Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cheater, Cheater, Dumpling Eater

A couple weeks ago, Ben and I proctored for some fellow teachers' exams.

Before coming to Sias, I barely knew what proctoring was and really had no idea what it entailed. Lucky me is getting lots of practice here!
I totally should have been a P.I.

Due to the huge issue of cheating among students, reinforcements must be called upon to catch them in the very act and turn them into the authorities (i.e. teachers).

However, the only time I ever saw cheaters in my life was when a lady who worked in the building next to mine was definitely having an affair with a married man (my office had very large windows and a nosy coworker, me.).

Nevertheless, we are all required to proctor a few times each semester to enforce the law of academic honesty. 

Us teachers are pretty much split 50/50 about how we feel. Some enjoy the thrill of discovering a hidden cell phone or uncovering cheat sheets hidden up a sleeve. Others, myself included, hate the tedium of it and are entirely unable to catch more than shifty pair of eyes.

This time around, the proctor in the class next to mine caught two cell phones and suspected a girl of hiding notes in her blouse. Me? I uncovered an old steamed dumpling hiding inside somebody’s desk. Don't worry, I didn't eat it.

It becomes even more awkward when I know the students who were taking the exam, and they become really excited to see me…unless they realize I’m there to make there to make already an stressful situation become even more so by closely monitoring every neck stretch and yawn. 

In all serious, schools in China and America (see: A Cheating Crisis in America's Schools) are dealing with this very troublesome problem. 

The students here are under an overwhelming amount of pressure and some are even encouraged by their parents to cheat.

Sias is trying to very hard to combat this epidemic through the proctors and stricter penalties and even a jumbotron of shame (giant screens that show all the names of students who have been caught cheating) but many students fail to see how cheating is even wrong. 

A few weeks ago, a girl was wandering the halls of Peter Hall distraught because she had been caught cheating in her exam. She was looking for the proctor to beg/bribe for mercy. While I did feel sympathy for her, but I also knew, given the chance, she probably will cheat again. 

As it turn out, I might be teaching an Ethics and Morals in Leadership class next semester. Since I am passionate about justice and doing right, I am excited but nervous about how to approach it in a culturally-aware, but also straightforward way. Should be a fun challenge!

Right now we are in Xi'an for a few days before heading to The Philippines via Hong Kong! We will try our best to keep everyone updated on our travels and adventures!

Remember, Remember....: Soccer/Football/足球

Hope you aren't getting tired of the constant barrage of blogposts. If so, tough.

Soccer fans...making football
fans look normal since 1928
Some of you may know that before I met running, my first (sport) love was soccer. I played in the city league as a girl; I played on my high school team for four years; I played on IM teams in college, and I even coached AYSO U12 boys a couple of years ago.

I am also crazy about the World Cup and pretty much think it is better than Christmas, which is saying a lot because I adore Christmas.

Hence, when I heard about the a two month long soccer tournament at SIAS, I couldn't wait to relive my "glory days." Joining the Rejects team, as I affectionally called us because we were students and teachers who didn't have a department to join, was a blast and a great experience. 

Initially I thought it would be a fun way to keep in running shape because my motivation to run is directly to correlated with the outside temperature. 

Yes, I find it ironic that the thing I hated most about soccer-- running-- was my primary motivation to join the team (who am I?!). Although it did help me exercise, I was painfully reminded that I am no longer 8 years old, or 16, or even 20. My knees and hip ached and groaned after just kicking the ball around for a few hours. Wimps.

We had a great team who may have not had the best record  (our total wins was, um, zero), but we lacked in skill and talent, we made up in heart and spirit.

At the end of the tournament, we played the two best in the league, and almost tied with both. Everybody loves an underdog, and we definitely gave them both a run for their Chinese RMB.

Interestingly enough, girls playing soccer is almost unheard of here. In a university of 20,000+ students, we had one Chinese girl join. She had to play on our team because her department wouldn't allow girls on their team. Crazy.

Apparently, girls who play contact sports here, especially soccer, is the equivalent to those who play tackle football in America or buzkhashi in Central Asia.

