Sunday, January 22, 2012

Introduction to my trip to China

Following are a few posts from my month-long trip to China last summer, July 2011, starting with the most recent and dating back to July 4, the day I arrived. I was on an exchange through Ohio State University, teaching English and culture to students at Wuhan University in Wuhan, China (Hubei province). There were about 25 teachers from all different backgrounds and locations in the US. We taught five hours a day of intensive English and then led extracurricular activities for students in the evenings to about 300 students in all. We started in Beijing and went to Wuhan for three weeks and then to Shanghai. We had many incredible experiences in this fascinating country.

I hope you enjoy the stories and photos. Please feel free to comment at the end of the posts or join my blog as a follower for future travles!

Thanks and Happy New Year 2012!!!

Sunday, July 31, 2011


After finishing up in Wuhan, several of us went to Shanghai for another whirlwind trip before leaving China. I absolutely loved it. It's busy and hot, but has so many contrasts and is much more Western with French and British influences. The Bund (riverwalk area) is gorgeous at night and the dumplings are excellent!:) Although, some of the Chinese food we tried was great, I couldn't have been happier to finally bite into a sandwich in a French-style cafe when I got to Shanghai!:)

Below are some of the photos we took during our 2-day trip. Many of them are courtesy of Chrissy, fellow teacher and excellent photographer!

Life size posters of George Clooney - what a town!:)

Enjoying the streets of Shanghai

Finally, a sandwich!!

Beautiful, beautiful Bund at night

Delicious dumplings!

Dancing in the street

Friday, July 29, 2011


Nihao from Wuhan!

Wuhan is a very nice city on the Yangtze River with about 9 million people. It is also known as the furnace of China, however, and is usually around 100 degrees with tons of humidity! We were extremely lucky for the first part of our stay, it was very nice in the 80s. It was still hot, but definitely bearable. The second half has been more typical, in the 100s - agg! Wuhan university is considered the most beautiful campus in China and is one of the top 10 schools in the country. The campus is really lovely, surrounded by mountains and lots of trees. It’s tropical and jungly, it reminds me of the Amazon a little bit. There are cicadas in the trees that hum so loudly at night, you can hardly hear yourself think, but it reminds you of summer too, which is nice. The only negative thing in this climate is all of the mosquitos. I got upteen bites. I don't know what it is - they love me! Agg!

The hotel is very comfortable, but there was carpet everywhere, which is a horrible idea with all of the humidity here. That, plus the individual air conditioners just leaves so much moisture that everything smells old and moldy all of the time. The decoration looks like it was fancy 50 years ago but hasn’t been changed since that time, so there is a constant feeling of walking through Norma Desmond’s house in Sunset Boulevard or Miss Havisham’s house in Great Expectations:) And no matter how much the cleaning ladies clean the bathrooms, there is still the smell of urine that comes and goes because of the drainage system, I guess. I will not miss that! But still we have a western bathroom and a nice shower, which is fantastic, since most of the places you visit have Turkish toilets (hole in the ground) and you have to throw the toilet paper in the garbage instead of the toilet since they have plumbing issues. So the smell of these bathrooms just lingers everywhere in public places and is repugnant, especially given how hot it is. In the school building, the cleaning ladies use the same mop to wipe the hallways as the bathrooms so the smell is everywhere and is truly disgusting. Thankfully, once we were inside our classrooms it was fine. And the students have been so enthusiastic and kind that it makes up for everything else!

They really want to help all the time and show you around, everyone has been so welcoming and great! We are teaching 5 hours a day with a break for lunch. Plus in the evenings, all of us our hosting different extracurricular activities. I have been doing basketball and baseball. Baseball especially was hilarious. I had flashbacks to playing tee-ball in 3rd grade and kids trying to field the ball and having no clue where to throw it. That’s what the students here do. Almost none of them have seen a baseball game and don't know the rules. So, it was challenging when they tried to swing at the ball with one hand more like cricket than baseball:)
After we all practiced the stance a little, though, I think they started to catch on, it's been a lot of fun.

