her as Umbridge. I think this is a bit harsh, but it seems like the cultural is just rather pushy in all directions here. They do things differently here, and not really in a way that I like.

This has been our week:

  • Monday: Go to the school 8AM sharp. Meet some of the other teachers, get a tour. Then we get whisked away to a hospital about an hour away in the Guanggu District for a physical where they take our blood, get a chest x-ray, check our body fat, get a picture, that sort of thing. They were very fast and efficient, and at the time I thought the hospital was kind of grungy. There was basically no wait for any part of the process so the whole thing maybe took 35 minutes or so. Very fast. We get free lunches at the school but we are so late to lunch that they have run out of chopsticks and most of the food is cold. Oh well.
  • Tuesday: Go to the school. Wesley goes over a lot of the stuff we need to know about the schedule and classes and things, but we are interrupted multiple times by the higher ups with questions about how many English teachers are coming back, what classes we will teach, and other events going on this week, as well as debating whether we are getting paid for being at the school or not.
  • Wednesday: We took the day off to sleep in, watch Malcolm in the Middle, and work on getting internet setup. Our internet seems OK – most of the time it is fairly fast, but a few times we have gone to call landline phones in the US and it has been way to choppy to understand what the other person is saying. Sorry, Nonnie.
  • Thursday: Woke up at the crack of dawn to go to a different hospital for another physical. This hospital was incredibly grungy and gave me a much more optimistic view on the healthcare system in the US of A. I don’t think they ever mopped the floors, I saw several open wounds, there are no bandaids anywhere to be seen, there are long lines with people cutting in line to have their blood drawn, we wait for over an hour for the x-ray, there is one lightbulb per hallway, and I was too scared to look at the bathrooms. I’m surprised – it seems like  this place chose to reject the idea of how germs spread, or anything since Louis Pasteur and modern medicine.
  • Went to school, prepared the classroom, got our QQ — instant messenger setup, dug out flashcards, reviewed lesson plans. Internet stopped working around 1pm, so that ended a lot of our productivity. Tonight we go back to the school soon for some sort of meeting with the children’s parents. We were only told yesterday that we needed to be at this meeting — before that we were told NOT to come to the meeting. The lack of notice for anything and miscommunication can be very frustrating. We were told TODAY that our hours of working are supposed to be 7:30-5:30 now instead of 8-5. What? The most frustrating part of this whole scenario, and any other changes, is that we are pretty much powerless with whatever the heck they decide to do with us. Our only real bargaining power is, “If you do this, we will leave,” which isn’t really useful since we don’t actually intend to leave at this point.
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    My classroom, the Deer classroom

    Our apartment is quite nice. My only complaint about it is the air pollution. We have awesome air conditioners, nice garden and trees outside, and are within about a 2 minute walk of many restaurants and shops. Our kitchen is pretty tiny and does not have an oven. We will buy one so we can cook cookies — a great American tradition. We live in an apartment complex pronounced Wonka Mailee. And the kindergarden school looks like a colorful castle – so we go from Willy Wonka land to the Kindergarden Castle.

    You can see what our apartment complex looks like behind this woman. We see this woman everyday on this road picking up recycling. Sometimes she picks it up and takes it away, othert times she hides it in the bushes.

    You can see what our apartment complex looks like behind this woman. We see this woman everyday on this road picking up recycling. Sometimes she picks it up and takes it away, othert times she hides it in the bushes.

    I have started making Mandarin flashcards — like 5 per day. I will start taking mandarin lessons soon, I am trying to decide who will be able to teach me. My coworkers at the school hardly speak any English, so it has already forced me to start learning certain phrases like, “I don’t understand.” and “How do you say” and “Good morning.”

Hoping to get more plants soon, and maybe see if we can order an air purifier from TaoBao.

Questions on anything? Ask away!

The Story of the Beautiful Free Kitchen Table

We are now over two months into being married.

For those of you reading this who are married, this might sound like a very short amount of time.

For those of you are not married, this might sound like a long time.

To me, it seems short. The last two months have gone by too fast.

The wedding was super fun. It was my favorite gathering I’ve been to – I was exhausted afterwards, but it was worth it. We saw many of our friends and family. To end the night we lit off a few Chinese lanterns we remembered we had, then crashed in the RV on site. It turns out some of our closest family and friends stayed up all night talking, playing twister, and enjoying the heart-shaped bonfire.

The honeymoon was perfect, too. We car camped at a different state or national forest campground in the upper peninsula of Michigan and northern Wisconsin. There are different stories to go with each and every day of that particular adventure. Those pictures will show up on Facebook one of these days.

We moved into our first place, a gorgeous two bedroom apartment located in the Midtown Neighborhood of Milwaukee – we are walking distance of downtown and Marquette University.

Living a married life is different. We moved in with very few things – all of it fit into the back of a mini van and Valerie’s car (Skinny P).

There are some very generous and helpful families at Unity, the church we attend, and which I am completing my year as Outreach Ministry Intern. One family member called me at the church and asked me what kind of things we needed for our apartment. I said our priority was finding a table we could eat dinner on with guests.

Fast forward a few hours. I am standing outside Unity on a Wednesday night. Wednesdays are nights of beautiful organized chaos where Jesus feeds, people eat, and many conversations happen. We serve something like 180 meals each week to various people living in the community.

In Guatemala, most restaurants would welcome you at the door with great enthusiasm to come in and enjoy dinner. If I am able, I like standing by the door and welcoming people. The double doors were wide open, letting in the beautiful crisp fall air. Some people ignore me when they walk in, reminding me of when I got paid to “Greet” at Wal-Mart, but thankfully most people look up, make eye contact, and say “Hi!”

This particular evening, a fellow walks in with a sign hanging off of his neck. I assume it is a sign asking for food or money like I see people with on my bicycle commute each day. I ask him “What’s the sign say?”, wondering what kind of response I will get.
The sign says, in all capitals FREE FREE FREE  — BEAUTIFUL KITCHEN TABLE SET WITH CHAIRS — FREE FREE FREE.

I realize this man is an angel sent from God. I ask him about the table, and he describes it as very nice. This is how things work around Unity. If you say you need something, it shows up like manna dropping from heaven. Whether it is bread, a coffee grinder, or emotional support in time of tragedy, it shows up. That Wednesday it just happened to be a Free Beautiful Kitchen table to furnish Valerie and I’s first home.

We eat dinner by candlelight on this table each night. It suits our first home. I hope we can use it for years, decades even.

It is a reminder of community and support. It is a reminder of what to be thankful for.

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