Riding on a horse, swinging a dead goat. Very manly

Playing against some of my former students and seeing their surprise and amazement never failed to crack me up. A few almost couldn't believe that I was the same person who taught them how to say their "th" sounds (who am I kidding, most of them still can't).

Overall, despite the old lady joint pains, impressively unbroken losing streak, chilly/smoggy weather, I had a great time.

I love how many amazing opportunities we have here to participate in, and I am so thankful.

Right before I nailed him in the head with the ball

Failing as  (I think the score that game was 1-7)  
Grass Warmers! 
And the best part was that we wore totally authentic counterfeit FC Barcelona uniforms/kits! Since Barcelona is my favorite European pro club team, when fellow teachers saw me wearing it, I told them that they recruited me to play with them in Spain on the weekends. Strangely, very few believed me.

Totally legit

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Remember, Remember, What Happened in November : Culture Week

I guess I'm going chronically backwards from now to the start of school in September. Since we've covered December here, it is on to November!

This month was dominated by two things: Culture Week and soccer. Both took up a lot of more time and energy than anticipated but were very fun and rewarding. This first post will be on the joys and trials of Culture Week.

Every year, the foreign faculty here at Sias get the huge honor/responsibility of representing all the populated continents over the course of a several days through song, dance, food, and drama (much, much drama). It doesn't matter that the vast majority of us are from North America or that most of us have the acting ability of the silent shepherd in the Sunday School Christmas pageant. The show must go on!

As you may or may not remember, Ben and I got roped into being Mario (curse you, Italian-looking, Armenian genes) and Princess Peach last year which required three hour rehearsals nearly every day for weeks.
Yes, go ahead and laugh
This year we swore that we'd scale back on our commitments. However, someone signed up to be treasurer, prop-maker, King Arthur, and a cha-cha dancer. I joined him in the cha-cha dance and somehow ended up choreographing, directing, and performing in a Scottish dance, too, while simultaneously teaching a double-load of classes plus lesson planning 15 hours a week due to a teacher's visa problems.

Needless to say our attempts of not overcommitting were futile between nightly two (!) hour cha-cha practices, afternoon Scottish dance practices, and weekend decorating and much more. The good news is if Ben and I need to direct a really low-budget off-Broadway play called Mario and Princess Peach's Cha-Cha Adventures in the Ancient British Isles, we would totally be un qualified!

They hid us (me) in the back left

Ben and I technically joined the Europe team, but we helped out the South American Day with our friend's cha-cha dance that solidified my suspicion that I inherited the dancing ability of my incredibly wonderful, yet so terribly gangly father.

Parts of the ordeal were enjoyable, and the hundreds of pictures and videos the students took of us provided us with plenty of cringe-inducing memories, complete with bizarre graphics.

This pix showed up
 in a marketing presentation! 
Aren't our wings lovely?
Love is in the air?

When I was in high school, we had mandatory Scottish dancing for our PE class which was pretty much the bane of my overly dramatic existence (dancing + boys = emo Rachel hell). However, those hours of learning Strip the Willow and The Gay Gordans (hehe, still funny) came to my rescue all those years later when I was so willingly volunteered to choreograph a European dance.

After calling in a few favors, coercing, and begging friends and my sweet students, we had enough for a rousing Scottish hoe down. We even got "King Arthur" to wear a kilt and join us! You can a video watch our dance on Facebook: Scottish Dance.

Despite the long, long hours, the constant rain, and making a fool of myself, I do admit it was highly enjoyable at times.

King Ben and his paparazzi 

He enjoyed his role...too much

My sweet, dear students

Dang, I need some cool frames, too!

King and I

No Chinese were harmed in the making of this photo

Thanks for reading and experiencing a special aspect of life here at Sias. It truly is something (what that something is-- I am still figuring out). Much more to come!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Merry Little Chinamas!

Christmas without family is never easy, but thankfully December gets so packed with activities that it is hard to find the time to succumb to homesickness. Well, there's always January for that!

This Christmas season has been full of fun parties and great friends. We are very blessed with a wonderful community here at Sias.

We love decorating our front door and window.

