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Friday, December 31, 2010

Things I've Learned 2010

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been a curious person, investigating my world to find out why things are the way they are. I'm the kind of person who learns best by doing. So when I decided that I wanted to know how the rest of the world lives, I just moved there.

I now live in Shanghai, China. I still can't believe it really. I live in China! With a billion Chinese people! Cool, huh?

Cooler still is that I've learned so much from my Global Experience in the last year. I've learned how to wash laundry by hand, & how best to hang it so it dries quickly. I've learned to speak a little bit of Chinese. I've learned to be okay with not understanding, even as I understand more & more. I've learned a lot about Chinese culture & how Chinese people view my culture. I've learned to go with the flow a little more, to let things happen as they may. I've learned that it's a very small world, & that we all have so much in common. & I've learned that I'm a writer with a story to tell.

What about you? What have you learned this year?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

10 Most Popular Posts of 2010

I've had a great time sharing my stories with you this year, & feel honored (& not a little bit amazed) that you have taken the time to read them. I took a look at what you've been reading most & came up with a list of the most popular posts from 2010.

1. Shanghai Rock Climbing Gym
2. Dear Monkey!
3. Women Wandering Solo: Elena Sevastiani
4. Qi Xi Festival: Chinese Valentine's Day
5. One Month Birthday
6. Women Wandering Solo: Linda Redman
7. I See Tall People!
8. 10 Things Chinese Students Think About Life in the US
9. Bored Laowai
10. Split Pants

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best Gifts I Ever Got

I was a pretty fortunate kid. Santa always left a heap of toys & presents at our house. Being a military family, we moved around quite a bit, but Santa was always able to find us & he was always very generous.

For the most part, we lived in houses with chimneys when I was a little girl, but when we moved to Thailand, we moved into a house without a fireplace. I was so worried that Santa wouldn't be able to bring us gifts if he didn't have a way in, but my mother assured me not to worry - she would leave the door unlocked for him. Thank goodness!

Over the years, my brother & I got so many presents, most of them now long forgotten. There were a few, though, that I still remember, ones that brought me so much joy over the years to come.

One year, I wished & wished for a Barbie Townhouse. It had three floors & an elevator on a string, & was the coolest thing ever. I was so excited to find one on Christmas morning in my pile of loot! After that, Barbie & G.I. Joe (visiting from my brother's room) had lots & lots of dates, going up & down the elevator together, or lounging on the plastic sofa, G.I. Joe with his bendable wrist around Barbie's shoulders, Barbie with her high-heeled shoes kicked off.

One Christmas gift that probably altered the course of my life was an Atari Game System. Oooh! We were so excited that Christmas morning! My parents said they played Space Invaders & Asteroids all night long on  Christmas Eve while my brother & I were dreaming of reindeer & elves. That was probably the only time they really got a crack at it, though. For the next several years, my brother & I were glued to our little black & white TV as we fought off aliens & pulverized space rocks.

But the most memorable gift of all - by far - was being together with my family on Christmas. Seriously. 

I listen to other people talk about their holiday memories. Many of them say that they hate Christmas time because it reminds them of family problems they had growing up, or of family problems they have now.

But the worst thing that ever happened to *me* at Christmas time was that I didn't get that Hungry Hippos game set I'd been hoping for. & if I had, it would probably now be long forgotten.

Instead, I had the gift of spending Christmas Day with my family, watching football, eating my mother's delicious cooking, sharing gifts, making jokes together, listening to Christmas songs, complaining together about the traffic or the weather or the commercials between football downs. We always had a warm house & warm hearts, & our biggest worry was deciding who would do the dishes after dinner.

Now, I still have those happy memories of Christmas time with my family, & even though they are far away on the other side of the world, they are still in my heart, & that is the best gift of all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Student Essay: The Christmas Eve

We've been talking about Christmas in our classes for a couple of weeks now, so students have become quite familiar with the holiday traditions. In my writing class, I asked the students to come up with their own holiday stories. Here is one by Tony, a 30-ish salesman.

