Posted by: thelocaldialect | September 3, 2010

Toughening Up

We started a new school year this year and we have a new principal to go with it (every time I write the word “principal” I remember how in elementary school they taught us the difference between “principle” and “principal” by telling us to remember that the principal is your “pal.” But I digress). This new principal seems to be a no-nonsense sort of guy who is dead set on whipping our crop of deadbeats young people into shape.

I do have some very talented students, but I also have a lot of extremely lazy rich kids who are used to getting what they want when they want it. Up till now, this included their grades. While grade doctoring is not uncommon in Chinese schools the problem had gotten completely out of control over the past year, to the point where quite a few of my students didn’t even bother writing anything on their final exam because they were so confident that their grades did not matter, that their parents would fix everything for them. It is impossible for me as a teacher to try and motivate students who think, no, who know that no matter how poorly they perform they’ll never be held accountable. They’re teenagers, they’re not self aware enough to understand that they need to do well in spite of being rich and having connections, that their education is one thing that they can control. They can’t control their parents’ fortunes, not yet. They can’t control the economy, illness, death, or any of the remote possibilities that could take those fortunes that they so count on away from them. However, they can control their own futures and make it so that they’re not reliant on their parents money for the rest of their lives. But try telling this to a bunch of teens who know it all. Why participate in class and try to better themselves when they could just as easily sleep through the whole thing and get the same outcome as the kids who bust their asses trying?

So imagine their surprise when on the first day of school they were told that from now on there would be no more grade doctoring. Our school has entered into a dual degree program with a high school in America and in order to be affiliated with this high school our school must do things on the up and up. There can be no grade fixing, and more than that, the school is cracking down on stuff like cell phone use during class, skipping, lateness, and poor behavior. They’re so serious about this that they’ve told us teachers that if they catch us letting students get away with poor behavior then they’ll dock our salaries. How real this threat is I don’t know but it certainly gives me more authority with the students.

There was a lot of grumbling today and a lot of the students obviously have not adjusted their attitudes and still think they can coast on by doing nothing. As the semester progresses we’ll see if these kids have a rude awakening or not. My students are seniors, this is their final and most important year, something that many of them will realize too late. Hopefully this new year will see the beginning of a new, higher standards at our school.

Posted by: thelocaldialect | August 10, 2010

We’re Back!

After nearly a month on the road, we’re back in Beijing!

Three train rides ended up being involved — one mammoth 45 hour trip from Beijing to Kunming, a shorter jaunt of 18 hours from Beijing to Guilin, and then a medium sized journey from Guilin back to Beijing. A few bus rides between Kunming and Yiliang and then again between Guilin and Yangshuo were also involved.

The kids were real troopers and took to the train pretty well. For the ride back to Beijing we were in soft sleeper as everything else was sold out (in fact, hard sleeper tickets from Guilin to Beijing sold out within 20 minutes of going on sale, definite shenanigans there), which was actually quite comfortable. Dylan had his DVD player and a bunch of toy cars (three of which managed to get nicked by other kids), and Annika had, well, she had me, her blanket and a place to sleep so she was happy.

My card reader is broken yet again so I can’t post pictures just yet. For some reason my CF card always bends the little bars in the reader and I have actually gone through several already so I’m not quite sure what to do at this point. I can’t directly link my camera to the computer to upload anymore since Dylan dropped it and that function stopped working. Maybe I’ll take the card and get a disk made tomorrow.

Well it is extremely late here so I’m headed for bed, but just wanted to make a quick post first. Goodnight all!

Posted by: thelocaldialect | July 13, 2010

Kunming Kunming

Tomorrow we’re headed back to Kunming for what is quickly becoming an annual trip. We’re doing it by train, with both the kids, because tickets are really pricey at this time of the year and Dylan, nearing 3 years old, cannot fly for free anymore. So once more we’re braving 40+ hours on the train, covering a great many of China’s provinces, crossing the Yangzi river, in order to spend some time in “our” hometown.