Ben made the "Merry Christmas" window lettering and the awesome reindeer and trees.

We even got some gifts from a mysterious "Arctic Santa" in our stockings.

This year we bought a small Christmas tree and put up some lights and tinsel. Streaming Christmas music on Songza and baking cookies and breads non-stop really helped bring the holiday cheer to us and our guests.

Each year, the university throws a Holiday party for the foreign faculty. This year it was held in our President's Mansion/Villa on campus. It was an amazing three-story house complete with a karaoke stage, full bar, movie theatre, and Oval Office (just kidding about the last one...I think).

Every ritzy place in China must come with chandeliers
It was fun getting dressed up and experiencing the more glamorous side of things for a bit.  Ben and I with some others even preformed some China-fied version of classic Christmas songs: Laowei (Foreigner) Got Ran Over By a Tuk-Tuk, Baby It's Cold Inside, and Waka (a local supermarket) In a Chinese Wonderland.

Two photo bombs, but I think only one was intentional
That's one good-looking man, if I do say so myself! 

 The parties did not stop there! To mark the end of a crazy semester, I threw a small soup/Christmas-themed party for my 100 sophomore students. It was crazy but really fun! 

I made a Western-style Creamy Potato and Bacon Soup, and some of my students made a delicious Corn, Oat, and Egg Chinese soup. Both were huge hits.
After that I taught them the true meaning of Christmas by showing them Home Alone. 

Last Saturday, we invited some of our closest Chinese friends for a ornament decorating and cookie eating party. We had a lot of fun admiring and making fun of each other's paintings.

Everybody loves our Oatmeal Cookie Recipe!
Concentrated decorating
Some of the final products
Aren't they so cute?
We also had some lovely Christmas services at the local church and our foreigner meetings. This was definitely one the highlights of the season.

We usually always go out for lunch with our friends after service, and it being freezing cold and Winter Solstice (冬至), we decided to go to hot pot. On Winter Solstice, everyone must eat dumplings in order to prevent their ears from falling off. It's on Wikipedia so it must be true: Dongzhi Festival.

An International Hot Pot Party

Ben and his ear dumplings 

Ben and his special face
Finally, it was Christmas and time for the real parties! Christmas morning was spent with Ben eating delicious Life cereal (only in China do you get excited to eat cold cereal for Christmas) and opening up way too many Christmas presents. I am one spoiled wife. 

Some delicious Christmas Eve American goodness
Brunch with monkey bread, egg scramble, banana bread, and so much more was spent with some of our close teacher friends here. We did a fun gift exchange and scored some sweet gifts.

Love Skyping with the family! 

Now it is beginning to feel like we're bragging, but we had another party to attend in the afternoon. This time we did a Christmas toy exchange with our fellow teachers. We all opened up presents in the forms of bb guns, jump ropes, toy cars, and legos. This was my favorite part about Christmas last year, and it did not disappoint.

Building their Lego airplanes

Never too old for Christmas toys

Christmas Dinner consisted of a feast of ham, salmon, turkey, pies, and more. We stuffed ourselves silly and then went back for seconds (and thirds for Ben). Then we somehow made it upstairs and enjoyed a restful evening and contented sleep.

Massive and delicious hams
Ben stealing the presents
Merry Christmas to all! 

Ben and I hope that your Christmas was also filled with much love, happiness, and joy!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

We Are Alive!

After a whirlwind summer of great family trips, [over] eating, crazy traveling, and even a wedding, Ben and I arrived back in China at the end of August.

We were looking forward to getting back to a nice routine and a slower pace. That did not happen. Instead, we were greeted with many surprises. Ben's leadership role in our community took a huge jump in responsibilities and time commitments.

My surprise came in the form of finding that my new teaching job's courses were not developed, and the teacher who would be teaching the other courses of the Global Business English department wasn't in China yet!

Hence, September and much of October just flew by without hardly any rest.

We will try to catch you up on our semester here now that classes are over (for me), and I'm actually experiencing some free time now.

Stay...with us.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Weekending in Beijing: Part Two

I actually love McCafe coffee (classy, I know)
This is the second part to our weekend in Beijing. If you haven't already, check out our first day here: Weekending in Beijing: Part One.

