Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Chengdu (Day 7)


Just after writing my last blog entry on the 27th, I got the chills... then started burning up. I guess my climb up Hua Shan wore me completely out and I got a fever. Thankfully, the trip to Chengdu proved to be 17 hours, and I slept 15 of those hours. That didn't help much, though. Arriving in Chengdu I still felt completely burnt out, but I ate some fruit and drank more water and slept the rest of the day (the 28th). Woke up this morning at about 6:30. So I spent most of the last 72 hours sleeping. Not the best use of time, but some things can't be helped.

Feel much better this morning, but I'm not going to do anything too crazy. Just going to wander around a bit, see the Old Street and Wuhou temple and park (both nearby), and take an early night tonight. Tomorrow I'll go to the Panda Breeding Centre (sexeh) and the day(s) after that, I'll do Emei Shan and Leshan. Emei Shan isn't too high, nor too rigorous a climb, and I can't wait to see the Buddha of Leshan. (google it for pictures) As I'll still have time, I'll see about taking a small trip to a village or something (maybe Ya'an) to see some southern rural life.

After Chengdu, I've decided to head to Chongqing to do a Yangtze River cruise, then go to Guilin. I'm not actually sure if I can get a train from way east of Chongqing to Guilin, but I'll do what I can. If need be, I'll bus to the closest city and buy a train ticket there. Being lampooned somewhere in the middle of nowhere isn't a horrible thing.

I'll write more once I've actually done something Chengdu.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Xi'an (Days 1-5)

Alrighty, this is a whooper (and no pictures, so PG you can go check out a more colourful site. ;) ) Going to write this as I wrote in my little travel journal thingy, omitting some stuff.

Day 1
Had no issues in Beijing on Friday (23rd). It's 19:15 right now, and I'm on the train covering my first 1200 km of the trip. A group of peasants in the train waiting room stared at me for quite some time when I bought a folding chair. Beijing Xi Zhan (west station) is a monstrosity of a place. Fitting that I leave for my trip when that's where it all started when I was sent down to Shijiazhuang on the 21st of July.

The guys in my compartment are nice, and the female attendants are super friendly. Soft sleeper is quite a way to travel!

Just spent two hours speaking and playing cards with two of the guys in my compartment. Some TV show was on (like America's Funniest Home Videos, except just silly stuff and no blah blah) so I said "Ah, Meguoren" (Americans) and they had a good laugh. Following that convenient ice-breaker, we chatted about where I'd been, what I was doing... the altitude of Lhasa, Kunming and other places. All kinds of things, in other words. I then taught them how to play "diao yu" (Chinese go fish) and we played that for an hour and some. Nice guys! Time for sleepy sleep.

Day 2 - Xi'an (3.24)
Arrived - no problems - in Xi'an at 07:05. By 07:25, I had my ticket to Chengdu for the 27th, 22:10. Now I'm going to check out the centre city - the city walls, Drum & Bell Towers. Tomorrow, I'm off at 07:00 to see the Teracotta Warriors & Horse (and other things). The day after tomorrow, I'll go to Hua Shan, maybe. Need to find an internet bar...

Had a long day. I ate baozi (large dumplings) for breakfast. Emailed my mom, Angie and Suzi. Then I walked... I ended up walking about 12 km the whole day. I only taxi'd back. I walked to the wall and followed it south to the West Gate. Very nice walk through there. Then wandered down the main west street. Got distracted by a W.C. sign and wandered down what was a side street of the Muslim District. Ate you tai bing (cabbage fried roll) and accidentally found an awesome temple, all the writings in Arabic. It might have been the Great Mosque (note from 3.27... it wasn't)... but I doubt it. No one else was there. It was nice, though. Cats brought me to it.

Then wandered down a main market drag, still in the Muslim area, and feasted on skewers of lamb and some sort of sweet pastry.

Saw the Drum Tower, then the Bell Tower. The only part of that that was cool was looking out and seeing a gate at every cardinal point. In the spirit of walking, I found myself on a nice arts market street. Lots of hua (paintings) and shu fa (calligraphy). Took some good photos, and following that, I scaled the south wall and wandered about. Huge freakin' wall. It's about twice as wide as the Great Wall and approx 20 meters high.

Then, for a change of pace... I walked some more. I was kind of aiming for the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. Saw lots of neat things on my way. I even wandered through a university campus in search of a bathroom.

The pagoda wasn't really worth the walk, nor the admission price. To be honest, I think I'll be skipping most temples and such on this trip. If you've seen five, you've seen them all.

