Cookie Activity Pictures

A handful of students at one of the “Cookie-making” tables.

As promised, some photos from the cookie making activity on Christmas night. These are just a handful. It takes forever to upload pictures with this internet connection,  so I know I’ll have a ton of shots to share later when we get back to the states.

For most of the students this was their first time making cookies. For some it was their first time eating chocolate chip cookies (THE BEST COOKIES IN THE WORLD).

I was placed “in charge” of the craft area….riiight. Does it look like I know what I’m doing?
It’s Santa Tom!! He’s asking the students questions in English about Christmas, and then he gives them candy.
Mixing the ingredients
Yeah, she knows what she’s doing better than I do.
Noelle and one of her students

Me helping them mix it up
Hillary with our table’s batch of cookies
Still nicely under Joyce’s control
Jim and Hillary looking on at the students’ progress
Sunny doing her part, too
Yeah, the pan is a bit big for that oven…but we made it work!
Erica and Betty with the students at their table.

Beijing and the Great Wall: Part 2 [better late than never]

The Great Wall at Mutianyu
In this part of the Wall there was foliage and brush growing all around. Made the scenery more breathtaking, and provided a few “artistic” shots.
Snapped a shot of us while we were in one of the observation towers along the Wall.
Off the beaten path. This section of the Wall was not open to the general public, but we ended up wandering passed the sign anyways. You can see how decrepit and overgrown this section has become.
Overgrown and untraveled for hundreds of years, but not forgotten.
We kept walking throught the trees and bushes until we came to what remains of an old observation tower.

Up ahead, still overgrown and unkept, the Wall stretches into and beyond the mountains.
This is the sign we ignored.

There are two ways to get down from the wall: Skii-lift or Toboggan ride. Guess what we chose…
The next day we wandered around Beijing. Tian’anmen Square and The Forbidden City.
We took this vacation during the National Day holiday, so we also saw a lot of military marches.

Just one of the many people who kept wanting pictures taken with us. I wish I could find out how many pictures we turn up in by the end of this year. People just randomly snap phtos of us all the time.
Jade is a huge piece of Chinese culture. All over the place there were Jade statues and carved trinkets that Dynasties have valued for hundreds of years.
The artistic carvings on the roofs and the edges of the buildings were quite impressive.
Standing inside the first courtyard of the Forbidden City

It’s goodluck to touch these red knobs. I have no idea why.

We explored the Forbidden City and snapped pictures all day, taking in the history and the beauty of the place. As they usually do in China, the hordes of people eventually got a bit bothersome, so we began walking back to the train station to make our way to the airport.

Along the way we were stopped by a man on a rickshaw (like a pedicab–a man riding a bike with a carriage on the back of it). Now, I should have known he was trouble, but alas, hindsight and all…Anyway, we bargain a price I perceive to be 30 rmb. He nods his head and reconfirms the price by showing me his fingers. All is good. Noelle and I climb in and off we go. After just a moment another rickshaw driver peddles over and makes some big commotion over the carriage being off-balance or whatnot. So Noelle is ushered into the seat of the second driver’s ride. We amble about the city, cruising along peacefully, taking in the sights–which include the rundown back neighborhoods and the darker street corners. We’re supposed to be going back to Tian’anmen Square.

My driver turns down one of those alleys that looks like it could be a stop on a murder tour of Beijing. Of course no one is around. Noelle’s ride shows up. I climb out of mine and walk over to her as she gets out. I open my wallet to pay the man. When I hand him the money he laughs. Laughs? He motions that it is not enough. The other driver, a man in his mid to late thirties, comes over. I remind both of them of our agreed upon price to no avail. Instead, as proof of their legitimacy and upstanding entrepreneurial prowess, they both rummage around in a pouch on the front of their bikes and produce a laminated card with names of destinations and prices listed on them in English. Both point to Tian’anmen Square. Next to the name is 300 rmb. Yeah, right, I tell the guy. He doesn’t seem to appreciate that at all. Both begin to get worked up as I explain to them that that is not going to happen. BUT then they manage to convey to us that since we technically took two bikes, the price is doubled. 600 rmb! It’s at this time that I’m considering seriously just knocking both of these thugs over their bikes and telling Noelle to sprint for the back of the alley where I see an open fence. All of us are getting riled up by then. Their voices are raised and they’re standing next to one another as if by doing so it makes them more intimidating. Being in a dark alley, no one around, and quite literally fenced in–they weren’t doing such a bad job. Still, I refused to pay that absurd price.

