Friday, August 31, 2012

31 August 2012 -- Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 31 August 2012

Ok friends, remember when I told you the journal was probably going to switch to bullet points. That day has arrived. The days will be bullet points with special paragraphs written only to describe something special. I'm quite sure after a week now, you don't really want nor need to know every detail of my daily life now that the initial excitement of what daily life is like here in my neck of Beijing. If you want more details about something specific, just post a comment, and I will do my best to answer here on out.

Cereal for breakfast • met Lena to walk to school for 9 o'clock meeting • arrived on campus for faculty meeting • Todd went over details for 3 o'clock advisor meetings with students • advisors were assigned – I was given section 10 A (one of four sections of 10th graders with 24 students, there is one additional section of tenth graders which has 14 students, and they are the first IB students in the International Program) • we were given class schedule grids for the advisees to fill out • I visited my assigned cubicle in the large group office of eight people I will be sharing

"The Office"
While I cannot guarantee the same degree of comedy as the acclaimed NBC television show, I have a feeling my office is going to be the site of plenty of humorous occurrences this year. My cubicle in the office, room 508, is relatively close to my classroom while other teachers have theirs on the third floor and teach on the fifth. There are eight cubicles: four for international teachers and four for Chinese teachers. We also have one of the few laser printers and copy machines available for all of the faculty to use in our office. In that, it is the central office for the faculty of the AP Dual Diploma Program within the International Department. I got to pick my cubicle from the four available because I was there first! I asked around and everyone said I could pick. So, I picked. Then, as my four international teacher office mates arrived to look, I asked each if he would like to switch with me and each said, "No thanks." So, I immediately began setting mine up with all of the various artifacts, trinkets, keepsakes, and more all brought from my previous office in York, PA.

Slowly, but surely, my space was transformed into a little slice of home away from home. My cubicle is roughly equivalent to the size of my office last year when it comes to useable space. So, I have plenty of room to spread out. I can have two biology text books open, my iPad set up, and my school-provided lap top open, and still have room to grade papers! Meanwhile, the lighting above is a mixture of diffused and banked compact fluorescent bulbs and tubes. I can tell the room was designed to prevent eye strain with the diffused lighting from above and the bank of windows along the back wall. The color scheme is inviting yet studious and scholarly. Each teacher is also provided a tall, lockable storage cabinet with place to hang your winter coat and store things that won't fit on your ample desk as well as two, three drawer file cabinets that fit under the desk for supplies.  

Where to Eat Lunch?
A group of teachers, five of us or so, collectively decided we were hungry. Most of the new people were low on cash, and the school dining hall doesn't take cash anyway. The only acceptable form of currency there is the school-issued smart card which we had not yet been given out to the new people. So, Santosh decided to treat us to lunch on his card. It was really quite gentlemanly of him, but he still had several hundred CN 元 on his card left over from last year and lunch costs an average of 8 CN 元 ($1.27 USD). We headed over for what was to be my second meal in the giant multi-level dining hall. Only the faculty dining area was open, so, he helped us pick a meal and swiped his card.

A School with it's own Wu-Mart

After lunch, Santosh took us to our school's campus-based Wu-Mart. This is exactly like a mini Walgreen's located in the same building as our cafeterias with the on-campus faculty housing towers above. The store, again, only accepts the BNDS smart card, so Santosh treated us to beverages here. This Wu-Mart carries sundries, school supplies, flour, cooking oil, milk, juice, cookies, candy, nuts, sandwiches, crackers, fruit, instant noodle bowls, school uniforms, ping pong balls and paddles, badminton birds and racquets, and probably about 300 other items including Arizona® Ice Tea and bottled Starbucks® Frappucinos!

The School Lunch Card
When we get ours, it will be preloaded with 2,500 CN 元 ($398 USD) to use to purchase food and items in the Wu-Mart for the first semester. I grant you on the one hand, that does not sound like a huge amount of money. However, I should mention that one can eat a rice bowl topped with chicken and veggies for 8 CN 元 ($1.27 USD). Technically, you can use the card for any meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's no problem. You can also buy all the ingredients to make your own lunch at home and bring it to school. That also is no problem. There are no rules like, "you have to buy and eat the food there." If you what to have McDonald's everyday for lunch and use the lunch card to buy candy for your desk, that's fine. It is no problem!