On my way back to the Fenghe Lu Hostel (blegh) I called a friend of Fancy's (sales girl from Tangshan). So she's on her way now (should be here for 17:00).

It was a nice day and hopefully we'll have a good supper. Then it's sleepy time and the Teracotta Army tomorrow.

(note - 3.27: had a good time with Fancy's friend, Kaitlyn, and her boyfriend, Xiao Mao (little Mao). We had hotpot and chatted for a while.)

Day 4 - Xi'an (3.26)
Day 3 was a great day, filled with teracotta, mausoleums, police chases and beer. Left the hostel at 08:20 or so and arrived at the 7 Sages Hostel (where I'm sitting comfortably now at 09:30 on the 26).

Met two German women and an American (Chinese) guy: Johanna, Kaitya and Nan. Ended up hanging out with them the entire day. Their hostel (this one) is so much nicer than mine. It's an old courtyard style hostel, changed over from a very old admin building and army barracks. Very cosy and calm. Wish I'd stayed here.

We hit the Teracotta factory first, which was great. It's where they make "official" figures for sale using ancient molding etc. techniques.

After that, it was off to Qin Shihuang's mausoleum and underground palace. Holy cheesy and tacky. And then...

Teracotta Warriors & Horse itself, around 10:45. It was awesome. The walk up was interesting. Basically, the actual mausoleum (untouched or even dug-up) is still under a hill, with the Teracotta Army to the east 1.5 km. Anyway, a modern old-school Chinese village was built between the road and the pits of the T.W. & H. ... then some weird-ass shopping plaza. It's pretty enough but sort of out of place.

The T.W. & H. itself was great. Pit 1 was the largest and most unearthed/restored. Just amazing. Pit 2 was the generals' HQ and camp, only partly restored. Pit 3 was disappointing, as 90% of it was just... dirt and rock, with the highlights of the ceiling beams containing the figures below. The final building was the museum itself. Funny to think that one of the greatest historical finds of the 20th Century was discovered by farmers trying to dig a well in 1974.

7.5 km away was the Hua Jing Chi (sp?) springs, the largest hot-springs in China (we were told...). Very very nice. The whole place was built by an emperor for his favourite concubine, Lady Yan.

I've got lots of pictures, anyway. Following that, we came back to the 7 Sages Hostel and worked out a trip together (Nan, Johanna and I) to Hua Shan. We leave in one hour (11:00). We had a nice beer in the courtyard, went for supper (fantastic) and hit the train station. 14 kuai for the train to Hua Shan.

Oh, then the taxi home last night... the driver pulled a fast one and was stopped by a nearby cop. He promised to pull off to the side... then tore off, laughing. Twenty seconds later (if that) he was trying to outrun and evade a police cruiser. There was a chase, with the end result being us almost rammed by the cruiser as he cut us off at 80 km/h. Lots of yelling then ensued. Quite memorable.

I'm back. On the train, supposedly standing tickets and we have top floor seats. Good deal for 14 kuai!

Day 5 - Hua Shan, Xi'an (3.27)
A great but exhausting day yesterday. We went 7 km and 1800 m (up). Quite a hike. The first 2 km were easy - the path was like a ramp. After that... it got ugly. Small stairs and some insane inclines. Some of them were 80-degrees, though most were 50-60 degrees, approx. Some very tough go's.

Anyway, after the train ride to Menyuan (stop for Hua Shan), we bought some food and water and got on a bus. When we were dropped off, we took some back alleys and bought fruit. Seeing a cobbler/leatherworker, I asked if he could punch two more holes in my belt. Everyone was (surprise) pointing and staring. That was my second "belt off" exhibitionism show. He also cut part of the belt length off. At least the guy got something to tell his friends about.

After that, we walked up to the Temple of Spring, partially under restoration (damn Olympics). Then into Hua Shan itself, the steepest and most dangerous of the Chinese sacred mountains. (so I've read and now believe)

Twice Chinese pilgrims/climbers asked Nan how much Johanna was paying to hire him out as a bag-carrier. That was fucking funny.

As we climbed, it gradually got colder. At the 4 km mark, we put our sweaters on. The trip past that point (the last 1.4 km to the North Peak) was chilly but we were sweating so didn't feel it til we stopped.