On Christmas Eve, all house is decorated with colorful tinsel. Each person can feel special atmosphere. It is a happy, calm night. It is snowy. The whole city is covered by white snow. The family is around fireplace. They eat all kinds food, such as turkey, gingerbread, mash potato. This is a white Christmas. Each person can not forget it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Student Essay: Another Life of Elf

We've been talking about Christmas in our classes for a couple of weeks now, so students have become quite familiar with the holiday traditions. In my writing class, I asked the students to come up with their own holiday stories. Here is one by Annie, a 30-something doctor.

Elves did a lot of bad things before they became the Santa Claus's assistants. They destroyed the farm, stolen the sheep and chicken people raises so the people suit elves about elves's guilties, and asked had to killed all elves. However angel suggested to give elves one more chance to work for Santa Claus to bring people happiness. Elves finally agree the suggestion.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Student Essay: Change of a Shepherd

We've been talking about Christmas in our classes for a couple of weeks now, so students have become quite familiar with the holiday traditions. In my writing class, I asked the students to come up with their own holiday stories. Here is one by Smile, a university student.

Once there lives a shepherd. He always dreamed of that good luck would fall on him some day, so he didn't concentrate on his sheeps, just for his day dream for his businesses. Sheeps couldn't receive good care, not plenty of output and also not in good quality. On the Christmas Eve many twinkle stars came down through the chimney and turned around the whole sheep, then disappeared. Nothing left! When the shepherd was so anxious to find out where the sheep had gone, a fairy turned up. "You're not a qualified shepherd. You're always think of getting out of expection but ignore what you owns already! Now I'll take them away and leave you alone!" The shepherd was suddenly awaken by that dream, and he realized that the most important was to cherish what you already have.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Student Essay: The Life of a Reindeer

We've been talking about Christmas in our classes for a couple of weeks now, so students have become quite familiar with the holiday traditions. In my writing class, I asked the students to come up with their own holiday stories. Here is one by Jill, a 20-something design engineer.

Rudolph as a big red nose, which is different from other reindeers. For this, all reindeers laugh at him, don't allow him to join them to play game. Rudolph liked CiCi who is a beauty female reindeer, but he has no encouragement to say to her. One Christmas Eve it is very cold and heavy snowy. Santa Claus asked Rudolph's help to carry him to spread the gifts. Rudolph was very happy. He ran very fast but too many families. In one accident, he broke his legs, but he insisted to hold on. Jesus saw the performance of him. He asked CiCi to come to help. CiCi helped Rudolph to aid the legs. Rudolph can run again. CiCi also being proud of him, she thought he is the hero of reindeer. They fall in love. No reindeers laugh at him at all. In reward Jesus gave both of them immortal life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Old vs. New

When you stand on the river walk on the bank of the Huang Pu River in Shanghai, you have a great view of both sides of the waterway. On the west side, you see an impressive row of European style architecture built in the early 1900s. On the east side of the river, you see a crowd of stunning skyscrapers, which have all been built within the last 20 years. The contrast is stark - a visual representation of Shanghai's past & future.

Puxi - West Bank
Pudong - East Bank
When my parents were here in September, our tour guide Lynn took us to the river side to take photos & gawk at the other tourists. While we were there, Lynn commented that when she takes foreigners to see the river, they almost always turn to look at the old buildings & marvel at the intricate art deco designs. When she takes Chinese tourists to see the same river, they invariably look towards the modern high rises, impressed by how they gleam.

Indeed, Lynn's observation could be broadened to apply to cultural attitudes in general. In the West, everyone loves old things. People are always buying antiques, restoring old buildings, & getting in touch with their roots.

Whereas in the East, the past couldn't be sloughed off quick enough. If it's more than 20 years old, no one wants it. Countless old buildings are demolished every day in favor of 20-storey apartment buildings. Traditional music & clothing is scoffed at as out-dated & useless. The old ways are being replaced by the latest in design, technology & comfort, & no one is looking back - China has torn off its rearview mirror & tossed it out the window.

Some might say it's unfortunate that Ming Dynasty pagodas are being replaced with McDonalds & Starbucks on every corner. However, those that would lament have the luxury to do so. The West has already developed industry & commerce to such an extent that people can comfortably sit back, take a deep breath & sigh about days gone by.

China, on the other hand, is on the verge of something huge - they're charging into the future at a break-neck pace, & they don't have time for the extravegance of looking to the past. Right now, the past is just in the way of progress.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


It's snowing in Shanghai!