Some of the other teachers have done extracurricular activities such as Square Dancing and Campfire singing. So much fun to see the students participate in these. Our campfire consisted of a bucket with a candle in it:) (see below):

Most of us return to the hotel for lunch (up the hill about a 10 minute walk from our teaching building). We also get breakfast and dinner at the hotel, which is really nice. It's just that the food sometimes is a little bland and boring and my diet has been competely inconsistent, with something like watermelon, cherry tomatoes, green vegetables, rice and coke. I don't know how long I can keep that up!:) It’s just so hard without speaking the language to know where to go to eat and what is good! I have really been craving a sandwhich or something that doesn't come out of a wok, just to have once in a while!

Everyday there are at least 10 different moments where I wish I could speak Chinese and converse with people, not only for ordering but just to ask questions. People here are so curious and always want to talk to you or want to know what you are writing in your journal, etc., but I just feel like a smiling idiot since that’s all I can answer in return. Despite that, I have still managed to get two massages:) One was a foot and back massage and was great except that the woman was pounding on my shoulders and I didn’t have enough language to tell her that it was too hard –hahaha! But then the best was the hair wash and massage they do here. For $3 you can have your hair washed in the salon and they will give you a scalp and head massage too for an hour! The best thing I found in China!:)

There were 4 student volunteers who came with my 4 colleagues and I who tried this. They explained everything to the workers at the salon and then waited there for an hour to make sure we didn’t need anything. All of the students went so out of there way to show us around and help the teachers, it’s incredible. I cannot imagine people in the US going to the lengths that the Chinese have done for us.

At night, we sometimes wondered around a bit and near the lake and in other open spaces people just gather and do group dancing while kids skate board or rollerskate around. It was so nice to watch. And all of the little kids always approached us and said "hello" or "may I have your name, please?":) I guess this must be part of a dialogue that they memorize in school. But I was impressed with how many actually come up and want to speak English with us. They seemed to be learning a lot in school, at least the young elementary aged children. They have been just adorable.

The second weekend we had a college fair and all of us presented information about our universities and schools, and answered student questions. It seemed to go pretty well. Then we visited several temples with some colleagues and a beautiful park with some students yesterday. It was really nice to get out beyond the campus walls a bit.

At the end of our three weeks, we had closing ceremonies and all of the students sang or performed a skit. Our class taught everyone The Twist, which was fun, and I gave my students prizes of ELS gear. Below are a few pictures of my adorable group:

Overall, it was a terrific stay thanks to my wonderful colleagues, students and volunteers. Xie Xie! I hope to be able to come back soon!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Final day in Beijing

A temple in old Beijing

On Friday, our final day in Beijing we went to the Great Wall as a group. This was a different section than I had climbed a few days earlier and certainly had tons more people. But it also had a crazy steep incline just to get up to the top. After that it looked flatter than what I had already climbed, but I opted for staying at the entrance this time, eating ice cream and writing post cards:) I've attached a picture here for you to see the hike, though. Yikes! While I was sitting there, a middle school boy came up behind me and said in near perfect English, "what are you doing?" I told him I was writing postcards and we had a short discussion about why he was there and the English he had studied in school. He was so cute and just had no inhibitions. So many of the Chinese have come up and looked at what I was doing if I was reading or writing, or they will listen in to our conversations if we are speaking English in a group. Of course they often ask to have their pictures taken with us too - a very curious group of people, but then I often feel that way towards them since so many things are just very different.

For lunch, the tour always arranges to take us to these very touristy places where we are the only people there is a massive restaurant with lots of tables. The first day it was a hotel and the second was a jade factory where they also served us lunch, hoping that we would also do some shopping in the store afterwards. These kinds of places always remind me of the movie, "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" where the American tourist group is eating lunch in Luxembourg (called Lunchenburg by then since they move through so quiclkly:)) and in wondering what to order one of the Americans asks the waiter was the locals eat. The waiter responds: "Locals do not eat here, Madame, this is reserved for our tourist friends.":) That pretty much sums up the kinds of places we ate - just us and a lot of empty tables in an otherwise fancy place. But still, the food has been good, lots of vegetables, kung pao chicken, rice, various kinds of potatoes, pancakes with raisins, and mini omlets with different kinds of vegetables inside. It has all been good, but still I have been sick to my stomach, as have a few of the other teachers It might just be the kinds of oil they cook with or something, i don't know. But for the past day, I have just had crackers and watermelon - could be worse than that, I guess:)

After lunch we went to the Summer Palace, which is absolutely lovely. This is a palace on a lake that was the summer residence for the Imperial Family about 500 years ago. If you can ignore the insane numbers of people it did feel a little like Switz or Austria. We didn't have time to visit everything, but we got to walk around the lake a bit and see some lotus flowers.

