Monday, September 26, 2011

MIL Is Just Like My Kindergarteners

Self-portraits drawn by my kindergarteners. It looks just like them too!

I realized something today when I came home from work. That my kindergarteners and my MIL have something big in common. They don't listen. Yes, they share the same bothersome habit, but my students are much more likeable (and are better groomed) than she is. And now since one of our words of the day last week was 'listen,' my students are showing signs of improving when it comes to listening to what I say. Not MIL though.

I smiled politely and said my obligatory "ni hao" to her, then squealed with joy and yelled, "Hi Raelynn" to my daughter, as I bounded into the bedroom. I was in the process of putting my purse down and removing my large, shiny dangling earrings since Raelynn has developed a fondness for yanking on them, when I noticed a small parade of flies (though they COULD have been mosquitoes actually) circling over the bed. I call out to MIL and ask her in my choppy Chinese what in the hell is going on with the bugs. Of course, I don't understand anything in her reply except my husband's name, so you can see asking her is futile at best.

As I arm myself with the can of bug spray from under the kitchen sink, I try to stifle my urge to spray her with it. For one, she's holding Raelynn so I definitely can't spray anywhere near her but for another, she's my husband's mother and I have to try with all my might to be nice. Plus, we need her to watch the baby while I work. But I so want to give MIL a healthy wallop of that stuff right in her troll face because bugs love her. She was personally responsible for the plague of flies that overran our home and that wasn't even the only incident. Since she never listens, it is little wonder why we had a sudden surge in fly population inside our home. She leaves things out that attract bugs despite being told to put them away. Now that we have that giant refrigerator, there is no excuse to leave food out yet in the kitchen, there was a box of grapes just sitting there tempting fate. Since I found no other bugs, I can only assume I killed her entourage of flies that follow her to and fro. I think they followed her into our bedroom to get more diapers for the baby and she somehow gave them the slip.

Much in the same way, my kindergarteners also summon the flies when they neglect to listen to me (or the Korean and Chinese teachers for that matter) and throw food waste into a paper bin. You can guarantee the next day, we will have ants, flies and a variety of other insects congregating in and around said waste bin. The only differences are that the school is much larger than my house and that I don't have to clean up the messes the kids make.

After dousing the crap out of this latest crop of MIL's flies, I grab Raelynn from her so I can get to the part of my day that I love the best - spending time with my baby. Nothing is more wonderful than having those precious moments with her myself. Raelynn and I snuggle, I feed her and then I read her a story. Once my baby is back in my arms, MIL creeps into the evening air heading back to the troll bridge she crawled out from under, otherwise known as the countryside. Now that she's gone, Raelynn and I go into her bedroom (which she will soon be moving into now that she's big enough) and choose a book to read together. And that is when I notice the bib.

See, my wonderful friends and relatives (thank you guys!) sent so many lovely things for Raelynn. So many clothes, books, toys and other useful items. Among those, bibs. Lots and LOTS of bibs! Please don't think I'm complaining. Well, I AM complaining but not about the massive amount of bibs I now own. My complaint is with MIL who keeps hand-washing them with this weird soap under the kitchen sink that isn't even for laundry. First of all, we have so many bibs, it is insane for her to wash them after Raelynn wears one. Secondly, the soap she uses smells funny and doesn't remove the scent of breast milk. So it still smells dirty. I asked Lane to please tell her not to worry about washing the bibs. It's not like she is going to run out of clean bibs to use when I am at work. I also hate that she puts a soaking wet bib on the drying rack with clothes I am about to gather up, fold and put away. She inevitably places the wet bib on something else and thus, that something else gets wet again.

Lane told me the other day that he'd spoken with his mother about this and he'd told her to please put the bibs into the laundry basket. But again, just like my young students, she didn't listen. As I am asking Raelynn which book we should read today (incidentally, she chose A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss), a dripping-wet bib catches my eye. After I throw it into the laundry basket, I throw the offending soap into the garbage. I've done this so many times, yet she'll bring a new bar of stinky-fresh-pee-pee-smelling soap with her on her next visit. You can bet your life on that.

My kindergarteners cannot follow directions very well either. I have given them worksheets on it just to test the waters. Clare was my only student who got it right. Jake and Ron at least tried and in the middle, seemingly got bored and drew unicorns. The rest of them didn't even try. It showed me that listening was something these kids really needed to work on and fast. That was 2 weeks ago. Now I've got only 2 of them, Brian and Joanne, who have trouble listening. Or they selectively listen. I could tell them they just lost their right to playtime for the day but all Joanne hears is "playtime" and she gets excited until one of her classmates repeats what I said. Maybe that's what happened here. Maybe Lane said (in Chinese of course), "Please don't wash the bibs. Don't do that. Put it in the laundry basket and Jennifer will wash it when she gets home today," and then she heard: "Please don't wash the bibs. Don't do that. Put it in the laundry basket and Jennifer will wash it when she gets home today."