I left work tonight to find all the world lightly powdered with fresh snow & more flakes drifting down all around. The air was crisp, like a new beginning, & it made me feel cheery. Perhaps it's because it's Christmas time. Perhaps it's because I'm starting a new job & I feel hopeful. Perhaps it's just because snow is beautiful.

A few years ago I never would have believed that I could feel happy at the sight of snow. I moved to Arizona to get away from the slush & the muck of Ohio winters, swearing I would never go back north. But today I was delighted to feel the fluffy flakes on my face, to see everything turning white around me.

I took out my camera & started snapping photos, feeling like an awkward tourist, until I looked up to see several other people taking photos too. It doesn't normally snow here in Shanghai, & it's got everyone charmed.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Even the Water Is Fake

When I was staying at the Happy Dragon Hostel in Beijing, I noticed that there were some incredibly loud frogs croaking through the night. Then I noticed that the loud croaking didn't seem to move around at all, & that the frogs kept making the same sound patterns. As with just about everything else in China, the frogs were fake.

Some of the fake goods available here are actually great buys. Although they blatantly violate copywrite laws, pirated DVDs and copy books are cheap & widely available. I can get a DVD for about a dollar, & copy books cost $2-$3 each. The quality isn't as good as the real thing, but that doesn't make much difference to someone like me. I'm not going to keep them after I'm finished watching or reading them anyway.

Of course knock-off brands are everywhere - clothing, computers, cosmetics. Most of the real stuff is made in China anyway, so it's not that difficult to copy it & then sell it at the fake market right down the street from the posh boutiques. In China, even the beggars wear Gucci.

In class the other day, we were discussing competition & cooperation in the workplace. One of the students was talking about his job as a bottled water salesman. He said that of course there is a lot of competition in his job - he strives to sell more water than the other sales people. But he said he also depends on cooperation among the sales people, who need to band together against fake water.

Fake water? How can water be fake? He said that about 30% of the bottled water available in Shanghai is bottled by small companies who print labels to look like the brand names. Most of the time these bottles contain nothing but tap water. But he said that most likely the water we buy in supermarkets & quickie marts it legit. We just need to be careful of the bottled water sold on the street, or outside tourist attractions.

That's good advice when buying anything on the street, be it bottled water or a new watch. Buyer beware: If it's cheap, there's probably a reason for it.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I've just been promoted to Content Editor!

After taking a good look at where I'm going in my career, I started researching opportunities at my current school other than teaching. I really like working for EF, so I nosed around the back office until I got myself an interview with the content team. They were generous enough to offer me this new position & I couldn't be happier.

I'll be writing & editing course materials for the EF online learning system. After over ten years in the classroom, I'm going to take a break & sit at a desk for a while. I'll work Monday to Friday, 9 to 6 - a "normal" job. I don't think I've ever had a job like that in my life! It will take a little getting used to, but I'm looking forward to the change & the challenge.

The new job will extend my current contract for another six months, which means I'll be staying in Shanghai until July 2011. That should give my friends & family plenty of time to plan their vacations to China :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Teaching English Abroad: English as a Global Language

English is becoming more & more necessary for those who participate in the global community, which means that English teachers are increasingly needed overseas. Read my latest article on the GO! Overseas Blog to find out what this might mean for you.

Here's a snippet:

English has become the unofficial international language. It’s the language of business, government, and social communication around the world. High-powered executives in Japan negotiate with their German counterparts in English. Countries with a population that speaks dozens – even hundreds – of different languages are unified through English. Travelers from a variety of countries find common ground as they trade travel stories in English.

Interested? Click here to read on.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chung King Christmas

Twice a week, I teach a Music Club at an English school here in Shanghai. We listen to various songs in English & the students talk about the meaning of the lyrics, as well as which songs they like or don't like & why.

Before each class, I download a few songs from the internet. Music in China is easily accessible online & it's free to download any song you want at the click of a button, one of the few things you can do on the Chinese internet that you can't do at home.

We've been talking about Christmas traditions all week in other classes, so I decided to do a lesson on Christmas songs for Music Club this week. While I was searching for the classics - Jingle Bells, Silent Night, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - I came across this very cool Christmas album, Chung King Christmas, released way back in 1992.

The Oriental Echo Ensemble plays twelve traditional Christmas songs on traditional Chinese musical instruments. They're all wonderful arrangements & perfectly appropriate for someone spending the holidays in China (like me).

