March 27, 2007

things i love...

Sumatra Coffee- brewed in the morning, sipped while I get ready for work, part of a care package!

Sudoku- the Advanced book I got in the mail randomly from my Aunt Kathy. I love teaching it to students on the lawn, and distracting them from their constant test-prep.

American Pop songs- but ONLY when Chinese students sing them loud and proud- some of the best include “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and “I Want It That Way” by N’Sync (?)

Little Miss Sunshine- Olive gets left at the gas station and has to run alongside the car, because the VW van will stall out. The body smuggling from the hospital, the dance performance at the end…good flick.

Thursday Question Day- My little cousin Amelia is full of questions about my life, so we reserved a day for her to call and ask questions to her heart’s desire. She’s 11 and feisty and her questions make me laugh so hard. I look forward to her calls.

Chinese Lessons- When we transcend tone practice and pronunciation and laugh together.

Third Day- the Offerings album brings back a flood of great memories from high school.

My old Pumas- great arch support and so comfortable that it feels like I’m wearing socks. It doesn’t hurt that I got them really cheap in NYC, when a retailer mislabeled the display.

Baseball games- $5 lawn seats at Petco Park! Bring a blanket, sit on the lawn with friends, and watch the Padres play.

The big Marlin on the wall at my Grandma’s house- there’s something comforting about the giant stuffed fish that fills a wall in her TV room. The room also contains 49er fanfare and tons of Louis L’Amour books. Some of my grandpa Fred’s greatest passions: deep-sea fishing, San Francisco football, and books about the West.

Sailing- in Mission Bay with friends, on a Hobie Cat catamaran, with a visit to the penguins at Sea World.

Voicemails on Skype- the long-drawn out messages when good friends ramble about their day and include random details. I love those the best.

Wang- a street vendor just outside our school that sells Chinese flat bread. We both wave, yell “Ni Hao!” and smile everytime we see each other. This has gone on several times a week for the last 7 months. It doesn’t get old.

Apple Computers- I love Mac’s. Knock them if you want to, but I’m pretty loyal to my iBook. It has served me well.

Crystal Lite- nothing spices up a bottle of water better than lemonade or raspberry crystals. Simply refreshing.

The Office- a great TV show. If you’ve seen it, I’m sure you agree. Dwight is my favorite character by far.

Just Brushed Teeth feeling- pretty self explanatory, I just brushed mine, and I love it.

Pilates- on the tile in my livingroom, with Mikayla, and our commentary as we challenge our ‘core’ with the Australian woman on the video.

Moments of Understanding- those times when, as a teacher, you can explain a concept/word/idea and your students really get it. They nod their heads, apply it, and ask thoughtful questions. Teaching is a rewarding profession.

Forrest Gump quotes- from Tracy, my Chinese friend. She’s only read the book, I bought her the movie this weekend and we’re watching it soon. I can’t wait to see her face when Tom Hanks brings the words to life. She’s going to love it! There’s something great about “Stupid is as stupid does” coming from a 20 year old Chinese girl.

March 13, 2007

the importance of being honest

A letter sent to me by Bill through his girlfriend, Starr. Bill couldn't make it to class today and was 'asking for leave'.

Miss Alice,

Happy New Year! Im sorry to tell you I couldn't enter your class today. For there will be a very excellent NBA Game between the Rockets and the Suns and I'm eager to watch it. Also I'd like to tell you the final result if allowed to. Here wish you happy every day in the New Year!


(I have to value Bill's honesty. When other students say that they're in the hospital when asking for leave- Bill has nothing to hide, there's a good game on.)

Cultural Note: Yao Ming plays for the Houston Rockets and many of my students wear his jersey to class. He's a huge star- a Chinese basketball player that lives in the's a dream for many of them.
Also, Allison is sometimes difficult for my students to pronounce, and Bill is one of a handful that calls me Alice. I think it's funny.

March 10, 2007


A Chinese cultural note: Chinese people love porcelain white skin. They buy creams, they bleach, they used umbrellas in the sun- anything to keep their skin as white as possible. It is unfathomable to them that American women and men (for the most part) desire to be 'tan'. The fact that we intentionally lay outside and let the sun make our skin darker is a shock.

When I explained the concepts of tanning booths, tanning lotions, and bronzing powders to my good Chinese friends their faces were the picture of horror. "Why? It makes no sense!", they said. I just shrugged and we had a great conversation about the definition of beauty in different cultures. One of the girls Christina has freckles dotting the brim of nose and cheeks- and one of her friends commented on her friend's "spots". "Spots? No, they're freckles. They're cute", I said. Again, faces of horror and a smile on Christina's face as the super white American (me) told her that her 'spots' were cute. I, again, explained that they are a sign of youth and many famous models in America have freckes. Christina said she was going to move to America so she can be considered beautiful.

I warned my friends that I would be traveling to Thailand over the Chinese New Year, and I hoped to get tan myself. After months of little sunshine in Nanchang- and my first real winter in my life- I was beyond white. My students called me "piao liang" sometimes which means beautiful in Chinese. But I longed for a hint of color. At one point someone took a picture at dinner with a porcelain cup in hand and indeed I was as white as the cup! The absolute definition of 'porcelain white'. The first day on Koh Phayam I got burnt, bad. Mikayla was a great friend and applied aloe and after sun lotion on my back for days.

By the end of our week on the island of Koh Phayam I had picked up some sun and felt great about it. I wondered what my students would think. I was now considered less beautiful in their culture. Before school started, my friend Tracy stopped by my apartment. The first thing that came out of her mouth was, "You are SOOO black!" and she shook her head in disappointment. I had to laugh- and then kindly explain to her that she should use the word 'dark'. I might be less beautiful in China, but it's so nice to see a couple freckles on my cheeks and not blend in with my tea cup.

March 8, 2007

i wish you could meet them.

I wish you could meet my students. I wish you could see their faces in the classroom, the way that they look confused at new vocabulary, and the way that they light up when it's understood. I wish you could see them playing basketball with such vigor and heart, yet lacking height and skill. I wish you could see the girls like Willow, full of style and sass- eager to know the deeper meaning of life. I wish you knew Edward who dreams of living in American and asks the most random and obscure culture questions, or Gabe who has me define the 14 different ways that Americans use the word "like". And oh, I wish you could meet Tracy, who shows up to my apartment whenever she pleases for hot chocolate and a chat. The way that she asks hard questions during our Study, the way that her nose beads with sweat when she's nervous, the way that she will hold your arm as she thinks of the correct English word to explain herself.

I wish you knew their names and their faces- all 400 of them. I wish I had enough time to tell you the stories- hilarious, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, and beautiful. The stories of our interactions.. the countless hours in the classroom, the office, the city, and my apartment.

Today as I walked home from class, and was greeted by one student after another, I became overwhelmed with gratefulness. Thank you for sending me here, thank you for encouraging me this year, thank you for being supportive. Students are being transformed all the time, and I'm in awe. I just wish you could meet them.