I know she means well and wants to help but the only thing I have asked her to do is take good care of the baby and not kill her or do anything stupid while I'm not home and to pick up after herself. As long as she at least listens to that, I will be grateful, even if I am severely irked by everything else she does.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Where Have All The Flower Pillows Gone?

Once upon a time in our house, there was an unholy amount of ugly in every corner, thanks to my in-laws and their poor decorating tastes. My husband and I began the process of removing the things that were not our style and replacing them with things that we liked. Even though this apartment was given to us as a gift from them, it is our house and we are allowed to do with it as we wish. And we wished for those old, lumpy, frumpy grandma-style flower pillows to go away.

Do you remember them? Take a look:

My husband and I replaced them with more stylish ones, as you can see below. True that they also have a flower pattern, it is more elegant and modern than the previous couch pillows which looked like they fell out of granny mothball heaven and smelled like it too (despite numerous attempts to remove the stench of fried bait fish, sweat and a lifetime of stench from being too close to people who don't know how to use soap). While I'd have loved to set fire to the hideous flower pillows of yesteryear, Lane gave them back to his mother where they have a happy life living with other crappy home ornaments that is just as old and dusty as the people that live there.

While we're on this photo, check out the lamp, for it is new as well. We have a light on the ceiling which has 6 bulbs in it and they are always burning out. Despite my well-meaning reminders, which probably sound like nagging to my husband, he has yet to replace the ones that have burned out. So now only 2 bulbs light up. Now my husband can afford to ignore my requests to fix our other light because this one lights the room up much more brightly. I came home from work one day to find this waiting for me, which was a pleasant surprise indeed.

This is one of the other sets of pillows we got for the living room. There is an identical one on the opposite matching chair. These were less than 30 yuan. They're leather! I loved the shiny contrast with our other new pillows. Lane had to agree these were a must-have addition to the house. I'd say now we can work on finding cushions for the bottom part of the couch and chairs instead of the not-very-cushioney-70s-style ones you see there but we will be getting REAL couches and chairs soon! My in-laws own another property near this house that they rent out. The current tenants will leave in November and my in-laws will move in there, Lord help me. When they move there, they will take this pretty but uncomfortable wood furniture with them. It will be easier for them to watch Raelynn too, however I hope I do not personally have to see them more often. Lane has expressed that my days off are not to be ruined by having them visit. Of course, he said it much more nicely than that because if it were up to me and I possessed that kind of vocabulary in Chinese, I would have said it that way.

Red rug. Red rug. My husband surprised me with this. Perhaps what is most surprising about it is that it feels just like the textured felt we use to cover the bulletin boards at school, the ones where we hang up all kinds of bright and cheery kindergarten artwork. There is also a lovely black line on one end where the place he'd purchased it from had drawn with permanent marker to help them cut off the right amount (photo below). Sigh. It could be worse, I suppose. Lane isn't so keen on it anymore since he keeps tripping over it. Plus, once we spotted a bunch of really pretty area rugs in the fancy furniture store near us that were actually reasonably priced, he set his sights on those. I just hope he doesn't go pick one out while I'm at work. I'd hate for him to show up with the one that looked like they skinned alive the entire cast of The Muppets and then sewed their carcasses together. Then again, it would be better than anything MIL would ever pick out for us, wouldn't it?

 I love, just loooooove the crappy black line that was drawn on this to measure it. Thanks Einstein. Maybe you could have drawn it on the other side? Sheesh.

By the way, were you wondering what became of that stupid world map my husband refused to part with that he'd hung over the couch in the living room? If you were, don't cry. Here it is in our kitchen. I did not agree to this but I allowed it or else he was about to go put it back in my newly prettied up living room. Above those awesome couch pillows! Noooooo! I think what bothers me most about the map is that it is tacked up with package tape that is on the outside like some dumb kid would do in their dorm room. As we saw from our visit to the country house, my husband likely thinks slapping a world map up on the wall is a fine idea thanks to his parents. As I've always known, you should choose your battles wisely and if this map is the only tacky thing in our home and my husband likes it, so be it.

Besides, if you look to the left of the map in the photo, you will see why no one will really notice that map of the world. Here's a better look:
It's our brand new Western-style refrigerator! Hallelujah! This thing just rocks. Once I got the kindergarten job, we went the very next weekend to buy it. The one that was in here from when my in-laws lived here was on its last leg. It was starting to leak. It was also too small. When MIL would bring a ton of rotting fruits and vegetables to us from her garden, there was no room to shove them in there. Plus, the freezer was full of old chicken feet and heads and pork belly from 7 years ago. It was just nasty. Now there is no excuse for anyone (coughcoughMILcough) to leave perishable food out on the counters, in the cabinets or sitting in the microwave (which is where I found food today...yuck). There is so much room in this thing. As an added bonus, it is so large we couldn't put it where the old one was so now this one blocks the kitchen window. Now the old neighbor lady who likely thought the kitchen gods went crazy can't gawk at me like a slack-jawed yokel at a freak show. I never did get to make funny faces at her. Oh well!