We arrived at the North Peak hostel at 18:15 and thought about stopping and staying, and making an early morning climb to East Peak the next morning. We decided against it, and headed out. 1 km later and 1h20m we finally got to a hostel near East Peak. We settled in for mantou (steamed bread) and instant noodles, and hit the sack. (Yay electric blankets!)

We awoke at 04:00 and started the black walk, rented flashlights in hand. There is no way we'd have made it in time for the dawn if we'd stayed on North Peak. Suddenly, I look around and there are patches of snow. It wasn't too cold, though, and by 05:15 the false dawn gave us enough wan light to see by. At 06:00 or so, we were at 2000 meters (up) and 8 km (forward?).

Twenty minutes later, the sun rose orange through a cloud-haze of pink and purple, shrouding the mountains. It was awesome. We were at the second-highest point on the whole mountain. (South Peak is 2100 m vs 2060 m on East Peak)

We enjoyed the walk a nice walk back to North Peak, the sun bathing the slopes all around us. My legs were ready to buckle. The walk down was worse than climbs up. Unfortunately, that meant that I was seeing the path we'd taken the previous evening. Black Dragon Ridge was brutal. This long, high ridge with almost sheer drops on both sides... maybe 2 meters across the ridge was.

Now we're headed back down by cable-car ("Eet's O'stre'an!") and I'm not sure how I'm going to spend the remainder of my day. I'll figure it out later.

Had an awesome walk down to Hua Shan village. It was about a 4.5 km walk down a gently-sloping road from the cable car drop off. Such a gorgeous stroll back down, walking through a meandering gorge next to a rushing stream. Took us an hour and some. The cable-car ride, though, was less than fun. My fear of heights has abated, but that damn thing... I hate being suspended like that.

Okay, I'm getting carpal tunnel syndrome, I gotta stop. There's more, but whatever. Next stop... Chengdu!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

And... not quite away

Nope, not gone yet, but it's a done deal. Started of the day by heading to the Tangshan train station this morning. Meant to do so yesterday, but I was lazy and late in getting up, so postponed. Stupidly, I ought to have checked the train station anyway to figure out tickets. Sadly, I didn't, so the answer was "mei you"... so good thing I went to Beijing. Got a train for tomorrow at 6:27pm, overnight to Xi'an, soft-sleeper.

Took care of that as soon as I arrived in Beijing. After that, I hit a noodle restaurant for something fast, then hit the subway. It feels like I spent half my day in the subway, now that I think about it. Andrew recommended some camera shops down on Qian Men street and found a 1gb card for 360 yuan. Not too bad. Then decided to wander back to the subway via Tian'an Men Square. It was a hazy day, so the pictures came out crappy. It really isn't much to see. Big square... monument... tree-enclosed museum/tomb. I guess I was expecting something a little more. Lots of people, anyway.

Then it was back onto the subway to Sanlitun area (or near there). Li li, Andrew's girlfriend, told me about a clothes/accessories superstore called Yashow so I managed to find that alright. Looked at a backpack they wanted 380 for and I got it for 260, so I was happy. It's a nice lil' pack, too. Then it was a quick walk to Sanlitun's bar street itself where I finally found and bought "In the Mood for Love", the Wong Kai Wei film that is the precursor to "2046". I'd been looking for it since I got here. (also got Clerks and the Usual Suspects)

Unfortunately... the total costs were in excess of 1,000 yuan (360 for camera card, 260 for backpack, 400 for ticket, 100 round trip bus ride). I was lucky to have enough left over for the bus back. (yay haggling)

So that's that. Just doing some final packing and making sure I have what I need. Then it's off into the wild blue. Or something. Looks like it'll only be 5 weeks of travel at this point, but that should still be plenty of time to see and do what I'd like to. The major concern was camera memory, and that's been taken care of. With a 1 gig stick, a 128 meg stick and the reserve 16 meg stick... I should be okay for well over 1000 pictures (if not closer to 2000). Which likely means that I'll be spending days renaming and organizing photos after this is all over. ... and breaking Flickr's servers with my uploads.

Anyway, that's it for now. I'm off. When next I write, it will be from the road.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Yong ta de "beep beep"

Yeah, a little bit drunk tonight (this morning). Last day, and we all went for supper at a western restaurant, had a beer, then rendezvous'd at the "baby face" KTV for 7. We just got back (1am). As per usual, had a good time. Sang a few songs with Alistair and Duncan, and enjoyed the harmonious and semi-harmonious wails of my comrades. (which is not to say that my wailing was in any way melodious.) The power went out about 30 minutes after we got there, and so we sat in the dark, drinking wine and beer for half an hour until the power came back. Then we sang away for another four hours. Coming home, the apartment compound gate was closed, which resulted in a "Yong ta de 'beep beep'" command from me ("Use your 'beep beep'"... me not knowing what a car horn is). Funneh.