I don’t remember grabbing it exactly, but somehow 150 rmb materialized in my hand and I angrily hand it to the man just to shut him up. I tell him, “That’s it! I’m not giving you anymore!” It falls on deaf ears. At some point Noelle begins to shuffle through her wallet and for some reason is clutching onto 250 rmb. Mind you, she’s not holding it out or anything. It’s very much still in her grip and half in her wallet. But that doesn’t stop one of the guys from plucking it out of her hands. The money disappears into the man’s pockets faster than I can follow it. Now they have 400 rmb of our funds, 250 of which has basically been stolen, and I cannot get it back from him. My only two options are knock this son of a gun out or just tuck my tail between my legs, take the licks, and get out of Dodge. I think very hard and long on the first option. After all, I probably outweigh my driver by 20 lbs and the other one doesn’t look like he’d be too difficult to flip over his bike. As the men both continue to posture and rant in Chinese about how we’re ripping them off the red I’m seeing dissipates enough for me to follow the consequences of my possible actions. Should I actually engage in a fight with these men police involvement is a likely occurrence. We’d only been in China a few weeks at this point, but I’d already heard horror stories about what THAT could be like. Granted, that was a far-fetched idea, but as a foreigner you never know. Then how would that call go? “Hi, Mom. Uh, can you send me bail money? I’m in Chinese prison.” Right.

In the end, after no small amount of yelling, I tell Noelle to start walking toward the fence. They try to stop us, but I swing around and make a sweeping, finalizing motion with my hand. “Enough, dang it!” the move says. Admitting defeat, or just realizing that they can’t shake us down for anything more, both men wave their hands at me dismissively. We leave the alley.

In a display of what I can only think of as Karmic balance or Cosmic Slap-stick, right after we make our way from that alley two strangers help us find the right train station, give us accurate directions, and wish us the best.

Later, as our plane is taking off, I think back to the Red Lantern Hostel. I think of Fiona, the Scottish lawyer we met. She had been caught in a scam just two days ago. Around Beijing it’s known as the Tea Scam. Without understanding the particulars, the scam seems to involve several people: a group of seemingly nice strangers that take a foreigner into a tea shop for a cultural treat, and the tea shop workers themselves. The foreigner will be given some boxes of tea–continually told how cheap they are–and then sat down to enjoy a traditional “tea show” (whatever the heck that is) that depicts ancient methods of tea things I guess. After it’s all said and done the foreigner is given the bill. Taxed wantonly, put together like it’s some sort of intercepted WWII code, and misdirected as if the whole ordeal was done by magician, the receipt leaves the foreigner flummoxed and close to tears. What was once of minimal cost has now nearly broke her.

As we climb higher into the air I think about how upbeat Fiona seemed as she retold that horror story. She lost more than a thousand rmb and she still remained in high spirits, and 400 was dampening mine. By the time the plane landed in Dalian I resolved to look at it as a learning experience. After all, in every movie the protagonists get swindled at some point, right?

Learn and move on.

I just didn’t think we’d get another opportunity to grow so quickly.

As we walked through the lobby of the terminal a man in a leather jacket catches our attention by asking if we need a ride in a cab. We’ll, yeah, we do, we tell him. This didn’t seem as odd then as it does now, ok. Keep in mind that the main mode of transportation is by cab. There’s a whole line of them out front and we thought, hey, it’s pretty lucky that we caught this guy instead of having to stand in line.

So we follow him through the lobby,  out through the back door and down a dark stairwell. The whole time Noelle and I are looking at each other with that look. At the bottom of the steps I stop the guy and haggle price. He wants 200. Out of the question. I explain to him that even though it is National Day holiday, our ride to the airport a few days ago was only 80. I don’t budge. He relents, but does so in a way I can’t quite feel good about. He points to each of us, himself included, in turn and then holds up his hands to indicate 80. Does that mean 80 all together or 80 each? I breathe this concern to Noelle as the man leads us out into the lightless parking lot. He motions for us to stay here while he goes and gets his car. Um, ok. If this guy is a cabbie why would he park out over here? Noelle and I quickly decide that we’ve been screwed around with enough for one day. As the guy stops in front of a black sedan we make our decision. That’s not a cab and he’s not a cabbie. We run toward the front of the airport, to where the crowds are gathering around the long line of actual cabs. We merge into the thick of it and watch as the would-be driver inches along behind us, slowly scanning the throng of people.