Yes, you are looking at a pipe that is held together by a shoelace. My apologies that I never noticed this before. This was what it looked like underneath the bathroom sink. I suspect this was my FIL's handiwork. It's totally his M.O. to fix things like this instead of just spending the few yuan it would cost to replace the part and have it professionally repaired. Anyway, I didn't notice it until I turned on the sink to brush my teeth one morning and my feet were getting wet. Turns out, either Lane or I bumped the baby tub, which we stash under there, into this hot mess. I was surprised it held out that long.

When I came home from work that day, I was happy to see that the pipe had been fixed properly, sans shoelace. I'm sure my in-laws dug the shoelace out of the garbage to use as a makeshift belt or something. I wouldn't expect anything less.

And finally, no crapshack would be complete without a new crapper. The original toilet that had come with this apartment (which is only 10 years old - quite surprising given the condition here as it looks much older) was shitty (pun totally intended) to begin with. When we first moved in here, I remember my husband instructing me to hold the flusher in for 10 seconds before letting go so the toilet would flush. Of course, if you're like his parents (or any other Chinese people) you don't flush it. You throw a bucket of water down it like someone who grew up under a rock in a cave with wolves as role models. Anyhoodle, it was also an ugly off-brown color (if that is one) and it broke several times in the last year. We had it repaired (the right way and not with shoelaces, thankyouverymuch) each time. I personally was fed up with the damn thing but Lane had been waiting for me to sign the contract at my job to ensure we could easily afford it (we honestly could have even if I did not take the job). Even after I signed, he was still dragging his feet about it. That is, until it overflowed on him after he used it one night. After that, it was to the dump for that toilet. I came home from work, and this new, shiny white toilet was waiting for me.

But before I could get too excited about it, Lane told me I couldn't poop in it until 2 days later. He said I could only pee in it. I thought he was joking. Nope. He said I should walk all the way to the end of our street, cross the insane intersection and walk up to the ugly hotel that I got to know rather well when I was pregnant since it was right next to the bus stop.
"We have a new toilet!" I exclaim. "Why in hell would I walk all the way to that hotel to take a shit?!"
"The sealy needs to set," Lane explains and I give him one of those raised eyebrow looks. Sealy? Suddenly, I realize he means sealant.
"You mean 'sealant," I say. And I'm growing more alarmed now as I ask, "First of all, what the fuck does that have to do with anything? And second of all, how the fuck am I supposed to walk down the street at 10pm, cross that intersection and not shit in my pants?"
"But the toilet could come loose!"
"Wait, let me get this straight. The toilet will come loose if I shit in it, but not if I go pee?"
"What. The. Fuck. Have you lost your mind along with the rest of your country?"
"No, it's because you sit down to take sheet." He says 'shit' with a long e sound.
"But I sit down to pee too. So I shouldn't pee then either?"
"No, you can pee because you won't be sitting as long."
I look at him like he has gone completely insane now.
"So, what if I squat over the toilet to piss and shit. Will that be a problem?"
"Not unless it is for you."
"Well, pooping standing up is a lot better than running down the street trying not to shit myself very late at night or early in the morning."

Yes, this really happened. And fortunately, neither of us disturbed the sealant, assuming that could even happen (I have never heard of such a thing personally) or disturbed our garments in what likely could have been one shitty problem.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

10 Most Popular Things My Kindergarteners Say

Here I am with my coordinating Korean teacher and our class full of overly energetic kindergarteners. Check out the 2 boys in the middle of the first row. I can't help but think of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes when I look at their faces.

This week has been horribly busy between work and home life. Perhaps due to the shorter week since we had Monday off for Chuseok/Jong Chou Jie. Or from Raelynn getting her first fever ever (which is now thankfully gone). Or from catching up on household chores including dragging out the fall and winter wardrobe and packing away summery things. OR...maybe these kindergarteners are more exhausting than I thought!

After almost a month of teaching kindergarten, I've fallen into a routine. It's a fairly easy, albeit slightly annoying job. We do the same kinds of things each week with some variations to keep them on their toes. But one thing that never varies are the kinds of things that they say. Here are 10 of the most commonly uttered things from my students:

1) "Teacherrrrrrrr! 
This is by far the most spoken word by all of them. It precedes everything they say and every other item on this list. So as you read this, just imagine a long and whiny "teacherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr" right in front of all of the following items and you will accurately be simulating my daily work experience.