Quite a day. Last day of classes for me. Morning was rough. My TB 3As were not happy. I had to defend my decision to leave. One of them called me a "swindler". Okay, actually her teacher at school gave her the wrong word for what I was doing, but it was funny in a sad way. They asked why I wasn't teaching 2 years instead of 8 months. They were not appeased by the "I want to get back to my girlfriend and if I stay any longer she'll kill me" issues. During break, they locked the door on me so they could finish writing on the board. I came in to a whiteboard filled with... well... the image to the upper left. I almost cried, but managed to contain myself. When class came to an end, four of them were crying, and I was again on the verge. They sat there for five minutes without moving. Then they stood up and wrote another message on the board, and all signed their names. I was quite stoic and managed to maintain it until they left, then I cried as I erased the boards. I promised to try to come back for April 29th, a Sunday, so I could see them one last time. I'll do my best.

Otherwise, things were pretty regular. Finishing up felt really really odd, though. There was no conclusion. Just an end to the classes, without the promise of a continuation. Even now I don't feel as though I've finished. I'm not sure what will pump that realization into my head. Wednesday, I suppose. Walking out of the office felt odd. I said goodbye as I usually do, but there were no happy faces or "see you on Wednesday!" responses. It just felt out of place. Nothing was settled and I felt... I don't know. That's part of the problem. I feel both happy and sad. It's a necessary conclusion, but one that doesn't feel concluded.

Tuesday will be a going-away supper + KTV. I'm not sure how that'll be. I hope it won't be sad, but I'm afraid it will be. They're all relieved I'm coming back at the end of April and not just disappearing. Anyway... Will have more to update soon, before I go, including a bunch more pictures from today and from supper and KTV on Tuesday. Right now, it's sleepy time for me.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Coming to a Close

I've told most of my classes that next weekend is my last. The response has been more... emotional than I had thought it would be. My TB 3As vehemently protested and flat-out said they didn't want to have another teacher and asked what would make me stay. My EF 5s were in shock and asked if I was serious. My HF Starters asked Lily if I meant I was going on vacation but coming back. It broke my heart seeing them confused and sad. My Early Learners don't know, nor do my HF 1As. I don't think there'll be much of a reaction from the ELs, due to their age, and not sure how the HF 1As will react. I've only just inherited them from Nick (6 weeks ago), so it might be an easier transition for them.

The really sad part is that within 2-3 classes of me being gone, they might remember me in name but they'll have a new attachment to the new teacher (or whoever takes over that particular class). It was the same for me when I took over Nick's classes, Michelle's Market Leader and Joe's Early Learners. Nick's HF 1As remember his name, but their attachment is to me. That's just the name of the ESL game. There are a few things I can claim to have done: Leo in my HF Starter class is writing now, Leo in my Early Learner class is addicted to saying "See you later!", and Sally in HF 1A is smiling - often and without reservation.

On the plus side, I've gotten tonnes of great pictures of my kiddie classes (up on Flickr). I can't stop looking at them. They just make me smile something fierce. They're such great kids, and teaching and entertaining them has been an enormous pleasure for me. As much as I love and miss people back home, I can't lie: I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. It's amazing how much saying "This is a short pencil, yes?" (pointing at an elephant) and receiving a boisterous and joyous "Noooo! It's a big elephant!" can make one's day. I don't think I'll find a job that can so easily keep me in high spirits, but we'll see.

Something I keep forgetting to mention is this: during Spring Festival, one of the teachers from one of the other English schools in Tangshan committed suicide. Not in a quiet kind of way either. It was quite sad, and hit the teachers at EF in a very personal way. I didn't know her, so I have to admit to not having much in the way of feelings about it. It was sad and shocking, but more in a "Wow... that shit's crazy" sort of way. Again, I'd never met her and had only hung out with her co-workers once or twice at Wu Huan or Han Li (bars).

In other news, we have a new teacher - my replacement, I suppose, though also Nick's. She's from the Philippines, and seems nice enough. She arrived on Friday and was doing observations all weekend. She watched my TB 2C class this afternoon. Hard to tell what she thought of their ummm... disability. I think she'll do alright. There's always a serious period of adjustment, and a massive learning curve. Hell, thinking of how I was teaching last summer makes me cringe. I'd never do now half of what I did then. It's like Joe said: "Teach the class, but plan the course." Hard to see the forest for all the trees in the beginning.