Eventually we get into a legitimate cab only to pay 100 rmb! BUT at least with an actual cabbie you get a receipt and that can be reimbursed by the school. When we get back to Kaifa Qu we both experience a sudden appreciation for the small town within a city. We get some cheap dinner and then head back to the apartment.

Vacation is about over and the start of our first real work week in China is about to begin.


Even Chinese kids have germs!

As I type this with my right hand my left hand is holding a tissue to my nose.

For the last threeish days I’ve been waking up with a sore throat and runny nasal cavities. Back in the states I never got sick, but being in China, arriving during the changing of the seasons, walking EVERYWHERE when we need to travel, and playing with little munchkins everyday has taken its toll on me. I’m just surprised Noelle hasn’t gotten the sniffles yet. She usually gets six different versions of the plague during the winter and each time she starts back at her old daycare in the summers. It wouldn’t be so annoying if we hadn’t forgotten our ziploc baggy with our over the counter meds on the other side of the world!


Two days ago we took a few hours and walked up “UFO Mountain.”

A UFO that crash landed in China during the 40s…Nah, just an observation thingy.

It’s not really called UFO Mountain, but you can see why it has acquired that handle, right?

And at night it’s lit up all blue. I’ll get a shot of that soon.

This mountain, which is really more like an overgrown hill, is just down the street from our apartment complex. It’s surrounded by nice hiking trails that can get decently steep. The park sits at the base, right along our walk to the school everyday.

About half way up you can catch this view of the city between the valley that’s formed.

We have a nine-day holiday coming up this weekend, so I plan on hiking through most of the trails. I know Noelle wants to run them before it gets really cold, too.

This isn’t an ancient Buddhist bell or anything, but it was along the way up to the UFO.

There’s this little stop off where some folks were eating their lunch and just hanging out. Off to the side there was this really cool looking stone walking path that led to something called “Lover’s Garden.” It was fenced off to the public, but I stepped over the chain anyways and coaxed Noelle into doing the same. I’m glad we did. Large stones with Chinese characters carved into them littered what I soon realized was the very edge of the mountain.

We walked around a short path and there, stretching out forever, was the ocean.

You can see another corner of the city here, too…
I have no stinkin’ idea what that winged horse statue thing is, but I’m going to hike over there soon and find out.

We kept hiking on up the path, but before we got to the top we ran into some of these ribbons that were tied to trees. My best guess (and that’s all it is) is that they’re from the “lovers” that have visited the “Lovers Garden,” which, by the way, is a horrible name for the stone pathway…there was not one flower to be seen. Now, I’m not a botanist or even into horticulture; heck, I can barely remember to water a cactus enough to keep it alive, but I just think that anything with the word “garden” anywhere in its name should have flowers somewhere in the vicinity. And overgrown weeds don’t count.

We kept going up. Really our only option.

“It’s weird to be so close to the ocean and not be on vacation.” ~ Noelle
Hanging out
One last look at our city on the way down…

It didn’t show up well in the pictures, but on the other side of the city there is a big mountain the other Westerners call “Big Black Mountain.” There are a few temples on it and to get up one side and down the other it takes about a whole day. We’re going to do that probably Sunday, so hopefully we’ll be posting some nicer pics of the local scenery. Also on our itinerary for the break is the Dalian Zoo, where, I’ve read, you can feed live chickens to the lions and the tigers, and even a goat to the hyenas if you so choose. American zoos just don’t know what they’re missing. Hah.

We may even get to Beijing to see the Forbidden city and the Great Wall. We’ll see.

For now, I just want to get over this cold. Tomorrow morning we have a shopping class with one of the Eastern teachers before work. We’ve gone to the store a few times so far, so It’ll be interesting to see how much we’ve messed up ’til now.

Frosties: They’re Grrreat!

Ni Hao! -Hello!

Don’t let that fool you; I have no idea how to go much further than simply greeting someone. And to boot, my accent and intonation probably hits the native Chinese ear like some of the more colorful caterwauling of past Idol rejects. Will that deter me?


Noelle and I have been here exactly…um…(counting the days out on my fingers) SIX days. Yes, somewhere over the pacific we lost about twelve hours, but I’m almost positive it was Saturday night when we arrived here in Dalian (the trip threw off my internal clock!). This week has been packed with a ton of new things. Honestly, when just walking around your block kicks you in the teeth with culture shock then it’s safe to assume that in the course of a week there are innumerable quantities of learning afoot.