Take a listen here:
Joy to the World

Monday, December 6, 2010

Caught in a Bubble

I teach English here in Shanghai. One of my classes is a Travel Club where we study a different country each week. This week we did New Zealand. I found a photo of a popular sport there called Zorbing. It looks like loads of fun! Apparently you can do this in Shanghai, but I'm still trying to find out where.

Anyhow, since it is such as unsual object, I decided to use it as a creativity exercise. The students were to imagine that this huge plastic ball was something else. To get them started, I gave them some ideas. I said that it could be a new mode of transportation that will eventually replace cars. Or it could be an alien spacecraft that has landed on earth. Or it could be a man caught in a soap bubble.

They laughed at the thought of driving one of these around the streets of Shanghai, & they enthusiastically began adding to the story about the aliens, but that last one simply confused them. They couldn't understand how someone could get caught in a soap bubble. It's just not possible in their minds. Bubble cars? Possible. Soap bubble traps? Not possible.

It made me think about how our cultural backgrounds play such a huge role in how we perceive our environment. I grew up with cartoons like the one here, in which one of the characters gets a little too close to the soap, & winds up flying through the air in a soap bubble. When they get too high the bubble always pops & they plummet to earth.

But here in China, I guess they've never seen cartoons like this. They've never been exposed to the idea of flying through the air in a soap bubble. So for them, it's just not possible.

So I left them to come up with more appropriate uses for the Zorbing ball. One group said it was a new medical treatment for heart disease - the rolling around helps with circulation. Another group decided it was protection against falling debris during an earthquake. A third group said that it was a vehicle to travel under the sea. All wonderfully creative ideas. Still, the soap bubble idea never caught on, & it leaves me to wonder what kinds of things I think are not possible because of my own cultural background.

What about you? What do you think is impossible?

Saturday, December 4, 2010


I walk down a side street looking for some street food for lunch. I find a section lined with food stalls - people selling everything from fried noodles to fruit on a stick to stinky tofu. I notice one stall selling crunchy waffles rolled up tight & cut into pieces big enough to eat with your hands.

A man is sitting in front of a make-shift grill - a metal box filled with burning hot coals. He's working three waffle irons. They look heavy. He has a rhythm going. He dips a ladel into a large bucket at his feet & pours some waffle batter into the first iron. He moves the iron down one spot, flips the second iron over & shifts it down too. He takes the third iron off the fire, opens it & removes the piping hot waffle with his bare hands. He tosses it onto the table next to him, moves the third iron back to the first position & ladels more waffle batter on. Repeat.

Meanwhile, a woman is sitting at the table. She takes the finished waffle & rolls it up before it can cool. She puts it into a cutter & lowers the lever - three hand-sized waffle rolls come out & she tosses them into a bin. Customers reach into the bin & select their waffles. They throw coins into a tin resting on the table. The woman has no time to count out change - fresh waffles keep coming down the production line.

I stand & watch the process for about five minutes, then walk on down the street to a noodle vendor. I sit & eat my noodles surrounded by chattering people on their lunch break. A half hour later, I return the way I came. The waffle man is still moving waffle irons back & forth. The woman is still rolling & cutting, trying to keep up with demand.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Fish Market

There is a small fish market down the street from my apartment. I pass by there occasionally on my way to the bank. It seems that every time I walk by I see something that shocks me.

One time I saw the woman who works there scaling fish that were still alive, their blood splattering the metal pan she was holding them over. Another time, a fish had jumped out of his tank in an attempt at escape. It landed on the floor near a customer's shoe. The man looked down & nonchalantly kicked it under the counter, as if it were a carrot that had dropped on the floor. Today I was walking by the same fish market when I saw something flip out of the corner of my eye. I looked over & saw a fish writhing in a bucket filled with several other live fish whose tails & fins had all been cut off. Instead of water, they were swimming in blood.

In class one day, a student said that he didn't eat tuna because killing dolphins is cruel. I asked him why & he said that dolphins are intelligent. Did he mean that we shouldn't kill dolphins because they might be able to shed light on the origin of the universe? No. He said that the more intelligent the animal, the more pain they feel, so a dolphin would suffer a lot more than, say, a fish in the market. The other students around him agreed.