I had a great 1-on-1 Chinese lesson with Claire on Thursday. She was unrelenting, and didn't cut me any slack. I wanted to learn proper questions/answers dialogues for travel, so we did a train station scenario and I learned a lot that will help me immensely in the next two weeks. When I would have said "Wo yao yi piao qu Xi'an" I now know to say "Wo xiang mai yi zhang cong Tangshan dao Xi'an de piao", and how to ask for times and departures, and words for hard seats, soft seats and sleepers as well as times of day and other such things. Also, things like how to tell what they're doing that doesn't affect me: "Hao, rang wo kan yi xia... You ming tian xia wu xing ma?" (Okay, let me look. We have one for tomorrow in the afternoon (is that alright?)) "Keyi" (Works for me) or "Bu xing, tai wan le" (No good, it's too late). Etc. Just feels empowering to use the language properly, and use it outside of the boundaries of lessons. I had a good conversation with a taxi driver the other day, and today I answered a few parents' questions in Chinese. "Ta ting dong!" (He understands!) It's all the little things, I guess.

It was Lily's birthday last week, so I gave her a be-lated present: one of my hacky-sacks I'd bought in Canada. I think she's liable to pet it more than use it, but she was happy. They don't really have hacky-"sacks" here. They have... well, like modified badminton shuttle-cocks (image).

There are just so many things I'm going to miss. As much as seeing Roger and Kelly in the mornings made Distrust bearable, very little can compare to six chipper assistants greeting you when you walk in still half-asleep, followed by a class full of wee'uns shouting out "Good morning, Teacher!". The planning can be rough at times, but overall it's not a hard job. I never really thought I'd be all that great at it, and hell I guess there's no saying I am, though I'd like to think so. I'm not much of a people person, but I'm certainly coming back to Canada much different than I was with. The biggest change has been in how I think of myself. I've generally been more or less satisfied with who I was, but now I'm happy with it. You can't buy that kind of feeling. Who can say what 7,000 kms and 6 weeks wandering around the rest of China will do to/for me?

10 days left, and only 6 of them are working days.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Geek Rant

Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the earth under his sandaled feet. -- Robert E. Howard

Okay, I haven't indulged my uber-geek in a while, so here's a little video game spiel.

For about two years, I've been looking forward to Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. When I was 8 or 9, a cartoon called "Conan the Adventurer" came out about the legendary Cimmerian. Anyone remember that? Conan and his compadres never killed anything. They all had star-metal weapons, and those things turned Setians to dust just prior to touching them. As good a work-around to Saturday-morning-cartoon violence restrictions as any, I suppose.

Then when I was 10, I had a Conan game for PC and it was next to impossible to play well. By the time I was 13, I'd seen the movies "Conan the Destroyer", "Conan the Barbarian" and "Red Sonya", all starring (of course) Arnie, as my mom calls him. Last year I read all the Conan stories from 1932 to 1935 (I think), and loved them. Still need to buy the second volume.

So in late 2005 when Funcom announced that they'd secured the rights to create a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) based on the original Robert E. Howard canon, I was over-joyed... yet extremely skeptical. The market lately has become flooded with MMOs, most of them horrendous failures and/or rip-offs of existing games. The benefit of a MMO is subscription-based revenues: customers buy the boxed game, but also pay monthly fees. This makes MMOs enormous cash-cow potentials. Only a few have ever achieved that actuality: Sony's "EverQuest" and Blizzard's "World of Warcraft" (over 1 million players).

So here comes AoC, shouldering its way into the MMO scene, announced for release around the same time as "Lord of the Rings Online" and "Warhammer Online" were. "It'll be toast," thought I. "No way it will generate a good enough player base what with WoW still going, Warhammer coming out and Lord of the Rings on the way."

I'm no longer so sure of that. Since announcement, all the tentative concepts have become cemented reality (as they have to be) and the Funcom developers have really listened to their target community, changing aspects of the game to mesh with player wants. AoC will be completely different from any other MMO out there for many many reasons that are spoken of here.