I returned to International Department HQ Building • volunteered to be on team to organize and stamp all the text books • not all of the text books are quite in yet • the rest are anticipated to arrive on Wednesday • still we stamped and got hundreds of text books ready including books for Linear Algebra (14 Seniors will be taking Linear Algebra), Catcher in the Rye, and countless others that would be familiar to any high school book store manager in the USA! • met with my 10A advisees and found that their Chinese home room teacher had already typed up their schedule for them so they did not need to fill out the blank grid I gave them inducing many blank stares and wonderment as to why I was asking them to fill this blank thing out • as their homeroom teacher had used an older version, there were a few room changes they were able to notice and make however so it wasn't a total loss • I was told by one teacher to let them loose to find all of their classrooms while I found out later that other teachers were actually taking them around as a group for a tour since the 10th graders are all new and do not know their way around • their homeroom teachers returned to pass out books for their Chinese courses in politics, geography, math, SAT prep, and TOEFL prep, and I and the other International teachers were dismissed • my feet were absolutely killing me as is always the case the first two weeks back at school and the monumental degree of standing, so I limped back home where I promptly loaded the washer with shirts and rested on the futon sofa • I read • answered emails • ate a sandwich and potato chips left over from yesterday • I drank a lot of water from my big water cooler which has just passed the 1/4 left-mark • fell soundly asleep at some point and awoke around 11 pm • I hung the clothes to dry • checked email • read the Denver Post • set the alarm • went back to sleep

Thursday, August 30, 2012

30 August 2012 -- Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 30 August 2012

We arrived at the West gate of campus dressed casually for our outing to the Bei Gong Forest Park. Everyone in attendance was loaded on to one of two previously assigned busses. The ride on the buses was practically surreal as we headed to the mountains just to the north west of our campus apartment complex on beautiful newly constructed highways that would be at home in Aspen. There was virtually no other traffic and no other people in sight.

What Exactly Does a Chinese School Faculty Retreat Entail?
Our buses arrived in a big parking lot near the entrance to the nature park. Part botanical gardens, part nature preserve, the sprawling complex was incredibly well maintained and served as a perfect place to hold the next day of orientation and getting-to-know-you activities. We were expeditiously divided into groups the old fashioned way – by counting off – and then sent on a six-stage group bonding mission just like pretty much any new faculty at an independent school in the USA might do. Before we were to leave however, we were supplied with a blank flag / banner and a black permanent marker to design our team name and logo. After some discussion, we settled on the Red Dragons as our banner was red, this is the year of the dragon, and dragons are beloved in 中國 / Zhōngguó. Plus, one of our group members was able to draw a pretty fierce-looking dragon. Next, we were to travel to locations on the map and complete the assigned tasks. My group was the one that had to go to the stations in order (1–6) and then walk back from the end. Other groups had to walk to the end and then work their way back.

Our first mission was to hold soda straws in our mouthes and then pass a rubber band from person to person without using our hands until we got the band to transfer from one end of the line of teachers to the other. We ended up completing the task in under a minute thirty-five. We were very proud. Then we walked to another station where we had to link hands and make various shapes such as a triangle, rhombus, or circle. For some reason we really had trouble with the parallelogram. One of our Chinese group members hollered at a lady who was singing her lungs out in this area of the park apparently hoping she might tone it down, and she started yelling and screaming at him. It was rather difficult.

Next up we had play a game where people were in groups of three, one sitting not he ground facing backward, one blindfolded, and one standing up. The standing people had to communicated to the backwards-sitting people where our blindfolded teammate would need to go to grab a red flag off a tree. The trick, of course, was that the standing people had to communicate only with body language. I was the standing person in my group. We came close to getting the first flag, but missed it by inches. We got the second flag first with ease thus ending the challenge.