2) "I have to go to the bathroom!"
With children this young, it's not a great idea to let them decide when they should go to the bathroom. Otherwise, they'll just wind up wandering in and out of the room during lessons. I take them twice during our 3 hours together. Once right before our morning snack so we can all wash our hands too and once right before lunch time. Now that I've gotten to know them, I can tell who really means it when they've got an emergency and who is just trying to get an inch and take a mile. Despite these bathroom breaks incorporated into our routine, these children, without fail, will bug me to take them to the bathroom. EVEN IF WE JUST WENT. Man, is that annoying. I can bet money and win on any given day that they will ask me to go to the bathroom right before snack and/or lunch. And there is ALWAYS someone who didn't use the toilet when we all went who whines that he/she must use the bathroom. Teacherrrrrrrrrrrrr's response? I use one word that my husband always says to me: "Endure!" It makes me smile inside and out.

3) "I'm hungry!"
This one is very, very cute actually. I'd be shocked if someone's parents didn't feed them breakfast before sending them off to school. They arrive at school around 9am. Then, it is snack time at 9:20am. Lunch is at 11:50am. The children are very well fed. But I do know the feeling myself. I eat breakfast each morning and some days I am so ready to chomp off a limb before the snack comes (I get a snack too! Woohoo!). And then by lunch time, I am definitely ready to eat. So when my kids tell me they are hungry, I usually smile and tell them, "Me too!"

4) "I'm hot (or cold)!"
It never ceases to amaze me how some of these kids will be on opposites ends of the extremes. I send a newsletter home each week and on it, I asked the parents to please send their children with a sweater just in case they get cold. At any given moment, one of them is unhappy about the temperature in the room and will whine incessantly about it.

5) "Finishie!"
I'm on the fence on this one. It is really cute sometimes because Koreans don't do consonant blends. When you Korean-ify an English word, there are some extra syllables added in. Koreans find it odd to just end a word in consonants. Like the word "sausage" for us. They call it "sausagie." And that is adorable. The word "finish" is the same. Until you have an entire room of children yelling "finishie" no matter how many times you tell them to raise their hands quietly and wait for you to come check their work.

6) "(Name) is speaking Korean!"
Ever since I introduced the play money into the classroom, the children have really gotten into it. They like having me count it, though now, I am pleased to announce they can count it in English all by themselves (most of them, anyway). They now realize that if they are good, they can earn more money and if they speak Korean during English class, they will lose money. So with this realization comes a surge in tattling. I must hear this one at least 10 times a day. Albert is my most commonly outed student here. Ryan is my tattle-tale. There's always one isn't there?

7) "(Name) hit me!"
And if Ryan is my tattler, he is my instigator as well. I get no end of complaints about him hitting someone else. It's no wonder since he can't seem to keep his hands to himself. I catch him most of the time, but other times I'm busy dealing with some other disaster in the classroom. I can't punish him if I don't see it. But if someone is crying their eyes out, I know it's not made up and the offender gets punished.

8) "Playtime???"
I hate hate HATE when the children ask me this. Because it means they aren't listening AT ALL. Few of them listen well. One of my best behaved though slowest students kept asking me this the other day and I had to swallow the scream that nearly bellowed from within. They will just hear "playtime" when I speak and not the other words that surround it. For example, I'll say very loudly and slowly: "Ok, class! If we can all be good today and do our work, we will have playtime." I think all they hear is: "wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah playtime."

9) "(Name) is looking at my paper!"
This is also an annoying one and the looker is always punished. I can't stand it when they can't keep their eyes on their own papers. Do you think the kid next to you who eats paste is a reliable person to cheat off of? I always tell them to ask me if they have questions and inevitably, one of them tries not so stealthily to look at their neighbor's paper. After I hand out a timeout, anyone else who even thought of cheating raises their hand and asks me to help, which I am absolutely happy to do. I want these kids to learn something and not just copy shit down. Maybe that flies with other teachers in the world, but not with me. 

10) "I lost my pencil/eraser/red crayon/etc.!"
These kids are ALWAYS losing something. What's annoying about this is that they seldom will tell me before I begin teaching the lesson when they should be getting their supplies from their cubbies and then sitting down quietly. Oh no. Of course not. They interrupt and loudly whine about not having a pencil (which they had earlier in the day) or an eraser (which is likely right under their chair or even more likely, in the center of the room where I will wind up stepping on it) or they are missing a certain color crayon or SOMETHING. I can't go one day without this kind of situation afflicting my students.