A picture's worth a thousand words, and so a video at 68 pictures per second must be worth... ummm... a big number. Some incredible videos:

- Massive Battle video (all in-game footage)

Check out these area fly-throughs:
- city of Khemi
- Field of the Dead
- Conall's Valley

Excited is me.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Giddy as a School-Girl

Woohooo! No school! We got snowed-out overnight, and the snow's still falling. I haven't had school cancelled since high-school. It felt absolutely incredible when Alistair phoned me from the school to tell me. Like feeling years being washed away. Just that pure, selfish hedonism of zero obligations and the sense of having escaped something dire. In my case, I sort of did. I was supposed to have a show class this afternoon. When I do have it, it will be ugly. "Baby monkeys" ugly. Those poor, dense, hopeless kids.

This morning my class was cancelled because most primary and middle schools have called in all their faithful to do spring cleaning. I love China. Why hire custodial staff when there are hundreds of able hands at the ready who have to be there anyway? One of my most surreal memories of China will always be of a pudgy 12-year-old boy in school uniform hanging outside a window (perched precariously on the window bars/cage) to clean the outside of the classroom window. ... in the middle of a small dust-storm.

I certainly haven't gotten my mind around the fact that I have only two weekends left here. I get a pang of panic and fear. Silly thoughts like "But... what are my kids going to do? What if the next teacher messes up all the great habits and learning behaviours I've taught them? What will the kids do without me?" race through my head. As of right now, none of my students know that I'm leaving soon. I'll tell them next weekend, I guess, but I'll speak with Andrew before I do that. I don't want him to have to field parent calls and concerns. Kids do get attached to teachers, especially ones they've had through more than one class. Parents get very partial to teachers, and want their kids to have the comfort zone of consistent teaching (regardless of whether it's good or poor).

I had at least one moment in each of my four classes yesterday that made me supremely happy... and then horribly sad. Finished up my EL 2 class and little Andy tapped my bum as I was cleaning up all the phonics and adjectives flashcards. I turn around and he has this huge grin on his face, and he salutes me, feet snapping together and everything. I returned the salute with mock severity and his grin almost swallowed his face. In my HF-Starter class, one of the girls (Annie) was trying to remember another girl's name to say good-bye, and I mimicked a candy-eating action and sound-effect (the girl's name being Candy). A light goes off above Annie's head, and with all seriousness, Annie turns to Candy and waves, saying "Good-bye, Aum!" As I was crouched down, I fell over laughing, and Lily tripped over a chair and almost fell she started laughing so hard. Everyone, including 'Aum' and Annie burst into gales of laughter. The door was partially open, with parents gathered around outside and they were all laughing.

In my HF 1B class, I kept confusing their names on purpose and one little tiny girl named Vicki actually chased me around with a flashcard of a toilet, much to the class' amusement. In EF 5, we had a few good laughs doing predictions and reported speech. Got a new student, a 12-year-old boy named Anthony, which I thought would be a disaster but the guy almost carried the class. It reminded me of Family Guy episode when the cheerleaders all 'adopt' Stewie. The girls (mostly 15/16) took to Anthony right away and he did great.

But again... these all left me feeling incredibly sad as I realized that very soon those kinds of moments would be gone, that they'd have a new teacher and carry on while I go on my own way. I suppose that's the nature of all things, though, and why we should enjoy them while we have them and try our best not to take anything for granted. What we have today, we may not have tomorrow.

On a brighter, less serious note, Friday was the Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Jie, or "First Lunar-Month Night Festival"). It was a blast. Our winter course students all came in for two hours in the morning. No teaching involved. So my TB Bs all came in and Betty showed us how to make the lanterns (just construction paper, glitter, glue and some gift-paper). I told them they had to have something written on it both in Chinese and English. It worked out well. Traditionally, people would put riddles on their lanterns but we were shit outta luck for finding Chinese riddles. I put da feng on mine ("charity", I think). I wanted "generosity" which is kang kai but the Chinese characters were too tough to cut out - with scissors, anyway. Kids all had fun: they made lanterns, sang Chinese pop songs, and we did some English riddles.

Then we all shuffled in to the large activity room to dine on tang yuan which are basically chewy, gooey, dough-like sugar balls. Also, the school's camera went ppllllbbbt halfway through the morning, so they used mine, which means I have tonnes of photos from Alistair's, Camilla's and Duncan's classes when they were doing their lanterns. It all worked out nicely, anyway, and my lantern is currently jammed in a vent in my regular classroom where other students can ponder what the hell it's doing there.

So now with a day off I'm going to take full advantage of it by doing next to nothing and feeling smug knowing that I would otherwise be at school, sweating through a failure of a show class.