Friday, November 30, 2007

Fun Facts from China

1. Li has her first loose tooth!

2. Each year in China 25 million trees are cut down to make 45,000,000,000 pairs of disposable chopsticks. Yikes.

3. For balance: In US, to produce each weeks Sunday newspapers, 500,000 trees must be used.

The Little Bus That Thought it Could

And we hoped it could. After Thanksgiving we decided to head to Zhongdian at 10,500 on the Tibetan Plateau. Zhongdian is famous for its large working Buddhist monastery, it's old town and the surrounding countryside. It is a slice of Tibet not actually in Tibet.

The first portent of adventure was when our somewhat rickety old 21 seater bus died while backing out of the bus station in Lijiang. This is not all that unusual, but we knew we had to climb 2,500 feet to get to our destination. It turned out to the be the first of about 15 unexpected stops during the next 5 hours. Some of our stops were designed to onload and offload passengers and things. At one point Li looked out the window and reported that they were onloading large marble slabs under the bus. No passengers arrived with the marble, so we wondered whether they were simply ballast. At another point we offloaded some passengers and their luggage, only later to discover that someone else's luggage had been offloaded by mistake!

We made at least two stops to pay money or report passenger numbers to an official. We aren't sure whether the passengers that get on and off at points other that the official departure and destination get reported or whether their fares are extra pocket money for the driver. Regardless, the driver was committed to filling every last seat on the bus.

At one point the driver stopped, opened the window right by Li's feet, reached inside the bus for a hose which he connected to a hose from a small house and started flowing liquid into the hose inside the bus. We wondered and worried since there was a man smoking a cigarette just outside where this liquid was spraying. We later decided that this was simply water that helped cool the engine during the climb.

The real fun began as we began chugging our way up the valley to the Tibetan Plateau. We were worried enough about driving on a road that was bounded on one side by a sheer cliff tumbling down 1000 feet to a whitewater canyon and on the other side by steep rocky cliffs whose metal cage retaining walls had been breached numerous times by rockfall. We drove by teams of workers without any protective gear diligently shoveling piles of rocks off the road. Not long into our upward climb the bus stopped. I would say it pulled over to the side of the road, but of course it didn't. The driver climbed out and headed under the bus. He emerged a few minutes later and ejected a passenger from her seat so he could find some tools. After a few more minutes under the bus he put the tools back, climbed into the driver seat and we set off again. There was a strong smell of gasoline everywhere. We deduced that maybe his first tank had run out of gasoline and he had to manually switch tanks to use his second tank. From that point forward we stopped every 15 minutes or so, under the bus went the driver, out came the smell of gasoline and off we went. After about the third or fourth time he emerged with a 5 gallon plastic jug of gasoline which he brought into the bus. After a complicated series of maneuver's he had a plastic syphon hooked up to the 5 gallon jug running into the engine and a passenger diligently keeping the gas jug upright. 30 minutes later or so when the first jug ran out, he went underneath, refilled it and off we went again.

Meanwhile, the tarp he put over the heavily loaded roof rack full of luggage kept unhooking itself and the metal grommets banged incessantly again the windows. Three times he "fixed" the tarp, three times it quickly loosened itself and flapped around threatening to crack our window.

Of course the entire time our driver chain smoked and talked on his cell phone.

After 5 hours we literally coasted into Zhongdian on fumes, at the scheduled arrival time!

Our weekend improved from there with visits to the Songzhangling Monastery, walks around the old town and a hike to the world's largest prayer wheel. No heat anywhere of course so we winter camped in our hotel room and drank lots of hot drinks!

Thanksgiving Without an Oven

Let's see...Chicken with rosemary, sushi, blue cheese cauliflower soup, mashed potatoes, stuffing (not stuffed in a turkey), green beans, chicken soup, wine, apple crisp, sake, and local pastries rounded out our abundant dinner. We celebrated with friends from Japan, France and Germany. It's a bit trickier to create dinner with one burner, one electric hot plate and no oven, but we all seemed to manage. Li decorated everyone with hand made earrings stuck on with a glue stick. We looked beautiful.

Thanks to all our friends and family-we miss you!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Haikus Bridge the Language Barrier

I have had great success getting my students to be creative with Haikus (given some good brainstorming structure). Thinking if my students can do it, my daughter should be able to. Here are her results:

Love mommy daddy
Swing and jump on the playground
Nap with Little Cow

Running in silk clothes
Feel shiny, cool, beautiful
Thank you to the worms

Friday, November 16, 2007

Our First Visitors

We felt so special to have our first visitors, even if we did have to share them with Heather and Patrick, the other foreign teachers placed by the Colorado China Council. Part of the overall program support provided by the Colorado China Council involves a personal visit from the Director Alice and her Assistant Ellen. Ellen and her husband taught in Lijiang two years ago. We met them and their 6 year old adopted daughter from China at their home in Laramie, WY this summer.

We were spoiled with some excellent meals and excellent company. Our eating highlight of the weekend had to be Ellen's birthday dinner at a vegetarian restaurant that got excellent reviews. The first task was finding the restaurant, the second task was convincing them to let us eat. All of the lights and light fixtures were missing and the restaurant was completely empty. We found ourselves seated in a beautiful alcove and the staff placed about 20 candles on our table. We ordered to the best of our ability and were most amused by the faux chicken feet made out of a tofu product. Steve bicycled by the restaurant today and discovered it had moved! I guess you take your lights with you when you leave.

In addition to eating we spent time wandering the markets, visiting Lashahai Lake (where Steve finally saw an Upupa Epops-a bird that has been on his life list-and Shana stepped into mud up to her waist), and debriefing the idiosyncracies of the Chinese education system.

We promise to treat all future visitors nicely, so come on over!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Ice Cream Truck?

A word of caution to those who associate the sounds of a singing truck with memories of summer ice cream treats. When you hear that sound in China, watch out for the locals coming outside to dump their garbage in the singing garbage truck. It still gets me every time.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Beijing 2008

We found out this week that we are one of the lucky few who received Olympic tickets in the lottery. We did not get everything we asked for, but now possess tickets to some: Gymnastics, Wrestling, Beach Volleyball, Fencing and Table Tennis. We also managed to book lodging in Beijing (at 8x the normal price, pay in full please). We are also going to try for tickets available only to Chinese residents and foreigners living in China. We don't hold out much hope though. Apparently China's official purchase date was Monday. People were lining up all night to get tickets. Within a few hours of opening they had to close down sales around the country because the computer system was overwhelmed and crashed. They are working to fix it and will try again on Monday November 5. Even if we don't get more tickets, we are excited for the 7 events we will attend. The whole thing is going to be a madhouse!