Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I have come to accept the fact that, living in China for two years, miscommunications will inevitably occur. Ordering food at a restaurant, getting the right data plan on my cell phone, telling a taxi driver my destination. Usually, the consequences aren't too serious. Occasionally, however, it result in some strange and awkward situations. For example...

There is a student outside of my class who I have gotten to know, and over dinner one night last week, he invited me to play basketball with his classmates. I agreed.

On Monday, the same student phoned me and asked if I could stay after school the following day, since students were being released early. His classmates would be waiting.

Tuesday afternoon, classes ended, he called me to confirm I was actually coming. I said yes, and before heading over, I organized the library, cleaned up the classroom, went back to my apartment to change and grab a bite to eat. This whole time, I kept receiving urgent texts and phone calls from him, asking me if I were on my way.

If they were just playing basketball, why the urgency? I should've picked up on the signs.

Thirty minutes later, I finally show up at the courts, but they were no where to be found. I called him back, and over the phone, he sounded puzzled when I mentioned where I was waiting. He asked for me to come to the classroom instead.

Waiting for me at the classroom--60 students, quietly, eager, expectant.

I was not going to play basketball after all. Nope. That would have been too easy.

Instead, I was going to give an guest lecture. In my basketball shoes, shorts, and jersey. No preparation. Impromptu...

[Edit] Apparently, lost in translation was the fact that he wanted me to come talk to his classmates, who don't have a foreign English teacher, not that he wanted to play basketball.

Yay! Thank you, China!

In a different instance...

In a conversation with four female students during Library Hour today, a girl who had stayed pretty quiet the whole time, asked abruptly, "When you first sex?"

Hmmm... She couldn't possibly have meant what I just heard. She must have mistaken that word for another word. Another miscommunication, of course. I asked her to clarify.

"Sex. Guy, girl. When do you first do sex? First time?"

Ah, she did mean that after all. No miscommunication. Awkward.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Week in Guangzhou

First Thanksgiving in China! Before, I wondered how celebrating this lesser known American holiday in the East would be different. Well, the answer: Not much. Minus the turkey and family, it was rather familiar: people bustling out of food markets and into kitchens, cooking up a storm, leaving behind an impressive mess, lots of stuffing of one's mouth, lots of schmoozing, lots of music.

The Yale-China fellows decided to congregate in Guangzhou, where four fellows were teaching on the beautiful, very green campus of Sun Yatsen University. I normally lug my hefty DSLR camera to gatherings like this, but decided to pack light this time. Thus, I had to rely on my vintage iPhone camera (and a nifty application called Hipstamatic).

Apologies in advance, the pictures are not in any order. Also, there is a story at the end!

Elizabeth being fed.

Colin, asleep after fending off hordes of mosquitoes.

Sometimes inspiration strikes at the strangest places and moments.

Sun Yatsen's campus.

I shouldn't be playing with my phone during dinner.

Some of the gang.

Nice back, Aaron.

I think I am cursed with the worst luck when I travel, and that bad luck sometimes rubs off on my companions. Missed buses, trains, and planes; luggage left in taxis; booking the wrong dates--I've experienced it all.

On this trip, one of my travel companions to Guangzhou had her wallet stolen. At first, it didn't seem so bad--only a couple hundred rmb lost, some credit cards, and an already-expired driver's license. Then, we realized our bullet train tickets back to Changsha--not cheap--were in that wallet.

It was a sunk cost. No use fretting over it. Nothing else could be done except for buying new tickets for the same train (my poor bank account). So, I did, and off I went onto a train for which I paid twice.

On the train, I fell asleep, and two hours later, we are back in Changsha. Home safe! Except... the train doors closed in front of me just as I was about to step off. The bullet train continued to Wuhan, a city that's not even in the same province.

Apparently, I had woken up at the end of the 3 minutes that the train stops in Changsha. There was nothing to be done, I had to continue on this train to Wuhan.

In situations like this, I can kick myself over and over, beat myself up for my silly mistakes; or, I can just accept that I made a really careless error, and move on. Either way, I can't really change my situation. I choose the latter. Since I am still in the Thanksgiving spirit (my big dinner was only last night), I should say that I am thankful to the stewardess--a kind, young woman who allowed me to stay on the train for no extra cost; I am thankful that the train turned right back towards Changsha after stopping in Wuhan (it could've kept going to who knows where...); and, I am thankful that, in the end, this mistake only cost me an extra 3 or 4 hours.