This time while in Kunming we have several important tasks. The first one is to get the kids exit permits so that they can (fingers crossed) make a visit to America next year. They need exit permits because, as American citizens born in China, they have American passports that are completely blank, no visas. Since they can’t exit the country on blank passports (apparently, although personally I don’t see why not …) the local public security bureau has to issue them one time exit permits. The next important task is to get several documents that Wang Yao will need in order to process his application for a green card. While we haven’t decided 100% on the timing of Wang Yao’s greencard application, getting one for him seems unavoidable. There’s no other good way, at the moment, to allow him to travel back and forth between both countries. We have to plan this green card thing carefully though, because once you have a green card you’re supposed to have the intention of staying in America, so if we don’t have that intention yet, then there’s not much use in getting him one. But we’re going to get the documents anyhow, because things seem to be, for the time being, pointing in that direction.

Of course we’re also super excited to see family and friends who we haven’t seen in a year. I’m particularly happy about seeing my old partners in crime, Mike and Lesley. Mike and I used to get into no ends of trouble in Kunming and he is one of the few of my original gang of friends, who I met on a School for International Training study abroad program, still remaining in Kunming. Another of my OG Kunming buddies is Lesley, a fellow UT grad who is working on her PhD in Anthropology at Cornell and is now doing fieldwork in Kunming. My SIT friends and I initially only spent a semester together in Kunming as undergrads, but the situation was incredibly lifechanging and we’ve formed lifelong friendships which started as something China based but grew into something much richer.

Also on tap are visits to the hometown and Dali, if we can squeeze a trip in. Going back to Kunming is always a bit bittersweet because it was my home for so long and I still am incredibly attached to the place. Somewhere deep down I always feel like it is where I belong, but right now living there is just not realistic for our family, so Kunming has to just be a place we visit and hopefully one day we’ll be back there permanently, even if it is when we’re old and grey.

Anyhow, wish us luck on our massive train trip. We did it last year with only one kid, but now there are two! At least Xiao Yu will be with us on the way there (she’ll not be rejoining us in Beijing, but more on that in another post) so we’ll have three pairs of eyes on the two kiddos.

See you on the other side!

Posted by: thelocaldialect | May 4, 2010

Father, Son and a Big Music Festival (with mom too)

Last Saturday Dylan went to his second music festival, this time to one of the biggest in China, the Midi festival in Haidian park. Although this year’s festival lasted four days, we only went to the first day since our friend’s band, Shan Ren, was playing on Saturday. The lead singer of Shan Ren, a guy nicknamed Lao Wai, is someone that both my husband and I knew before we knew each other. After we started dating we learned that we had many mutual friends, so many that it was hard to believe we hadn’t really run into each other sooner. At the time Lao Wai was playing in both Shan Ren and another band, the band of the guy who was eventually responsible for Wang Yao and I getting together. In any case I used to watch Lao Wai play almost weekly and knew him rather well. Wang Yao used to play small gigs in Kunming dive bars with him, so both of us were happy to see an old friend onstage and went out to show our support.

The Midi Mainstage

In the meantime while waiting for Shan Ren to come onstage we checked out a bunch of folk music on one of the smaller stages. Wang Yao is a musician and he mostly considers himself a folk singer. Recently he’s gotten quite inspired by several local folk musicians that we didn’t much have the opportunity to associate with or even see perform when living in Kunming. In particular he’s liking Zhou Yunpeng, a blind singer/guitarist who we saw live on our anniversary back in December. The folk stage was very chilled out and a good place for a toddler to run around — not too noisy and with a nice laid back crowd that wasn’t about to trample him or anything. We managed to see most of a set by Dongzi, a performer I quite like, and another guy, Zhao Muyang, a drummer for loads of famous people like Xu Wei, who has come out and started doing his own solo acts which are strongly influenced by Northwestern folk singing. I suppose we were probably missing much more famous rock and roll people over on the mainstage while we hung out with the folk-rockers but the music was much more our speed.