They might whine. They might cry. They might scream. They might run through the hallways. They might run and hit and cause a kerfuffle. But despite these many flaws, I am finding myself becoming quite fond of my students because I can see the hidden potential each of them have within. It's humbling to think I can give them the keys they need to unlock it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thank God I'm Not A Country Girl

Mooncakes are my favorite thing about this holiday, even though they would most definitely taste better if they were filled with oozing chocolate. And yes, behind me is the in-laws' living room. You can see some ugly curtains and some weird foam thing around the light switch plate that was similar in style to the hideous one they had up in our living room.
This weekend, I was happy to enjoy a three-day reprieve from work instead of just two days thanks to the holiday for the fall harvest. In Korean, it's called Chuseok. In Chinese, it is called Jong Choe Jie, though I might be spelling that wrong. Yes, I am married to a Chinese man but he'll sigh impatiently and sound it out again while giving me the stink eye as he expects me to suddenly and miraculously turn into a master of the complex Chinese language in under a year.

Despite having more weekend to enjoy, part of it was automatically sacrificed to the harvest gods for my husband had arranged for us to go out to the countryside where his parents live for lunch. This is their version of Thanksgiving and it's a family day. And like it or not, his parents are part of my family now. So off we went on our excursion into the land where there are no other white people. Or malls. Or even KFCs (which is huge over here. They seriously have a KFC on just about every corner in Qingdao). Or anything, really.

The bus ride took forever. I definitely have a new appreciation for MIL's daily journeys here to watch the baby. Though she WANTS to see her grandchild. It's not like we're asking her to schlep all the way out here to scrub the house, which we all know she is completely incapable of anyway. There is no direct bus there either. We had to take one to some big park and then hop on what I'd like to call the country bus. I didn't take any photos for I was too busy keeping the village folk from touching the baby.

As we neared our destination, I grew alarmed. People LIVED out HERE? Ugh. To each his own, but honestly, whether here or back in the states, I could never be a country girl. I need vibrant city life closer than that. Or at very least a big mall and some coffee shops in the suburbs. But here? I leaned over and told my husband that if this was where he'd brought me to live when we first came to Qingdao, I'd have been on the next plane out.

But it's not actually Qingdao. It is way out there on the outskirts. It is an hour and a half from our home. Once the bus screeched to a halt at our stop, Lane ushered Raelynn and I off the bus and onto a tiny street with one lane going each way, freckled with produce peddlers and rundown buildings. Not one skyscraper in sight. I was not at all surprised when he lead me to his parents' building. It looked almost identical to ours but for the color of the building and the surroundings. Of course all the property they own would be the same! How silly of me!

We climb a million stairs, just like we do at our house, to get to their apartment. I have to say I expected it to be much more disgusting than it was. I pictured a floor made out of dirt, a fire pit in the center and a hole in the ground for a bathroom. But it had walls and a functioning bathroom. Who knew?! However, the floors were gritty as though they hadn't been swept or mopped lately. And the blankets she had topping the couch probably hadn't been washed in a while either. The kitchen was much smaller than ours. And what surprised me most about it was that it wasn't even a fraction of as disgusting as our own kitchen was when we first moved into our home. It looked like MIL had made an extra effort to clean up so I wouldn't complain, which was a wise move on her part. She had vegetables all over the place though, just like in our kitchen before we made her stop doing that, but the area around them was clean. Then again, she also had stored some vegetables outside the door on the stairs, but because they were still in their bags, it was obvious she'd just bought them from the market so I'll give her a pass on that.

I was not all surprised when I discovered they didn't have A/C in their house. Annoyed beyond belief, but not shocked. Those two. How they live like that is beyond me. Thankfully, it is cooling down now as we get into autumn but they had the windows closed. So of course, Raelynn began shrieking as is her custom when it comes to being in places where people are too stupid to open windows or use A/C. Luckily, there happened to be a good breeze going and with the windows open, it became a much more tolerable temperature in the house.
A view of the mountains and the now-open windows.

We sit and drink tea while his mom attempts to prepare some food. She did an alright job though her cooking still leaves much to be desired. We eat and drink for quite some time, just like you would for Thanksgiving in America. Only everyone is speaking Chinese. After many beers, I'm less agitated about being there. My husband took advantage of the opportunity and took me up to the next floor. His parents also own the unit above theirs and wanted him to show me. No A/C in there either. But everything else WAS in there. I had been wondering where my in-laws had shoved all their crap they'd had in this house when we moved in and consequently asked them to take home so we could fit our things and make room for Raelynn. Now I know. They put it all in there! And while we're there marveling at all the crap, my husband tries to sweet talk me into staying the night. Oh no. No, no, no, no, NO.

Not happening. I tell him as sweetly as I possibly can that there is no way in hell I am staying there overnight. I didn't even want to go there in the first place but had to because this holiday is important to them. So I went but staying the night was where I drew the line. We bargain on a time for leaving. It's 3pm. We finally both come to an agreement on 5:30pm for catching the bus back. But my husband isn't done with the torture. As he pours me more beer, he puts me in a horribly uncomfortable position by asking me to let his troll of a mother take the baby for a walk by herself. Her? Why does she deserve to be seen with my beautiful daughter? My husband explained that since we were in their neighborhood and since his mother won't shut her snaggle-toothed piehole about her grandchild, she feels the need to show off. Now I'm angry. I should let this woman who I don't much care for who watches my kid all week long despite I think she's incompetent now take our treasured baby out in public alone? Even my husband has asked her to never leave our house with Raelynn and now he wants her to go bragging to her crusty farm folk about our child!
My in-laws and the baby.