Hope everyone had a joyful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

An Atypical Sunday Evening

In the last few weeks, I've been frequenting this one cafe. Owned by a friend, it is probably the one place in all of Changsha I find most relaxing. It is never a bad idea to go there, no matter the time of the day (or night). Even if it is a ridiculous trip. All the way on the other side of the river, it takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 by bus, depending on the traffic. By taxi, for about 25¥, the time is decreased to 40 minutes, give or take 10.

But somehow, I still find myself there two or three times a week, for hours at a time. Some of my more memorable conversations in China took place there. All of my favorite drinks were concocted there.

An out-of-focus picture of Chris taking a picture at Haozi's.

Anyway, after a bizarre dinner with the director of the Yali Alumni Association and a student's parents, I decided to make the hour-long trek across the river to Haozi's. I naively hoped to finish lesson-planning for the rest of the week there. The duration of time I was actually in the cafe was just what I expected--familiar faces, a delicious chocolate strawberry drink Haozi created on the spot, good music. Of course, no significant progress was made on lesson planning. It wasn't until when I was about to leave when some strange/grotesque/intense things occurred.

First, a random girl sitting nearby suddenly turned to me, shouted "陈刚同学, Bye! Bye!" and dashed out the door. No idea who she was. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've never met her in my life. How did she know my name? Truly inexplicable.

Then, as we were walking from Haozi's to the noodle shop, I noticed a sizable frog in front of me, heading towards the street. It was already past midnight; few cars were out. So, I didn't think the frog would have any trouble crossing the street. Unfortunately (as you probably already guessed, why else would I bring it up?) the frog met an unfortunate end. Midway through the road, a taxi came by, and... squish. Actually, it was more of a pop, like the sound of a balloon pumped with too much air.

This is actually the second time I witnessed something of this sort. About a month ago, I saw a dog get hit by a car that was going down the wrong way of a one-way street. The poor dog limped to the sidewalk and died, right in front of me. People say these things come in threes. I'm terrified to see what will be the third...

The end to my night was spicy. Literally. Xiaohong, this friend who works at Haozi's, brought Chris and me along to a noodle restaurant for her midnight snack. She warned us that the item she usually gets is extremely spicy, but being foolhardy young men, we refused to go for a milder choice. Bad decision. It was the single spiciest dish I have ever had. Ever. A spice that numbed not only the areas around my mouth, but my entire face. Brain-numbing spice. My stomach did somersaults, my legs wobbled. Chris and I emptied the water cooler. More than a few tears were shed.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Every city should have a Ferris wheel...

I firmly believe this.

A well-placed Ferris wheel can add a romantic flair to the city, no? By the river... in a large, open space... like the London Eye or the Singapore Flyer. It can really be a classy addition to the city skyline.

The effects of one can be enormous. Pritzker winner, Sir Richard Rogers, says it more eloquently in an essay about the London Eye:
"The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That's the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London."
It is a simple yet beautiful structure with a simple yet beautiful purpose.

Many mayors of Chinese cities have agreed with me; five of the ten biggest Ferris wheels can be found in China.

Of course, the wheel should be strategically placed, to maximize its effects.

A street intersection just around the corner from Yali, later in the evening, with the Ferris wheel in view.

Unfortunately, Changsha did not seem to worry much about the exact location of its Ferris wheel. Currently, it is in a section of the city crowded with tall but dim buildings, including one that is right next to the Ferris wheel, essentially blocking 70% of the view. The overall experience is quite underwhelming. Quite a dud really, the way it is tucked away in the back. Why didn't they put it somewhere alongside the major river running right through the center of the city, where one can see much of the city's skyline, where the riverbanks are lit up with mesmerizing (though admittedly, somewhat tacky) lights?

Anyway, who's on board my campaign to get every major city around the world to build a Ferris wheel?

P.S. Who else didn't know that the F in Ferris is supposed to be capitalized? I didn't, that's for sure...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Simba, 喜羊羊 (Xi Yangyang), and... Denzel Washington?

My life since returning from a whirlwind trip to America has been, well, another whirlwind. The daily pace has really picked up (not that it was ever terribly slow), crescendo-ing to a climax this Friday.

These days, I teach until noon, start eating lunch at 12:10, and finish lunch eight minutes later in order to make a meeting. Then, twenty to thirty minutes later, I am out of the meeting and rushing to either A) music workshop for the Lion King (explained below), B) Library Hour (students from all over the school come to talk), C) Office Hour (only for my classes' students, or D) another meeting, probably with a college advisee desperately seeking help (also explained below).