Zhao Muyang

Dylan at play

Finally Shang Ren came on and we left the folk stage and made our way over to the main stage. Dylan is probably Shan Ren’s youngest little fan — he loves their music, which is a mixture of rock and Yunnanese folk. Most of it is sung in Yunnan dialect, which cracks Dylan up. He’s at a stage where he gets that there are different languages in the world and he finds other languages unbelievably funny and laughs uncontrollably when he hears a language other than Mandarin Chinese. There’s one Shan Ren song in particular that gets him every time. So although he was a bit exhausted by the time the band’s set started, he remained in good spirits throughout. We were not as close to the stage as I would have gotten had we not been there with my toddler, and I don’t have a good telephoto lens, so the pictures I got of their set were mostly unimpressive, but I did manage to get a few decent shots.

Shan Ren onstage at Midi

Later on we were able to catch up with our old friend for a few minutes and made plans to meet again later in the week. We also manage to track down Stuart, a fellow teacher at my school who I actually have known for about four years. He’s another Kunming – Beijing transplant who has having a hard time adjusting to Beijing but hopefully the realization that Beijing has events like Midi which honestly, Kunming, as hard as it tries, really just can’t pull off (despite the Snow Mountain music festivals which have been successful, but rare occurances). We finally made it back home by about 10pm having managed to just barely beat the crowd by skipping out on the last act, the headliner He Yong (sorry He Yong, but we just weren’t really feeling it).

Wang Yao was remarking on the way home how lucky Dylan is that at the ripe age of two and a half he’s already been to two rather large music festivals. Dylan is certainly growing up surrounded by music — whether that makes him love or loathe it in the future remains to be seen, but for now he seems to enjoy the fun and commotion of it all. Let’s hope music continues to be, if not a passion, at least something that he and his father can share.

Dylan and Wang Yao enjoy the show

Posted by: thelocaldialect | April 19, 2010

I’m 30!

I had my birthday on Friday and bid my 20s goodbye. My husband and I were also able to go out for dinner (Indian food, which I never get to eat with the kids) and a movie, made possible since the arrival of our niece who is working as an au-pair for us taking care of the kiddos. It went well, much better than our previou attempt at going out to eat, when we came home to a hysterical baby and our 2.5 year old with a big old cut on the back of his neck. Cui Yu seems to have gotten the hang of things a bit more recently though and is a lot more comfortable with the kids on her own.

My birthday wasn’t ridiculously eventful, but it was nice getting out. We had planned on going out and hearing some live music but the show we’d wanted to see was cancelled and replaced with a noise music performance. I can’t stand noise music, I get enough noise in my day to day life, so we went and saw a movie instead — Clash of the Titans, in 3D no less. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a giant man-eating scorpion coming at you in 3D. That’s hardcore stuff right there.

I’m on lunch break right now and have to go back and teach a class of Indonesian and Korean students in a couple of hours so this will be a short entry. I don’t really like teaching this class very much, as for some reason the Korean students are really disrespectful, much worse than my normal Chinese students. They chatter away incessantly in Korean and I have no idea what they’re talking about. Now I know what it must feel like to be a new teacher in China and not speak the language. It bugs me that I can’t understand my Korean students because I feel like they’re probably talking about me. Not much I can do about that though, I’m not going to go and learn Korean for them, that’s for sure. My Indonesian students, on the other hand, are angels, so well behaved, quiet, respectful and happy. Still I’d take Chinese students over either, since at least I know what to expect with them.

I’m off to make a pre-class cup of coffee. Until next time ….