The final challenge involved us all being blindfolded and then following, in a long chain of teachers, the leader across a rocky terrain while holding only the shoulders of the person in front of you. It was a lot of fun, but you really had to take a leap of faith especially when we had to go downstairs.

Having completed all of the six tasks, we then walked back to the starting point to eat lunch.

I ate lunch with Todd and Dan, the administrator from Wasatch Academy who travels to partner schools and ensures programs are on track. We had a wonderful conversation, and he indicated his willingness to acquire sought-after items in the USA and bring them to us on his next trip at the end of September. I immediately starting thinking about what I needed most.

So Who Won the "Amazing Chinese Race"?Well after lunch, the results of the competition were announced, and inexplicably, my group, the Red Dragons, came in 5th out of 6th places. We were stunned. We knew we had done the best on many challenges of any group and we certainly were the first group to return to the starting line. For our prize, we got a bag of lollipops (milk sugar flavored) and ball point pens. Turns out, what we did not know the entire time was that we were being timed on each activity and the faster the group completed each task, not how well the tasks were completed, counted the most in the point system. The group called something like the Magic Monkeys ended up winning the grand prize – coveted boxes of chocolates!

If You Cannot Stand the Heat and Humidity..."
After that, with the heat and humidity soaring, the faculty voted to return to campus early rather than enjoy the beauty of the park and, perhaps, some canoeing in the lakes. We boarded the buses and returned to campus by 2 pm. We were told we should use the extra time to work on our classrooms and offices until 4 pm. I helped Lena put up posters of the world's great novels she acquired this summer in London to decorate her classroom before returning to my classroom and then the labs to check out how they were all coming along. I was envious that her classroom would look so nice and inviting for the first day and wished I had some biology posters for my classroom.

What are Jiao Zi?
After school, I walked over to the on-campus teacher apartment building and met up with 大 Jarrod, Megan, Andrew (Oral English), his wife Jess (Oral English), Xiao Jared (aka XJ), and Niall for Jiao Zi (pronounced like Je-ow Ts-uh sort of). Located about a block east of their apartment building and nearly kitty-corner across the street from my dry cleaning spot, is a very interesting restaurant. They do not serve cold drinks, so we acquired bottles of water, iced tea, and soft drinks from the shop next door and proceeded inside. 大 Jarrod then arranged to get us a big table and ordered us up a whole variety of Jiao Zi which is the basic name for dumplings. Dumplings, strangely, are one of the very best foods they make in China, that hasn't really transferred to the USA. We do get our occasional dim sum or pot sticker, but there are literally hundreds of kinds here. 大 Jarrod ordered a huge variety of his and the group's favorites; and, in short order, the staff began delivering plate after plate of the delectable delicacies. I was in 7th heaven. We stuffed ourselves, and then walked over to the Jack Hut for dessert / sweet beverages. Niall and I resisted temptation or were too full. I walked home and decided I should finally try out the washing machine and do some laundry.

How To Use a Chinese Washing Machine
Well, this section might better be entitled, how does one use a washing machine with controls written entirely in a foreign language? Even an instruction manual would do no good. So, it's sort of just using a bit of luck and some logic. As a side note, I think it is interesting that there are two words of English on the machine (National – apparently a brand) and Fuzzy (apparently a reference to the logic board). First thing to do is plug in the machine. Next thing is to open it up. It opens with a folding trap door on the top. Inside there is a hollow drum with no visible sign of an agitator of any kind. So, drop in the clothes. Ok, cool, now what. Push some buttons and see what happens. Nothing happens. Hmm. Ok, maybe there is an on-off switch. Ah hah, there is a button toward the top right side that has markings indicating it needs to be pushed in. Push it in. Lights turn on on the display pad. But what do they all mean. Oh well, push the button that looks like the play button on a VCR. All of the sudden the machine comes to life. It does a flashing test that seems to be measuring the amount of clothes in the drum and then settles on 38 L (of water? or what). Then water starts pouring in. Surely, there is a way to control the temperature? If so, I have no idea how. But what if pushing buttons messes it up. Toss in a detergent pack from the USA rather than using the liquid concentrate provided by the school which might cause an allergic reaction, and observe. After filling the drum, the machine starts swirling the water and pumping water over the top of the clothes. Somehow it is agitating the clothes and making them travel quickly up and down through the water. Satisfied the thing knows what its doing, you close the trap door and wait – carefully observing the warning sign with pictograms making it obvious that you are not to put your hands inside the machine during operation. The machine makes a lot of noise and goes through a few rinses and spins. Eventually, it plays a series of chimes and indicates it is finished. I have noticed that machines here for home use, like to make chimes to let you know to pay attention. Remove your clothes to air dry. Success! Yes, most of the clothes dried in 中國 / Zhōngguó are so done by hanging on racks. Some people have these really fancy ones in their apartments that raise and lower. I wish I had one of those!