Here's my father-in-law with Raelynn which I took a shot of as a cover to capture these "lovely" decorations. This, incidentally, must be why Lane thinks that taping a large map of the world up to the wall is lovely decor. Also, check out the cheap Chinese posters flanking each side of it. Their style in this home is just the same as it was in our home before we ousted everything in that it truly looked like they snagged the adornments from random Chinese restaurants.
I allow it only because my father-in-law will go with her too and because if I say no, I look like the biggest bitch in all of creation. As soon as they leave, I cry and I let him know exactly how I feel about this. It pisses me right off that his mother's vanity is more important than the baby's safety, especially since she should attempt to dress and style herself better if she's so concerned what people think about her. And shower more often too while she's at it. I've only consented to their taking a 10-minute walk with Raelynn and I have my eye on the clock. But before 10 minutes can even pass, from one of the open windows, I can hear Raelynn crying for me outside. And moments later, MIL has brought my precious angel back to me. She stops crying as soon as I hold her and I resist the urge to say, "I told you so."
Raelynn lays atop her blanket which separates her from the musty blanket that is covering the couch which didn't seem as though it had been washed in some time. Also, look at the top of the photo and you'll see the barfy grandma-style flower pillows have found their way home!

As 5:30pm nears, I start rounding up our things. But now my husband wants to stay until 6pm. That did it. I spent the whole day smiling politely and trying to remember that this is my husband's side of the family and I must do my best to be nicer to them. Seeing that he's pushing the boundaries too hard, my husband also realizes that if I don't claw his eyes out for this, he's not being fair to the baby who needs a bath when she gets home and needs to be put to bed soon after that. So off we went, leaving the village people behind. The mountains there were indeed glorious but I can see mountains from our windows. I think I said it best to my husband's aunt who asked me how I liked the countryside and would I live out that way. I had my husband politely tell her that there was no way I'd ever live out there because it is too far from Starbucks.
Happy Mid-Autumn Harvest y'all!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Korean Drama

Photo of traditional Korean masks.

My husband and I love watching Korean dramas. It is something we did nightly while living in Seoul and now that we have access to Korean channels here, we proudly continue this tradition. Korean dramas are just so juicy and over the top. I couldn't help but get into them.

But there is one type of Korean drama I just can't get into. And that's the Korean drama at work. Since I started this job, there is always something they just have to muck up with their ideas about something. They want the school to truly be international but some of the things they're doing are just, well, dumb. It turns into a big dramatic showdown during our meetings where us foreign teachers are sticking together and trying to explain to them why their ideas are nice thoughts but are simply not going to work.

Like the most recent drama which was, ironically, about drama. If you've been reading my blog posts, you'll know I am teaching kindergarten for a Korean school in China. That means 1) my students are very young at 6 years old 2) they are Korean 3) they are learning English AND Chinese as well as how to speak Korean better. The director and principal had thought they'd try to be cool and update the curriculum. In it, they added drama. Because they'd made this change (or "changie" as they say it) long after I'd departed for the day, they took the liberty of adjusting my weekly schedule I'd already submitted to reflect this. On said schedule, they had put "Library Time & Writing" on Tuesday and "Library Time & Drama" on Thursday. I figured that on one day, they wanted me to read to the children and have them write something about the story we read and on the other day, we'd read a book and act it out after. That would have made the most sense so of course, that was wrong.

What DID they want? Oh, for me to teach them a play. Yes, teach children who are just learning English to ACT in a play to perform at the end of each month. We're talking a classroom full of 15 small children with only 3 who can really read very well in English. I actually had tried to do this thinking it would be fun. But it was what I imagine kindergarten in hell would be like. The children were restless and bored and who could blame them? Even with a short play that I'd edited to be even shorter and simpler was of no interest to them. ALL of them, even my best students, used the paper I printed it on to draw pictures while I was going around the room helping the children with their lines. It seemed to me cruel and unusual punishment for children that age.