Posted by: thelocaldialect | March 20, 2010

Mao Zedong and Hu Jintao

In the “out of the mouths of babes” category, my son has come up with a couple of new words that would be sure to raise a few eyebrows back home. After watching (probably too much) Chinese TV, Dylan has decided that anyone dressed like a soldier — from Chinese, to Americans, to WW2 era Germans — is “Mao Zedong.” Watching his dad mow down an enemy combatant while playing some Medal of Honor-esque war game (can you tell we’re not too bothered about limiting his exposure to violence? In our defense, we live in China where there are stories about children grenadeing Japanese troops in the primary school textbooks) on the computer just now he proclaimed “Uh oh, Mao Zedong is broken!” Where does this all stem from, you might ask? A couple months ago we watched a miniseries Red Cradle, which was about the glory days of the Chinese Red Army, back when the Chinese Communist party was full of idealistic young people out to save their country through revolution. This miniseries featured a young Mao Zedong quite prominently and somehow Dylan linked the uniforms to the name Mao Zedong.

A kinder, gentler Mao Zedong in Red Cradle, glowing after the birth of his child

Despite being almost 2 and a half, Dylan doesn’t quite “get” the concept of names. He tends to see them as categories. So what category is Hu Jintao? Naturally, men in suits. After watching the evening news and seeing the Chinese National People’s Congress every single night, which would start off by introducing the members, with Hu Jintao leading the pack. After hearing “Hu Jintao” repeatedly for about a week Dylan took it into his head that men wearing suits and ties were all called Hu Jintao.

The Suited Man himself, Hu Jintao

My husband has pointed out that this particular language quirk could get us some stinkeye in public, especially around old folks who take their Communist heroes quite seriously still. Just today Dylan was looking at old pictures of his dad and calling him “Mao Zedong Jie Jie,” or “Big Sister Mao Zedong,” I suppose making a crack about the vaguely military style clothing Wang Yao was wearing in the picture, along with his long hair loose down to his shoulders. “No,” I said, “that’s not Mao Zedong, and that’s not your jie jie, that’s your father.” But he just cracked up and said it again, “nope, mama, this is Big Sister Mao Zedong!” Dylan can be quite the cutup when he wants to be. Luckily we don’t live in the China of days gone by, otherwise his taking the piss with the names of much revered political figures could land us in a struggle session.

Posted by: thelocaldialect | March 10, 2010

Enough Already With the Snow

I have got to say, in a stark contrast with last year, when I was expecting snow and didn’t see any snowfall in Beijing until the end of February, this year I am absolutely sick of snow. When will Spring arrive? It snowed two days ago and I thought surely that we would not get anymore snows after this. March 8th, afterall, is quite late in the season for snow no matter where you live. However, I just took a look at the forecast and there’s a chance of snow again on Sunday. I have had enough of snow. The thing about snow in Beijing, especially early snow (we had our first snow here on November 1st this year!) is that because temperatures stay below 0C for quite some time, the snow never really melts, it just hardens and blackens into a really disgusting sort of polluted grey ice. Snow is usually pretty, but after 2 months or so on the ground Beijing snow can be pretty nasty. I most certainly do not want it to snow again. For the last two snowfalls at least I’ve been saying to myself, that this is definitely the last snow of the season, no doubt about it. I’m bound to be right at some point, aren’t I?

I’m ready for Spring. I’m ready for all this snow and ice to melt, ready to take out the short sleeved shirts and put away the down jackets. I’m ready to see green again. This was a great winter — my daughter was born, my parents and brother came to visit, our niece arrived from Yunnan — but I’m ready to say goodbye. At this point I feel like we’re just going to skip Spring and jump straight into Summer, which would be uncool, to put it lightly. Beijing is know for having four distinct seasons, so where’s Spring already?

Posted by: thelocaldialect | February 27, 2010

The First Week

This week was my first week back and work and also our first week with our niece living with us as a nanny/housekeeper. Both have been going well, with a few snags along the way, as was expected.