After that, I worked on my journal and went to sleep.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

29 August 2012 -- Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 29 August 2012

I awoke a bit later than usual and had to scurry about a bit to get in a bowl of cereal and sweet milk for breakfast. I delayed dressing up in fancy attire as long as possible as I knew I was in for a day of hot humid weather and intermittent air conditioning situations as we would be alternating between being outside and then inside various rooms and facilities. Eventually, I got ready and walked to school.

Photographic Memory & Unfortunate Mishap
The entire faculty, staff, and administration of the International Department of BNDS, which seemed like something on the order of 100 people, gathered in front of our prized building at approximately 8 o'clock in the morning for a panoramic picture. We were told to climb these metal risers: men behind on higher rows and women below. I was positioned on the second row from the top unwilling to go any higher without hand rails. The person next to me bumped me inadvertently sending me sprawling forward rather than backward which would have been a 3-m fall onto solid concrete. Unfortunately, I hit my colleague and dept. head in the face with my fist knocking him off balance. Fortunately, he recovered quickly thereby preventing what surely could have been a domino effect all the way down the chain into the Principal of BNDS, Mr. Li. I have no doubt that the resulting pictures will be marvelous and have captured all of us smiling our best.

A School with Its Own Banquet Hall
After many photos were taken, we were told to reconvene in a few minutes in what was called the 6th floor Lecture Room. As I rode the elevator up, I had no idea what to expect. I was worried how so many people would fit in a traditional lecture room. I need not have worried as the room was precisely of the same quality and size of any 5-star hotel banquet room that seats easily 500 persons. The carpet was a spectacular, customized pattern featuring the BNDS logo in purple and red on a blue background. There were 10 groups of tables arranged with 9-10 people assigned to each one including a mix of international teachers and Chinese teachers returning and new.

No Matter Where You Go – Opening Faculty Meeting Hi-Jinx
First on the schedule was a welcome speech from our deputy principal, Betty Wu. After this we had two rounds of introduction activities that included the introduction of everyone in the room via what are called here, PPT (powerpoint) slides.

Chinese Game Show
We were than challenged to a series of getting-to-know-you games and then a quiz. The quiz involved everyone standing up and then facing true or false questions about the school and about 中國 / Zhōngguó and Beijing. Everyone was on the honor system, which as you may know, means something very different in 中國 / Zhōngguó than in the USA where one might cheat a little just to get ahead a few rounds. As each question was posed, people with their eyes closed standing up, were to hold their arms high and made an 'X' for false and an 'O' for true. If you got it wrong, you had to sit down. I made it into the final round of 15 people and was very proud. Two previous trips to Beijing didn't hurt, however. The final round was conducted up on stage. I thought it was going to be more trivia; but, instead, we played the Chinese version of musical chairs. In this game, people walk quickly in a circle around a group of chairs. When the music stops, a number is called and you must immediately grab people until you have a group of people hugging / clinging together that matches the number called. If you are left out of a group, you are eliminated. My strategy was to immediately grab the person in front of me when the music stopped because the number was always going to exceed one, and it would be easier then to convince or grab or be grabbed by others to reach the number needed. As I would be in the center, if the group grew too big, I would be less likely to be pushed out. The strategy succeeded and I made it to the top five. We were each rewarded with a bag of Hershey Kisses. It was kind of a cosmic coincidence given my previous year of teaching barely 45 minutes from the Kisses factory! I couldn't help but reflect on all of the wonderful people I would be missing this year back in York, PA. The chocolates made it seem like they were somehow here enjoying this experience with me in a way.