I relayed this in our weekly meeting while my friend Genesis, the other Western teacher in kindergarten with me, stood her ground as well. Even Lane thought the idea of teaching children so young to act in a play in a language that isn't their first language is the stupidest idea he's ever heard of. Lord knows what will happen next. Hopefully, they will drop it faster than their other brainless scheme that never made it - to have Genesis and me catalog the kindergarten library in our "free" time. That was shot down faster than you can say "what the fuck!" It's only a matter of time before they come up with something else equally as annoying. Until then, I'll finish enjoying my drama-free three-day weekend thanks to the mid-fall harvest day, celebrated in both Korea and China.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Open Letter To Shandong Airlines

This was not our actual plane though I would not have been surprised in the slightest if they had requested us to get out and push the plane. Whoever posted this on the Picasa Web Albums site has probably refused to ever fly this airline again as well.
I'd been meaning to get this post up sooner but with the new job and Raelynn, it got buried under some other topics. I should thank whoever has been viewing My Annoying Aviation Experience post recently because it reminded me to get this done.

Some background on this:
Ever since moving to Qingdao, China, I have had the great displeasure of being booked onto Shandong Airlines (known as China Air or Air China elsewhere in the world) by my husband any time I have had to go somewhere or we've traveled anywhere together. It's been quite a few flights, actually, and all of them have been terrible. The worst experience was our last one when we returned from Seoul. Add to that what my poor parents had to undergo and I absolutely refuse to fly with these people again.

To whom it may concern at Shandong Airlines,

Over the last year, I have endured numerous aggravating experiences and inconveniences while traveling with your airline. I would like you to know that you will forever be losing my business, as well as the business of my family and friends. 

Here is why:
1) Your flight staff is incapable of effectively communicating in English. You know it's bad when my husband, who is Chinese and speaks two other languages fluently, English being one of them, complains that he has absolutely no idea what they just said in English. If it weren't for his understanding of Chinese, we would have missed many important announcements. 

2) Your food/snacks are just terrible.

3) The cabin bathrooms are always disgusting. Now, I can understand that hygiene in this country is different from my own, but someone should be ensuring the bathrooms aren't a complete mess. And they should have soap in them, but, like most bathrooms in China, they don't which is both gross and shameful.

4) Information is never, ever shared with your passengers which causes even more stress than you'd normally endure while traveling. For example, when my husband, infant daughter and I were returning from Shanghai to Qingdao in mid-June of 2011, the flight was delayed due to inclement weather. Now, the weather of course is not your fault. I do appreciate you not trying to kill us out there. What I don't appreciate though is how you suddenly decided to round everyone up at the gate RIGHT AFTER TELLING US THE FLIGHT WOULD BE DELAYED FOR SEVERAL HOURS and took them to a hotel to wait it out until what we presumed would be the next morning. What if we'd still been eating in the KFC a few gates away? Or in the bathroom? Or, heaven forbid, what if I'd been traveling alone? You didn't mention this in any language but Chinese. I know we're in China but Shanghai is quite the cosmopolitan city and I'm shocked that you didn't make this announcement again in English or even Korean at the very least. You take us to a hotel that looks like the sort of place that dirty old men take prostitutes. Then, we're told we get a free meal. Even though we already ate, we decided to go check it out and get a beer. Good thing we did because AGAIN we were not notified that now the flight was back on and the buses were coming to take us back to the airport. Exactly who is in charge of being this disorganized for your organization? Oh yes, and despite knowing we booked our flight for 2 adults and one infant, you put someone in the third seat in our row, meanwhile I counted several men that got all 3 seats to themselves in the back of the plane who were traveling alone. So, yeah, thanks for that. Not. Smart. At. All.

5) After our trip to Shanghai, you'd think we would have steered clear of your flights. I would have but it was my husband who booked our trip to Seoul on your airline. The flight there was mildly annoying but not as bad as our return trip to Qingdao. Severely bad weather darkened the skies around us. I was surprised and relieved to live through this flight, quite honestly, so I must applaud the pilot's skills here. Because the weather was so horrible in Qingdao, we were diverted to a nearby airport to wait it out. We figured we would sit at the gate and wait until the weather cleared up. BUT YOU MADE US ALL SIT ON THE PLANE WITH NO AIR CONDITIONING! I was so happy I didn't have my baby with me because she would have been as miserable as we were. You said we would be taking off again 'soon' but your definition of that word is completely different from the actual meaning that word holds because we sat there for nearly four hours total. I could have walked back to Qingdao faster. Also, you promised us a meal and water while we were stuck there, trapped like sardines in a can, enduring the same 5 lame songs you play when people are boarding or exiting the aircraft. You left that music on for about two hours too. Then, after promises of food and water, you finally deliver! Only the 'meal' was merely a snack that consisted of: a tiny loaf of bread, smaller than the size of one mini-muffin; some strange pickled vegetable in a small bag; a small bag containing 5 tiny pieces of dried fruit and two vanilla sandwich cookies (which, coupled with the dried fruit, were the only things I found edible). By some small miracle, after all this torture, we are finally granted clearance to take off. We were surprised and thankful to be alive and safe back in Qingdao. 

That was actually our most recent and final flight with your airline. The final element in our decision to never fly with you again was when my parents came to visit us from America. My daughter is their first grandchild and though they had been to China before, they had never been to Qingdao. My parents booked on Delta to get to Shanghai. Then from Shanghai's Pudong Airport, they had to transfer to your airline. It is a very good thing they arrived in Shanghai the evening before they were to fly to Qingdao. It's an even better thing that they stayed at a nice hotel because the concierge helped them to confirm their afternoon flight with you early that same morning and you had, for absolutely no reason (at least none that you would provide) canceled their flight. My parents were lucky enough to get a flight with Juneyao Airlines, who I suspect will be taking most of your business from here unless people truly enjoy having their travel plans ruined, that arrived just a couple hours after your flight would have. And again, 2 days before my parents were to depart, you canceled their flight from Qingdao to Shanghai's Pudong Airport. This time, thanks for actually notifying your passengers. My parents were very stressed out by the change because the flight from Shanghai to Atlanta, Georgia in the United States only goes twice a week at this point. And again, they booked a new flight to Shanghai with Juneyao Airlines and had no more delays or aggravating experiences, except for the annoyance of having to leave a day before they originally planned in order to connect to their flight back to the states. Yes, it is because of your inept service and flight schedules, my parents' stay in Qingdao was truncated.

So, Shandong Airlines, I bid you farewell. I don't care if your flights cost half of what Asiana, Juneyao, Korean Air or any other airline in this area cost. My family, friends and I will never board your planes again.

Jennifer M. Raskin and Qu Xiaolong

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kindergarten Cop

The above photo is just some other random Korean kindergarteners I found on Picasa Web Albums. Look, I've been busy planning lessons and making little arty things for them not to mention being a mom on top of it so I've spaced and forgotten my camera all week. As a matter of fact, you're lucky I had a moment to fart out this blog. So there you go.

I've survived 2 weeks of teaching kindergarten. That deserves some reward, doesn't it? I'm still adjusting to having a job - period - so at night, I find myself falling asleep while feeding Raelynn at 9:30pm. I'm hoping this is only a temporary setback as I don't want to go to sleep that early on any given night. But sometimes I'm so wiped out, it's necessary.

What is it that's so draining? I'm not quite sure. I'm up at 6:30am and Xiao Shi and his dilapidated pickup truck are vigilantly waiting for me at 7:30am. It's during these rides that I attempt to practice my Chinese though Xiao Shi's accent is much like MIL's in that it is a very different dialect and it takes him repeating himself about 5 times before I can decipher anything he says. Energy is also depleted from Raelynn waking several times in the night with much more frequency now that I've been working due to wanting to spend time with me. So between the early rising and a baby that vies for my attention at random late hours, it makes for a pretty exhausted me. Let's not forget a room full of 15 very active 6-year-olds either. 

For the most part, I do like my students. They are cute kids. Some of them are actually quite bright. And some, not so much. But that's what I'm here for. To help them. Because English is not their first language, my day is often spent repeating the same thing over and over, slowly and loudly. I must increase the volume of my voice as I inevitably have 3 or 4 of them yelling at once, "Teacher! Teacher! Finishy!" Or "Teacherrrrrrr! Albert is speaking Korean again!" OR "Teacher! I have to go to the bathroom!" Sometimes I feel like more of a kindergarten cop than a kindergarten ESL teacher. I thank my lucky stars that I only have to deal with these kids for 3 hours a day 5 days a week because a whole day of this would make me go insane.

To encourage good behavior and help foster learning, I've instituted play money as a reward/punishment system. Because I don't want to spend my whole day putting children in the corner like a warden. I charge them a small fine every time they speak Korean during an English lesson. And when they complete their homework, I pay them $5 in play money as a reward. At the end of the month, the student who has saved the most money will get a special prize. I'm not sure what yet, but kids at this age are rather easy to please.

I also discovered that if I ask them for their help with something, they are all too happy to assist me. They beg to hand out worksheets or be the one to pass out the morning snack. So, I use that as a reward too. It works rather well with everything, I've found. I gave them something to color to give them a break from a lot of writing work we'd been doing (and give me a much-needed break so I could check their homework without constant interruption) but I told them I needed their help. I wanted to redecorate the wall by my desk with new artwork and I wanted it to look pretty. Every single one of them kept quiet and diligently colored their pictures for me. I was impressed. I'll definitely be using that trick more often!

Despite the lack of intellectual challenge in teaching kindergarten, it's really not all bad. For as many times as I get comments like, "Teacherrrrrrrrr! Albert took my pencil!" Or "Teacher! I'm hungry!" Or "Teacherrrrrrr! Albert's looking at me during time out!" (In case you're wondering, Albert is my trouble-maker.) I also get comments like, "Teacher, your hair is pretty!" And "Teacher, I like your eyes!" And "Teacher, I like you!" And those are what make my day at work feel less like prison and more like playtime.