Some of the learning–most of it–doesn’t take place in a classroom.

Yesterday Noelle and I met one of our supervisors, Miles, at the front gate of our apartment around 7:30 am. The three of us walked to the light rail (walking is basically the only means of travel for us–well, that and cabs, but the traffic here is quire literally insane or just off its meds, very worthy of a separate entry) and headed for downtown Dalian. Dalian splits up into three main parts: Downtown Lushunkou District (DT), Kaifaqu (KFQ-pronounced Caw-fa-chew), and Zhuanghe Distric to the NE of the peninsula. Once there, an Eastern teacher (ET) from the DT school traveled with us to one of the area’s hospitals for our “body checks.”

I wish I could have taken pictures. I swear, this “hospital” was the most unnerving thing I’ve experienced since getting here. Let me just say that there are many high quality institutions that dabble in the fine art of practicing medicine all over China. I’m sure many of the world’s brightest minds can be found in some of these facilities. I’m just not convinced any of them would be at the hospital we visited.

We walked into a dimly lit off-white building with water and rust stains along the walls and ceilings, several men smoking throughout the halls, and lines of patients (I think) bunched up against windows, awaiting their turn to register with the very young looking nurses. Then we were led by our ET down more dim halls to another nurse, this one older looking, sitting behind a table with plastic, thimble-sized cups to her right. We gave her our paperwork and she handed me one of the lidless cups. Once in the bathroom flashes from the first Saw movie kept coming to mind. Tiles were broken on the floor, rust clung to every metal surface like bad facial hair on English majors, the pipes beneath the cracked sinks looked more than a hundred years old, the windows were busted and had bars on them, old mops scowled at me from the corners of the room, and I swear a skeleton could have been stacked between some of the old construction supplies to the left of the stall. It’s pretty sad that the nicest element to the hospital’s bathroom was the hole in the ground where you do your business. Needless to say, I passed on that particular part of the body test, at least until I could muster up enough courage to brave contracting tetanus.

We waited in three other long lines until we had both received an X-ray of our chest, an EKG, blood pressure test, blood test (I witnessed them unsealing new needles each time, thank God!), and a sonogram. Yeah, they laid me down and made me pull up my shirt so they could slop some of that goo on me. Gotta tell you, never thought I’d get a sonogram test done. I kept fighting the desire to ask them if it was a girl or a boy.

Oh, and privacy? Not so important if you’re a dude there. As the nurse is wiggling that darn sonogram thingy up and down my stomach and chest a handful of curious Chinese, Indian, and South African patients take that moment to just have a looksee at the American. From what she tells me, Noelle had a similar experience, so at least it wasn’t just my bad luck. Good thing I’m not that self-conscious! Eventually we do make it out of there with all the necessary stamps (the Chinese stamp everything to authenticate it) and a clean bill of health.

The hospital aside, Dalian, or more specifically, the area we live in, Kaifaqu, is beginning–slowly–to feel like homeish. We’re getting to know the streets a bit better and after work tonight we managed to make a successful grocery run AND get Noelle a street-merchant purse that we haggled for. The girl wanted 75 RMB but Welly got her down to 55. That’s about 10 US bucks. Ignoring the fact that just after our purchase the merchant and another girl shared a laugh while throwing looks in our direction, I think Noelle made out O.K.

Tomorrow is Saturday, but here Sat and Sun are actually our long days at the school. We have to be in by 8 am, so I’m going to toss some pictures up here and hit the hay.

Can you guess what this is?

It’s sold in a box…and you can find it in aisles near soft drinks….





You got it: Milk. Here it’s sold in little bags that are kept in boxes–warm, not cold!
This is a pic of my first Chinese purchase. Candy. The pieces look like little pink dough balls with jelly-like goo in the middle. Quite good, actually.
This isn't a great pic, but it kinda shows what it's like at night. This is a hotel that's lit up, but everywhere at night you can see flashing lights. Some streets look like Vegas even though they might just be corner stores. Flashing lights are kinda the thing to have if your a business here.
At night a lot of shops and stores are lit up like this along a few streets. Reminds me of Vegas.

One of my fav cereals has a different moniker here in the Orient!

One of my favorite cereals has a different moniker here in the Orient!!

I’m trying to get some nice shots of the area we’re in, but, as it turns out, I’m not much of a photographer. I”ll keep at it though!