The next day, we woke up nice and early to conquer the Great Wall. After another delicious breakfast at McDonald's (ugh), we took the subway to a bus station where we thought we could find a city bus to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

After much asking and even more refusals of private bus tours, we finally found the tiny outpost where the bus was located. Our timing was impeccable; almost as soon as we ensured we were in the right place, our bus arrived.

We decided to go to the Mutainyu part because we heard that it wasn't as touristy and crowded as the Badaling or Juyongguan sections. If you have ever experienced the crushing mass of a Chinese crowd, you would understand why we decided on this. 

Furthermore, Mutainyu is surrounded by a protected parkland among the most beautiful orchards and pines we have seen in China. It took us about 2 1/2 hours to get there (with poor Ben standing for most of the time), but the trip was more than worth it.

Michelle decided to go off-roading. Can you spot her?

We had the option to take the cable car up or walk. Being cheap and semi-fit, we opted for the very pleasant hike up about a thousand or so stairs. Just a word of warning: China loves its stairs! Every mountain, hill, and building will have 2 to 20,000 of these seemingly innocuous things for your legs to enjoy (see blog post: Department of Transportation).

After we finally got to the top, we were treated to some amazingly great views. Pictures don't even come close to capturing the grandiose beauty we experienced there. The weather was perfect-- sunny and warm with a nice breeze. The wall wasn't crowded at all-- especially we considering we came on a Saturday on the most beautiful day in May.


We spent the rest of the afternoon taking pictures, traveling up and down the steep...you guessed it...stairs along the wall, and just trying to take it all in. My whole life I've dreamed about visiting the Great Wall, and for once, something not only lived up to my expectations but managed to surpass them! To be there in the beautiful nature with all the amazing history with Ben...simply spectacular.

So happy!
Super slanted stairs!


This part of the wall was constructed about 300 years ago in the Ming Dynasty. As you may remember from the historical film, Mulan, the wall was built as a defense from the marauding (no relation to us) northern nomads. It was been continually reconstructed since the 1500s till the 1980s.
Don't fall!

Once we got the end of the reconstructed part, we trespassed onto the old, un-rebuilt section, which was also pretty cool with its dirt path, crumbling stones, and trees. We were able to see more villages and even a dust storm that was heading our way!

Kissing on the wall brings good luck...just kidding, it was just because I love him

With our bus leaving around 2 pm, we knew we needed to start heading back at around 1:45. However, instead of walking down all those stairs, we took the much more enjoyable route: tobogganing down! That's right, for about $10, we were able to careen down the mountain on little Chinese toboggans. It was a blast!

Faster, Michelle, Faster!
Ben as happy as he was in Disneyland

Because Michelle was SO slow (not really, the lines were long, and the little Chinese boy in front of her was the slow-poke), we got back at 1:55. We still had not eaten lunch and the thought of a 2 1/2 hour bus ride with no food made us dizzy. Seeing a Subway near all the vendors at the bottom, we raced into it and jiejiemangmang (Chinese pinyin for hurriedly) ordered our sandwiches. Two minutes later we rushed out and caught our bus with impeccable timing again.

We crashed on the bus for about an hour and then hopped off to take our favorite mode of transportation, the subway, to the famous Silk Market. We were a bit disappointed by this place. It has become a massive, expensive tourist trap. Thankfully our [limited] knowledge helped us barter down quite a bit, but it quickly became exhausting. I would stay away unless you love bargaining or don't mind getting completely taken advantage of constantly.

Our day was still not over as we headed over to Peter's Tex Mex restaurant to consume some much needed Mexican food. Below were the best (and only) quesadillas that I've had all year. 

Such cheesy goodness

After another stop for dessert at TGI (by then we were experiencing culture and caloric shock) we headed out to our train for a long overnight ride back home. 

We got safe and sound on Sunday and happy to be home. 

Beijing is so great in many ways, but I wouldn't trade any of it for our home here. We feel very blessed to be in our little university in the middle of no-where. 

Hope you all feel the same about wherever you are in this world.