One more great sign from the Summer Palace was the hours in English - High Season and Slack Season:) We decided that "Slack season" must be the few days a year when there is no festival going on:) (See photo below):

Then, the last thing was getting to the train station to take the overnight train to Wuhan. I have never seen so many people pushing to get up the stairs and over the bridge to the station as I have in Beijing. Apparently, about 1 million people per day go through this station and we certainly sensed that. Trying to make your way up the stairs carrying heavy suitcases is hard enough, let alone some of the poor women also carrying babies. Incredible! Pictures can't do it justice, but I tried to capture a little bit of it here.

Finally, we made it inside the train station and onto the train for our overnight ride to Wuhan, where we arrived very early the nex morning.

Train compartments

Our leader, Minru, and teachers as we arrive in Wuhan

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 4 - Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rickshaw drivers - just like a 1930s Hollywood movie

Early the next morning we all met for breakfast and then headed out on our day of mega touring - Forbidden City, lunch in the Hutongs and a visit to the silk factory.

We started our tour with Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was so amazing to walk through there. The square is the largest in the world and can hold up to 1 million people for a variety of ocasions, or something like the horrible events of 1989, which I thought about a lot. But it is really impressive. Then the Forbidden City you are walking in the steps of the old Emperors up to 500 years ago. I kept thinking of the scenes from the movie, The Last Emperor:) It's incredible to be walking through this historic place.

But there were also thousands of people, literally, and it was almost 100 degrees, so after a while, I just hit the wall and couldn't really enjoy it anymore no matter how great. Chinese people were walking around with umbrellas to shade them from the heat which added to all the chaos.

The beginning was incredible, though, when you first enter. It's pretty overwhelming.

Impressive and imposing Tiananmen Square

Our guide in Tiananmen Square with the ever present panda to lead us:)

Mao and the entrance to the Forbidden City

Everyone with their umbrellas at the entrance to the Forbidden City

Crowds of people in 90 degree heat!!

After the Forbidden City, we went to the Hutongs and took a rickshaw ride to our lunch destination. This truly made me feel like I was in a 1930s movies with rich Americans or British Imperialists in India and China. They're always shouting "Richshaw, Lady" as they pass; just like the old films:) But what can you do? It's how they make a living from tourists. The best was that sellers of purses or other things would bike up next to us and try to sell their goods while still on the bike and while we were riding. That's dedication:)

A new way to sell goods on the street - ride up right next to you!

For lunch, we ate in a private house in the hutongs. We had a delicious lunch of dumplings, rice and vegetables. Afterwards, the host showed us how to make the dumplings and gave us a chance at it as well.

Making dumplings

After lunch, our last stop was at the silk factory where they showed us the whole process of taking silk worms and turning the silk into something they can use for sheets and comforters. Actually, it was quite interesting, and our guide was such a good saleswoman, many people came away with some comforters to take home!

Pulling the silk out in many layers to make a comforter

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 3 - Meeting the rest of the group

A tee-shirt we found in Beijing - wow!

Thursday, the 6th, Casey had to leave very early to travel to another part of China and I was to meet the rest of the teaching group late afternoon at our hotel. There were so many places I wanted to see but after two whirwind days, I couldn't get myself to move very quickly. I didn't leave until later that day. I was able to get out and get a taxi to the hotel where the group was meeting. After checking in I went to the Temple of Heaven. It was just two stops away on the metro. Such a beautiful temple with a huge park surrounding it.

This is a very important Taoist temple, built by the same architect as the Forbidden City, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can find more information from Wikiedia below:

When I got back to the hotel soome of the other teachers had arrived, so I walked to the famous Night Market, about 20 minutes away with one of the other teachers.
The market was incredible with lights and lanterns and all kinds and all kinds of souvenirs and food. I just had an egg roll but they were selling live scropians, or some kind of beetle on a stick!! Ew!!! I guess they fry them and people eat them; I don't know, but I shudder to think about it! I couldn't bring myself to eat any scorpions either. Anthony Bourdain would have been disappointed. Where is my sense of adventure, right?:)

Some photos from the market: