Monday, March 18, 2013

Working Hard, Playing Hard, Eating Hard

                                                     Happy St. Paddy's Day!     photo credit: Nancy Nan

So now you know that we are staying and a little about why we are staying, we want to share a little bit more about how great Sias University and the foreign community is here. There are about 120 teachers and some administrators from all around American and the world who are working at Sias.
                                   Homemade Peppermint Patties! MMMM       by Nancy Nan

Even though we all have different backgrounds, beliefs, and accents, we manage to all rally together a few times a year to share our love of delicious baked treats! Years ago some genius/saint had the brilliant idea to host a bake sale filled with foods that we miss dearly to raise money for a wonderful orphanage outreach organization called Bring Me Hope.

The awesome servers (can you spot the cute, bearded leprechaun?)
by Nancy Nan

The family that makes it all happen each year
by Nancy Nan

Each year around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and St. Patrick's Day, a large group of dedicated, talented people get together to create a feast with the most scrumptious delights our homesick taste buds have tasted. They even festively decorate our conference room so we can enjoy our spicy pumpkin donuts, decadent mint chocolate fudge, or lime green lemon bars in a homey setting. Knowing all the proceeds are going to a good cause always helps set the frugally and/or calorically minded people at ease (heavens knows I don't suffer from either case...though maybe I should!).
The silent auction with my stout heart cake
by Nancy Nan

It is also an excellent opportunity to invite our Chinese students and friends for a literal taste of Western culture. They even seem to enjoy our very sweet (to them) cakes and cookies. Our latest bake sale, Ben and I attempted some pear and chocolate scones (which were an utter failure unfit for the general public) and a rich chocolate Guinness stout cake and shamrock leaves. Thankfully, the cake and leaves were a hit among the faculty, and good times were had by all. 

Some of our good friends experiencing Christmas
by Nancy Nan
Till next time! 
We love you and miss you all!
by Nancy Nan

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Back to China and Lovin' It!

Today marks the end of our third week back at Sias International University teaching Oral English for Spring semester. Upon our return to China, both Rachel and I were dreading the thought of coming back to work. We had just returned from laid-back Thailand and bustling Hong Kong and were already brainstorming where we could travel over summer and even next winter. The thought of having to go back to work after a near two month paid vacation was almost tragic. It's not that we didn't want to be responsible adults and go back to work, but we were still in vacation mode. The thought of sitting on the beach and sipping coconut juice from a freshly chopped coconut seemed infinitely more appealing. Crossing paths with reality was a little difficult at first.

Lacking motivation seemed not only bad for us but also for our students. Some things that contributed to the lack of motivation were that we had just left the lush jungles and beaches of Thailand, where we were able to breath fresh air and eat fresh everything in 75 degree and sunny weather, and were now back to Xinzheng where 35 degrees was considered warm and the skies were gray and the sun and stars nonexistent. We were wondering if this was a sign from above that maybe we just weren't supposed to be here for longer than a year. Maybe we were supposed to go back home or look for jobs in other countries. This is what consumed our thoughts for the full week of being back before classes started.

All faculty were given till March 17th to notify the school of their intent to either stay for another year or leave at the end of the school year. After considering all pros and cons and weighing other options, we decided to wait until the last few days to make the final decision.

The decision was definitely hard to make, considering we had a few really heavily polluted days. Anthropogenic emissions of PM 2.5 and PM 10 are major contributors of the gloom in China. Locals raking leaves, branches and dirt into a pile and incinerating the pile is a daily practice here. Many villages don't have trash pickup services, so the only thing left is to incinerate all rubbish. This also adds to the local pollution. Considering we would have lungs of an addicted smoker upon our return to America was rather scary to Rachel and me. This was one of the biggest reasons we didn't want to be here. Here are a few pictures so you can see what it's like. There are nice days in China too, but it's definitely not common. I will post some next time.
Air Quality Index of our city vs. AQI of Beijing
on one of our more polluted days.
The view outside our bedroom window on a relatively clean day (AQI: ~200).
The view outside our bedroom window on a pretty bad day (AQI: ~400). 
That was all until we got through the first day of teaching. Even though the pollution was still abundant, after teaching for four hours on our first day, I felt a renewed joy and passion to stay in China. I know life here can be tough sometimes but where wouldn't it be? Things are no where near perfect here, but where is it perfect? We truly have a renewed excitement to be in China and feel our time here is far from over. Even though teaching Oral English is not our passion--I for one would love to teach numbers--we do indeed love and enjoy the students we work with. Not to mention, spring is on its way and we can already feel the warm days ahead of us...that's always a plus.

We have a great community of teachers and students at Sias University. This is one of the few schools that has such an open campus. Students and foreign teachers here have the great opportunity of hanging out and getting to know each other whenever they please. These cultural exchanges are probably some of the most rewarding things one can experience from working abroad. Most of our students are so eager to meet with us to help them with their oral english and talk life that we have to be very strategic in planning meeting times. Being able to encourage students to be independent thinkers and help answer the tough questions of life has been a huge reward. 

Many are the reasons we have decided to stay another year. Even though we miss our family and friends, we know this is where we're supposed to be right now. We are excited to see how much our relationships grow with our students and our new friends here.

Even though this post did not discuss much about our wonderful travels, it would be impossible to even mention Thailand and not post some green pictures. With that said, here you go:
Phuket, Thailand

Koh Samui, Thailand
Koh Samui, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Sunset at Naiyang Beach, Phuket, Thailand 

Thank you for reading and thinking of us. We do miss everyone more than words can say.


P.s. Loads of pictures coming SOON!!!