1 - College application advising

How have I not escaped college applications and personal essays already? I am currently acting as an adviser to a few senior students who are applying to U.S. colleges, and the deadline for early applications is, ugh... now. As a result, my inbox has been inundated with drafts of personal essays and pleas to look them over. Even when I do get a chance to look them over that same day, the student would often shoot an email back the very next day asking for further revisions. Were we this crazy back then??

While the process has been time-consuming, tedious, and even frustrating at times, I found it worthwhile overall. Really getting to know these kids--learning their stories, hearing about their experiencing, gaining their trust--has been insightful and rewarding.

2 - Halloween!!

Although I am in China, I will not not celebrate Halloween (yay English!). Teaming up with the group of English librarians the fellows and I selected, we threw together a huge Halloween party for the school, much like the good ol' days in the Cottage, except replace crazy college students with crazy high schoolers and gallons of alcohol with thousands of glue sticks!

Three of my students: Tiffany and Maggie (as doctors) and Ryan (as 喜羊羊, or Xi Yangyang)

The party was carnival style, with eight different booths for the students to go around and play. There was the "Guess the Organ" booth (actually grapes, tofu, noodles, etc. doubling as human organs). Additionally, there were "Deadly Chairs" (musical chairs with scary music!), "Mummified!" (teams compete to see who first can wrap up a member completely in toilet paper), "Masking Making" and "Pumpkin Carving"! And, of course, students learned the Time Warp and Thriller dances.

The English librarians with the pumpkins they carved!

Viana, one of our student English librarians, carves her first pumpkin.
Also, notice how different Chinese pumpkins are...

Some students deserve a shout-out here: The English librarians, eight students we selected at the beginning of the year, were key to this party's success. While we came up with the idea of the carnival, they totally ran away with it. At the beginning, they brainstormed for various games that could be made into booths. Then, They went out and bought supplies, they made posters, they got costumes, and at the end, they pulled everything together. This was no easy task; some of the booths took many many hours of preparation work. At last, the day of the carnival, the fellows and I only had to do a little setting up of the decorations beforehand, and for the rest of the party, we got to enjoy ourselves like we were students as they ran the show. Super, super impressed. I cannot wait to work with them on other projects throughout the year!

Love the faces on the girls in the back, at the end of Deadly Chairs.

The Halloween Carnival at noon was followed by Costume Extravaganza! (a costume contest) after school, as part of the school's Extracurricular Show. Two words: controlled chaos (more emphasis on the latter word). Twenty minutes before we were to go on stage, we only had five contestants. Stress-out time. Since we had expected at least fifteen, the fellows and I had to do some last-minute revisions to the program in order to make the contest more appropriate. Then, about ten minutes before we were to go on stage, thirteen more contestants showed up--super stress-out time! We had not had a chance to go over the contest rules or procedures with any of them--procedures which included doing a dance on stage. Nevertheless, the audience beckoned, lights went out, and we were thrown onto the stage so suddenly that Chris had his costume on backwards.

Considering the chaotic beginning and more contestants showing up even after we had already begun, the Costume Extravaganza went very well. We crowned a Chinese ghost as Mister Yali Halloween Contest 2010, and ended the show by throwing candy into the audience. This last part may or may not have been a good idea... All the students jumped out of their seats and started storming the stage, transforming into vicious beasts, pouncing on the candy left and right, from the floor, from the students, and eventually, from the sources--the teachers. Though, in hindsight, doing this was probably not the best--or safest--idea, I found it to be incredibly entertaining and the perfect cap to my chaotic week.

A student and me, after the Costume Extravaganza!

3 - The Lion King

The fellows and I are working with the Yali English Society to put together the annual English musical. This years musical? If you hadn't already guessed from the heading: The Lion King!

During the first week and a half back from the States, we had acting, dancing and music workshops to ready the students for their auditions. I was in charge of the music workshops, where we learned "I Just Can't Wait to be King!" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." The workshops went extremely well; there was a noticeable increase in the number of participants from the first workshop to the last, and they all seemed to have relatively good ears, making it much easier on me.

Casting auditions began today. We had the participants read lines from the movie, pretend to be various animals, and sing either the two songs practiced at the workshops or one of their own that can better demonstrate their abilities.

It's terrible--not everyone has auditioned (in fact, it is only day one), but this student, Ben, has stole my heart and, along with it, the role of young Simba. His personality, his voice, his mannerisms--the boy is perfect for the role.

Auditions will last this entire week, and hopefully we'll have the cast chosen soon after! The finish product--coming to you in Spring 2011!

