Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fake KFC

The only Western restaurant in Haiyuan.  I'm laughing here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Another Weekend Outing: ShaPoTou and Tong Xin

Our officials graciously planned another outing for us this Saturday.

We first went to a tourist site called "ShaPoTou" near the city of Zhongwei.  This is a place where tourists come to float down a branch of the Yellow River and play desert in the sand.  Like most Chinese tourist attractions, it was crowded, overpriced, and not very natural or authentic.  But we still had fun riding on camels (not me) and sliding down a sand dune (me!).  We were at a lower elevation than here and the sun was very strong.  It wasn't hard to imagine we were really trudging through the desert on the Silk Road hundreds of years ago.

After ShaPoTou, we stopped in the town of Tong Xin to see the Grand Mosque, a nice old building with a good view of the town.

Then we came home.  It was a long day, but still enjoyable to see more of Ningxia.  And the drives were just as beautiful as last week.

Drive-by scenery at 7:30 a.m.

Drive-by scenery, through the bus window

Drive-by scenery

At ShaPoTou.  River on the left and sand beyond.

Horses and camels

Sand sliding

I saw this guy lose a bunch of papers as he slid down.  I'm watching from the chairlift.

Beautiful view at the top

Looking down and ready to slide!  After buying a ticket and waiting in line, of course.

Tourists on a sheep-skin raft

Teammate Cara posing by an excellent display of "Chinese air-conditioning"

More country scenes -- corn and sunflowers

The Grand Mosque at Tong Xin


View from the mosque


Friday, July 27, 2012

A Visit Home

This is Mr. Li and his three children:

He is one of the trainees in my class this summer.  Since he is a local, he thought it would be a good experience for a few of the foreign teachers to come to his house for dinner.

I am so glad he invited us.  I already knew that he is fasting for Ramadan, so I was curious to see how dinner would be handled.  As it turns out, we ate and they watched.  (Mostly Mr. Li.  His wife and mother were in the kitchen preparing food and his girls were running in and out of the room.)

Here are a few photos.  His house is out on the edge of town down a little side street with a bit of a mountain view.   He and his wife and girls sleep on the big kang bed in one room, there's a huge guest room, and then his parents and son share another room.  Everything was new and really nice; they had just re-built the house a few years ago.

Garden on the left, house on the right, mountains beyond

Solar teapot heater

Mountains of fruit

Mr. Li's wife with my teammates in the guestroom where we ate our meal


Mmm... dumplings.  Notice the fork -- I guess they don't trust us with chopsticks.

Pouring some of that delicious "iron maiden tea" that kept me up so long last night

Mr. Li thought it would be fun for Meggi to help plant a few green onions.  (His mother is smiling on the left.)

No visit is complete without a family photo!


What do you do when you've had about two cups of tea too many and you're wide awake in the middle of a Thursday night?

I thought I'd take this chance to see if the Internet would be speedy enough to upload some photos from this week of teaching. 

Each Tuesday afternoon we have three classes give short presentations about Chinese culture.  This a nice way to promote cultural exchange, since the foreign teach about American culture several times a week.  Here are a couple photos:

One of the teachers presenting on Hui culture, with Ningxia highlighted on the map behind

Two of the ladies in my class invited my teammate to come up and try his hand at making a Beijing Duck Roll-up

Here are some other scenes from teaching this week:

My class in the middle of an activity on Task-Based Language Teaching

We had a movie showing (Akeelah and the Bee) and my student brought her sweet baby boy

We had another English corner in the square last night.  Here my teammate Meggi is attracting a crowd with her guitar.

Today during break we took a class picture.

With a girl from my class

With all the ladies in my class

Slogging through a vocabulary activity

I've been having a great teaching experience so far, although it seems like there's a lot less energy in the classroom than when I was teaching classes of forty college students.  For example, all it took to delight my college classes was for me to tell a stupid joke.  Here, I can sing and dance (which would have killed with my college student crowd) and get nothing but some polite smiles.

It's also different for me to teach adults, who have many concerns and responsibilities outside this training program.  They are absent a lot more often and sometimes seem distracted or tired, especially now that Ramadan has started.

Nonetheless, we are all warming up to each other and they've been nothing but friendly and patient with me.  Today they were all proud because they did some relay races in another foreign teachers' culture lesson and beat the other classes every time.  I spent this evening in the home of one of the locals from my class, which was a great experience.  I'm hoping for some more good memories in this last week of teaching.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Speaking in Tongues

Last week I went to a nearby jiaozi (dumpling) joint with some of the trainees in my class.  An older lady in a blue Hui hat came out from the kitchen to get a look at the first foreigner to ever enter her restaurant.

"Ni hao," I said in quite passable Chinese.  It means "Hello."

"Ting bu dong," she said, looking helplessly at the young woman beside her.  "I don't understand."

"Ta shuo 'ni hao'!" laughed the young lady.  "She said 'ni hao'!"

"Ah, I thought she was speaking a foreign language!" said the old lady and we all shared another "Ni hao" and a good laugh.

This is so common in China, especially in places where foreigners are rare.  People have absolutely no expectation that they could understand anything that comes out of a white person's mouth, and therefore they don't, even when you speak to them in good Chinese. 

If I looked Chinese, I bet I'd get understood about twice as often.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Outing to Mount Xu Mi

This past weekend, the officials in charge of us planned an outing to a Buddhist mountain a couple hours away.

It was an altogether delightful chance to see some of the countryside here in Ningxia.  Enjoy the photos!

Sunflowers from the van window.  We also saw corn and goji berries growing.  The drive was the best part!

We sometimes passed caves in the mountains.  Apparently people lived in them in the past but mostly use them now for storage or animals, if they haven't been closed up altogether.

Baby sunflower with a mosque in the distance

Here is Xu Mi Mountain.  The left part has a giant carved Buddha and the part on the far right has stairs, caves, and little temples.

We walked through this pretty little valley to get across to the Buddha

There he is.  There was a museum at the site that told us about how Buddhism spread through China along the Silk Road, which went through this area somewhere.

Then we climbed up the right side.  Here's a little side trail to see Cave #15.  These small caves had small doors or windows but we couldn't go inside.

The climb and one of the little Buddha huts built into a cave.

Nearing the top

Beautiful Ningxia

Me with teammates Meggi and Larry -- the only ones on our team to go all the way up.

Our Chinese leaders all made the climb.

Meggi with Mr. Li, a leader we see every day at school, and Jack, a Chinese teacher who has been given the daunting task of taking care of the foreigners.

Time for the drive back!  Here are some goji berries drying with the goji bushes behind them.

Let's pause for a second to learn something interesting.  Several years ago, the government wanted to move Haiyuan (the town I'm in now) to a different location where there would be more water.  So they built a nice new town.  But then people didn't move there.

We drove through the new city before knowing what it was, and we couldn't believe how beautiful and wide the roads were.  There were half-finished and fully-finished-but-empty shopping centers, there were traffic lights that hadn't been turned on (and weren't needed), and everything was clean and empty.  We saw only a few vehicles.  It really seems like a ghost city, but it was never inhabited in the first place.  Very strange.

(Our Chinese friends tell us there are plans to bring in some factories and that the town will probably fill up as people come to take the factory jobs.)

Empty city hall; empty plaza

Down the main road of the new city

We called the new town "Mannequin City" because we saw a few mannequins (but no people) in some of the store windows.  Here I am impersonating a mannequin while standing in no danger in the middle of the road.. 

The drive continues.  Love that blue sky!

More sunflowers

There were lots of homes like these in the villages we passed.

That's it!  It was a fun day and I hope there's another outing in my future before I leave Haiyuan next Thursday.