Actually, I shouldn’t complain at all about work because when I went to pick up my schedule on Monday I got a huge surprise — I’m only teaching eight hours this semester! This happened due to the convergence of two circumstances, the first being that my graduating seniors are focusing on their math and science subjects this semester in preparation for their AP exams and taking fewer English courses, having already finished taking the TOEFL, the English language exam they need to get into colleges in America, the second being that while I was on maternity leave the school hired a part time teacher to cover my classes and now that I’m back and another full time teacher (a good friend of mine from Kunming, in fact, someone who used to work at the school I started there) is arriving, there’s a surplus of teachers. The school could have let the part-timer go, but they wanted to keep him around just in case, since decent foreign teachers aren’t easy to come by. So what that all means is that I am working eight hours a week. I have several days where I only teach a class or two, and on Thursdays I have no classes. I really couldn’t have asked for a better schedule to start back at work again. To top it all off, four of my eight hours are teaching a “preparation for overseas study” course that was sort of my own creation. It is a fun class where I go in and talk to my graduating seniors about what they can expect from life in America, cultural differences, college and campus culture, and stuff like registering for courses and getting along with your roomates. It is a lot of fun and they have loads of questions and are very curious about what to expect.

However, work is work, and it has been hard to leave my baby at home when she’s so small, even if it is only for a few hours a week. I know that I’m very lucky in that department though, because so many working mothers have 40 or 50 hour weeks, like I used to have at my original Beijing job, and this job, which allows me to work so few hours for the same amount of pay is really something I shouldn’t take for granted.

Another something we should try hard not to take for granted is the presence of our niece who has come to help us take care of our kids and look after our house. Cui Yu is seventeen years old and this is her first time being well and truly out of the home. She does a pretty good job so far, although I have to say that I feel a twinge of jealousy when she takes my daughter and gets her happy and smiling, which is silly, but I feel like already her bond with me is becoming less and less her only real bond, and more and more she’s opening up to more people. This is, of course, a good thing, but I did sort of cherish that time when I was her everything. Cui Yu has been taking Dylan out to the park too and she’s told me that people ask if he is her son, which makes me a bit territorial. I feel ridiculous feeling like I’m competing with a seventeen year old for my kids’ affection, but I am sure it is a combination of things — going back to work, Annika being so small, and having to share our space with someone new. In any case, Cui Yu, when all is said and done, is good with the kids but she’s still young and has a lot to learn. She has a tendancy to spend too much time chatting on the internet and I had to talk to her about holding the baby more when she is left with her, rather than just putting her in the bouncy chair or in her swing. Annika is a relatively laid back baby and she’s happy to sit in her bouncy chair for what seems like hours, but that doesn’t mean that it is the optimal place for her, especially when someone is available who could be holding her and interacting with her. My husband has gotten a bit short with Cui Yu several times as well because she lacks initiative. She’ll sleep in the morning until we actively wake her (which I told my husband he needs to do. If you want her up and helping, wake her up and get her out of bed) and she’ll put off cooking lunch until she’s asked to cook, rather than just taking the initiative and getting lunch started. There have been a few times too where she’s gotten Dylan worked up over something just by speaking without thinking — for example, teasing him by telling him it is bathtime when it isn’t, in fact, bathtime. Dylan loves bathtime more than anything in the whole entire world and the mere mention of the word “bath” can send him into a frenzy. When this happens at dinnertime it is quite inconvenient. We decided that in the future, whoever gets the toddler excited about taking a bath at innapropriate times gets to give the toddler a bath at an inappropriate time. Overall though, these are minor issues though and I think things are going well. Tomorrow we are giving Cui Yu the day off so we’ll see if she choses to go out and do something rather than spend the entire day chatting on the internet.

All in all I’d say this week has been a success. Let’s hope the next week goes relatively smoothly now that we’re all getting accustomed to our new setups and transitioning into a new routine.

Posted by: thelocaldialect | February 7, 2010

Do we need help?

It seems like just yesterday I was writing a post about how I was about to start maternity leave, and now maternity leave is almost over. How did that happen? I’ll be returning to my school at the end of the month, after Spring Festival, and while I’m trying not to think about it at the moment, I know it is going to be very hard leaving my baby and going back to being a working mom and letting my husband take over primary caregiver responsibilities once again.