4 - The Great Debaters

Last, but definitely least, is class. We have been toying around the theme of persuasion all year, and currently we are working on debate.

To make it fun, I am screening scenes from the movie The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington. The movie takes place in the American South, 1935, about a debate team at a black college. My kids seem to really like it--the idea of going on stage, using words as weapons, speaking with power and intent. Haha... we'll see how well they do when they have to do it themselves.

Beyond debate, the movie is a real eye-opener into U.S. history for these students. They are shocked by the intense racial hatred prevalent in American during those times, the uncomfortable scenes of helplessness on the Negroes' end, and even one of a lynching. It totally goes against what they have always thought--the United States as a place where any one from any race can go and be accepted. This led to several interesting discussions, including the existence of narrow-minded prejudice in America today, for example, prejudice against Islam, against Hispanics. Some students even talked about the prejudices that exist in China, racism towards ethnic minorities, and how they haven't really considered the implications of holding such views before this.


...between juggling classes, intense after-class activities with having a life outside of Yali, it is an understatement to say that downtime is sparse. Each day is a blur, one melting into the next. I mean, shoot, it is already November! I often find myself comparing it to life back at Yale, but while I am similarly busy, I haven't felt completely wasted away here. Don't get me wrong--when the weekend arrives, I usually collapse into what will eventually become a four-hour nap. But, with the start of a new day, a new week, the excitement radiating from the kids seems to act as an energizer, and like the Energizer bunny, I keep chugging along.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some glory, some tears, lots of fun and excitement

The 2010 Yali Sports Meeting has officially begun, and here are the pictures:

The Parade of the Classes begins the annual Sports Meeting.

This boy kept his chest out for a good 30 minutes.

John, the only boy librarian at our English library!

There was one thing I noticed from my observations: in the six-lane, 1600m race, there weren't just six runners. For each runner, there would be at least two friends running alongside the entire time, giving encouragement to the runner. Some of them even ran the entire mile with their friend who was suffering on the track! Rather unbelievable.

Would I have run that (unnecessary) mile if I had been in that situation? Hmm....

If you didn't know what goosestepping was from the previous post, here's a clip of the Yali students "goosestepping":

[Update: October 25] Here's a picture that I think sheds some insight (What insight exactly? Iono...) into the Chinese education system:

All students are required to be outside on the benches for the Sports Meeting. Yet, half of them are still doing their homework! Poor students... O_o

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Goosestepping to the Finish Line

Apologies for the lack of posts in the last week and a half. All of a sudden, the pace of life has really picked up.

The campus atmosphere recently has been quite exciting--there is definitely an extra skip to the students' steps. Lots and lots of chatter.

Indeed, it is that time of the year: the annual, school-wide track and field Olympics. Students compete for their classes in sprints, relays, long jumps, high jumps, javelin throws, and more. Between classes, during lunch, and even after school, they are prepping for this monumental event. They rally around their class flag, get into formations and practice marching down the track lanes, they how to goose step while chanting class cheers and shouting "Yi! Er! San! Si!" (One! Two! Three! Four!)

Anyway, tomorrow is the big day. The Opening Ceremony--yes, there is quite a grand opening ceremony planned--begins at 8am, and you will most definitely find me there.

Pictures galore to follow!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Odds and Ends

Here are some random happenings of the last month, told through photographs.

The other fellows and I have been treating ourselves to this full-body massages once in a while. They do all sorts of crazy stuff, and are not shy about getting under you. I usually leave more sore than when I first walked in... Hmm, on second thought, maybe I should stop going...

I think this picture speaks for itself.

There seems to be an imbalanc
e in supply of taxis in Changsha. When I need to take one from Yali, I have to add a cushion of another thirty minutes or so just to find one. Here, we waited in this lonnnnng line outside the train station for one, but there were no taxis in sight... I think I could start a very profitable business by filling this void in the transportation market.

Personal Accomplishments

While trying to do a roll onto Chacey's bed, I somehow ended up doing a headstand for the first time ever. Pretty proud of that. =)

I haven't been able to touch my toes for many many years (since middle school??). It became Chacey's personal mission for the past month that I improve my flexibility. Here, you can see the progress I made over a span of about two weeks. Yes, I was that inflexible (see top notch). Unfortunately, recent efforts to retain this new-gained flexibility have been half-hearted, and the distance between my fingers and my toes have started to climb again.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Changsha-->Beijing-->Newark-->New Haven-->New York-->Shanghai-->Changsha

In just over a week, I managed to go half way around the globe, passing through six cities. Although I was only in transit through many of them, I haven't had much chance to breath. All the traveling has really screwed up my inner clock; I think I would be able to sleep any time during the day and it'll feel completely natural.