To tell the truth, I think my husband is growing a bit weary with the stay at home dad bit. I don’t blame him, he has been a stay at home dad since our son was born in 2007. Prior to that he had regular gigs and shows around Kunming and other parts of Yunnan, worked at a guitar shop, and helped me open our school. He is used to doing stuff. And while taking care of children is of course a huge job, I know that he feels the monotony of it as well. The kids are young, it is cold right now, we (like most Chinese families) don’t have a car so going anywhere as a solo parent on public transport with one kid was a hassle enough, and with two it is nearly impossible. I also know that his manly man side wants to be the provider and while we are both careful with each other’s feelings about my being the breadwinner, neither of us feel like it is altogether ideal.

And so we’ve endeavored to take on our neice as a nanny. We don’t know yet whether or not she’ll accept our offer, it is something she and her family are still considering, but I really hope she does. With a nanny my husband would be free to do what he wants to do, which is, at this point, find some nighttime gigs and do some business buying and selling guitars on the side. We could go out just the two of us sometimes, which we never get to do now, we could go to the grocery store without worrying about how we’ll carry the bags and the babies, I could take the part time work that is occasionally offered to me without feeling guitly that my husband never gets a break from the kids … it is endless really.

It is odd though, because back home we’d never hire a nanny, it would just be an impossible expense I’m sure. But here in Beijing, and in most of China, all foreign families have a nanny, an ayi as they’re called here, a baomu in other parts of the country. Nannies and housekeepers are fairly affordable in China (although housekeepers for expats in Beijing make more than I paid our secretaries in Kunming, which is a whole different post in and of itself) am not comfortable at all with the idea of hiring a stranger to take care of the kids, mostly because I know that Chinese people have ideas about raising kids that just do not line up with my own, and also because of horror stories I’ve heard — nannies feeding the kids benadryl to keep them quiet, nannies stealing, nannies leaving the kids in walkers or bouncy chairs all day long while they watch TV. I would trust our neice because she is family and at the end of the day she’ll be accountable to her mom, my sister in law, who rules her family with an iron fist. I would also probably grudgingly be ok with someone from my husband’s village because everyone knows everyone there, and if we asked our sister in law to find someone she would not risk sending us some lowlife and losing face with us and losing face for the village.

What would you do? Does anyone out there have a nanny, or would you consider one if it were an affordable option in your country? How would you go about choosing someone trustworthy?

Posted by: thelocaldialect | January 3, 2010

A Belated Welcome

It has been a month, actually a bit more than a month, since we welcomed our new daughter, Annika Miriam, to the family. Annika was born on Dec. 1st at 3:50pm weighing 3450g. She turned one month old on New Year’s day and other than having a bit of a cold, no doubt as a result of the rather full house we’ve had over the holidays, she’s happy and healthy. She looks rather like her brother, except her hair is dark, where his is light, and her eyes are not quite as round as his.

We celebrated the holidays with several rounds of visitors. Our neice came in from Yunnan to help out with Dylan while we were in the hospital having the baby, arriving just in time, literally, just a few hours before Annika was born. Dylan enjoyed his time with his cousin, who stayed for two weeks, and two days after she left, his grandparents and uncle, my mom and dad and younger brother, came to stay for just over two weeks. My family really bonded with the kids on this trip, especially with Dylan, who is now at an age where he can interact and play, and has a conception of them as his family. The last time my parents came he was only eight months old, and I think my parents too were a bit shocked to find a real kid in the place of the baby they left behind. The family all left today and Dylan has been asking for them, for my brother in particular, with whom he was sharing his room. It is hard for a two year old to understand why people are here one day and suddenly gone the next, and I imagine it will be a bit sad for him adjusting to the (relatively) empty house with just his mom, dad, and baby sister.

It was a good end to 2009, and a good start to a new decade.

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