Anyway, everything went according to plan. Took a flight out to Beijing, had a homemade smoothie, purchased some pirated dvds, boarded flight to USA. Then, spent a day in New Haven--played with Asher (former dean's incredibly cute son) for an hour, dropped by the Foote School (right by Yale) to see the Yali delegation, saw some students. Swung by New York City--saw more friends, a health panel, spent quality time with mom and grandma, and finally, schmoozed at the Yale-China Gala.

Yale-China Gala - 100 Years of the Teaching Fellowship

Held at the Pratt House of the Council of Foreign Relations, the gala definitely lived up to its hype--lots of reminiscing and, of course, copious quantities of wine! Over a hundred former bachelors, most of the current fellows, and countless other trustees, board members, employees, supporters, family members and friends of the Yale-China Association gathered for this occasion. It was a great time, especially the opportunity to talk with some of the former fellows, whether a couple years removed or even a few decades removed. Everyone's experiences were so different, and yet, in some fundamental ways, very much alike.

Sheshan Mountain 余山

The most bizarre experience happened when I returned to China after the whirlwind trip through Northeast USA.

My friend Mike, Chacey, and I took a day to trek out to this small mountain just a short subway's ride from Shanghai. The mountain itself wasn't much, save for a lovely French catholic church at the top. The church was built in 1871, destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and then "rehabilitated" at the close of the millennium. Besides those details, plus its exact dimensions and the materials used to construct it, there wasn't much more information about the church.

The three of us had hitched a ride to Sheshan with a few Chinese campers who eagerly invited us to spend the night with them. At first, we went to join them for their 烧烤 (shao1kao3, basically Chinese BBQ), but indecisiveness afterward resulted in missing the last subway back to the city and, having no other choice, pitching a tent with them, in the middle of a neighborhood full of beautiful but hauntingly deserted mansions (can we say housing bubble?). That's when the night became more and more strange...

Chacey and Mike, in the campers' van.

Apparently, the thirty-odd campers were strangers to each other, having met on a website and only knowing each others online identities. Whether it was an outdoors group or a singles group wasn't entirely clear to anyone in my party. After the BBQ, the group gathered around to play some games. In the first game, Dollars and Cents, guys were worth $1 and girls were worth $0.50 (Sexist? Quite.), and everyone, hands linked, would run around a circle until the leader shouts out a value ("$5.50!"). The goal is to find the necessary number of guys and girls to make that value, and people left over are eliminated. All the running and hugging and shoving made for a very exciting game overall.

At the end, for punishment, losers were dry humped. I was one of the winners. Phew...One member of my group wasn't so lucky...

The last game was even more suggestive! Simple instructions: Person A passes a napkin to Person B. The catch? You could only do it by mouth! The Person B has to rip the napkin from Person A, Person C from Person B, and so on. Of course, the napkin gets smaller and smaller as it tears. If you mess up, or if you refuse the napkin, you have to get up and do "Truth or Dare". Piggy-back rides, writing Chinese characters with one's behind, and vulgar questions. You get the idea. Again, I performed flawlessly and avoided such embarrassment. =)

The experience was definitely interesting, if not totally surreal. It was like I was back in middle school--for example, no one actually had the nerves to "kiss" another person when dared. When the napkin got too small, the receiving person always opted out, fingers crossed for a lenient dare. At the same time, there is a tinge of bravery whose nature I can't quite put my finger on. I mean, I don't think I could ever go on a camping trip with random strangers I knew only from the internet. Actually, I don't know if I could ever build a friendship solely online at all.

Our "campground." This was actually the first time I've ever camped! Strange first time...

Now, I am back in 'Sha, back to the blue uniforms, back to the classrooms, and back to teaching. Unfortunately, with the constant traveling this past week (six cities, 35 hours in the air, 15 hours on trains), I don't really feel rejuvenated. Hopefully this weekend will be nice and quiet.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Back in the U.S. of A.

Early Wednesday morning, after being in China since early June, I made my return back to the States!

These last few days have been a whirlwind of fun and stress--hiking with 30-40 students, the Moon Festival, Orange Island Music Festival, friends visiting from Shanghai, hot springs, birthdays...

I won't bore you with every detail, but here's a rundown of my birthday and the hike!

23rd Birthday
This was the first time celebrating my birthday in China (not counting when I was just a baby, of course), so I really didn't know what to expect.

Well, it was quite special.

Students brought me small gifts, from very pretty handmade cards to delicious, fruit-covered birthday cakes (four cakes total that day...). There was a surprise dinner, where everyone who had convinced me they couldn't make it (overtime at work, dinner with faculty, teaching duties, train ride to Beijing, blah blah) actually made it. There was a song, on a big stage in the middle of the busiest pedestrian street in Changsha, where the three other Yali fellows belted out song and danced. And, there was Dr. Zhivago, a beautiful turtle, about three inches long, who has a eating disorder and likes to bath in the warm sunlight (or the yellow light of my table lamp).

Thank you, everyone, for making it a day I will really remember. And thank you--Jason, Chacey, Chris--for putting everything together that day, and for making the last couple months so welcoming and reassuring.

The Hike
Buzz about the hike with Mr. C and Ms. Bryan began a week before the actual date of the event. Students running around, asking each other if they were going to go, running to me and Chacey, asking if we had finalized the date, time, and meeting location. Speculation ran wild: more than 50--no, 100! no, 200!--students were planning to join! Aiya! Fortunately, a very manageable 30-40 students actually showed up, probably due to the fact that we met very early in the morning on the day of the Moon Festival and the clouds threatened a torrential downpour. Despite the forecast, the students, Chacey and I powered up the Yuelu Mountain, the tallest peak in the city (but still only at a measly 300 meters). We sang camp songs that Chacey knew (I didn't know any, never went to camp...), ate one of my birthday cakes, and when we got to the peak, played a few glorious games of Ninja (if you don't know it, um, you're missing out).

Windy hike (Photo courtesy of Chacey)

We didn't get back from the hike until late in the afternoon (poor students, they still had homework to do). Chacey and I passed out right away, and didn't wake up until we heard the jarring sounds of fireworks, signaling the festival's end. Our attempt to salvage our own festivities were foiled when we arrived to locked gates at the Ferris wheel.

Four months is the longest single span of time I've ever spent in China, but this trip back to the U.S. still caught me slightly off guard--I hadn't expected to get to come back until next summer, at the earliest. It's rather strange: because I was mentally prepared for the latter, I hadn't allowed myself to miss anything about the U.S. I had thought that my first trip back to the U.S. would come at a time where the stress from the contradictions of Chinese society, the oppressive restrictions from the government, the pollution, the traffic, and the many other senseless aspects of living in China would outweigh the pleasures of the delicious foods, the wonderful friends, the eager students, and my fellow fellows' company. Returning home would act as a necessary therapeutic recharge. Not like this, anyhow, where I am still going strong, loving the steep learning curve, adapting to the culture, and figuring out the layout the city.

However, by no means am I complaining. It is a free trip back home. I will be able to see my mom and grandmother, along with some of my best friends from college. I will get to see Yale before the temperamental Winter wrecks havoc on Yale's beautiful courtyards. I will be able to get a haircut from Yosef at Port Authority, and afterward, schmooze with the former fellows, alumni and associates who served Yale-China through the last 100 hundred years.

The M&M Burger at Rare Steakhouse, NYC -- a wonderful welcome back!

Let the fun commence!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Right around the corner...

is the Mid-Autumn's Festival!

As gifts for this holiday, Yali Middle School was kind enough to give each of the foreign teachers:
  • 2 gallons of cooking oil
  • 25 lbs of rice
  • 1 big box of mooncake
So now, as a household, we have 8 gallons of cooking oil, 100 lbs of rice, and 4 big boxes of mooncake (not counting the many more that will surely come from other sources).

The students tried to explain how the tradition of eating mooncake started. Of course, when first asked, they give the same explanation as they do for everything else: "It is just part of Chinese culture, and has existed throughout China's five thousand year long history."

With further prodding, there were murmurs of some woman (goddess?) on the moon and a rabbit (I think...?). Nothing I could really make sense of.

But no worries, there is always Wikipedia.

In other news, here is a video clip I took of the daily morning exercises at Yali. Some of the kids are pretty good at it, but most of them look like they are just going through the motions, wondering why they have to do such silly things.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wandering aimlessly on a Saturday evening...

and the few photographs that resulted.

Very colorful writing on the streets of Changsha

Woman cooking off a small street only a few minutes' walk from a popular pedestrian street.

Girls reading in an ATM booth, Chris reflected in the window.

That looks like a delicious Oreo.