Trying to Teach Chinese Language in 5 Minutes or Less
Next up was practical Mandarin training. For an hour and a half, we were treated to the fundamental of the Chinese language learning such useful expressions as the name of the Great Wall, how to say hello and good bye, and how to correctly pronounce the name of our school in Chinese. It was pretty cool, and the teacher was awesome.

Who Needs a Coffee Break?
In China, of course, they do not take smoking breaks or coffee breaks, it's all about the tea1 We then took a break for tea and snacks. This also allowed us to mingle with our friends and colleagues and learn about his or her experiences is the games.

From there we were then treated to a couple of presentations. Mr. Zhou Bin, Vice-Director of the BNDS International Department and supervisor of foreign programs gave us a very nice discussion of our relationship to our partner school, Wasatch Academy, in Utah as well as many other very nice details about our school and the way it fits into the world. Then Mr. James McClenahan, Director of the Oral English Program, gave a short presentation on his program which included my favored new friends Stephanie, Robbie, Xiao Jared, and, of course, Niall. After all of this hard work, we were treated to a short walk and exercise as we travelled across campus on foot past the stadium, gymnasium, library, and student dormitories, to the dining hall building which is really the basement and ground floor of the International Department Teacher housing building – a very tall complex. We had lunch in the second floor canteen. It was a traditional meal of Chinese food. I mostly had rice.

After lunch, we returned to the 6th floor banquet hall for more orientation activities, and presentation. We hear from Todd regarding the AP program and then Heather Milton regarding the A-Level program. Finally, Mr. Tu Xin gave a bit more about the A-Level program. We were released from duty around 4:00 pm.

Powerless?!? How to Get Electricity in Beijing
I walked home to find my power was out due apparently to the fact that my electricity meter for my flat had run out of kilowatts – not surprisingly, electric power is handled very differently in China than the USA. I started to panic because I did not know how late the bank would be open to recharge my electricity meter smart card, and then the complex management office would be open to add the kilowatts to my meter. I grabbed my card and rushed to the bank two blocks to the west of my flat complex of Qin Shan Shui. It is an ICBC bank. I showed the electricity card to the person in the bank who greets and assigns numbers to people. My number was nowhere near being close to being called, so I headed to the ATM to get cash assuming you needed cash to recharge the smart card. When I pulled out my debit card, the greeter person rushed over to me and started shouting something. He then took my by the arm to the big Diebold ATM in the lobby. He asked for my debit card which I handed over, and he inserted it into the ATM. The ATM is mostly in Chinese with some English such as deposit, withdrawal, balance inquiry. He then pointed at the number keys, said something, and turned his head. I got the idea this meant I should enter my PIN which I did. He then turned back and selected a series of options on the screen in very short order. The ATM spit out my debit card and he inserted the electricity smart card. Then he pointed at the screen. The screen meant nothing to me. I got the idea I was supposed to enter in how much money I wanted to spend. I did not even know how much I had left in my account, but I was pretty sure I had enough to cover 100 CN 元, so I put in 100. He gave me a very funny look as if I had not idea what I was doing, which I did not, so I wasn't offended, and then pushed a bunch of buttons. The ATM did a lot of thinking, grinding and chugging before it spit out my smart card and two receipts, one very long and stamped several times with red ink. He handed all of these to me and smiled and waved me away. I left feeling that I had succeeded and rushed back to try to find the management offices at Qin Shan Shui. I found the signs and then scrambled around. Eventually, I found they led to a small building with not windows and no activity. This made me wonder if it was just closed. As I searched around the back side, I noticed across the path a covered entrance to an underground world. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I descended the granite micro steps down three levels into what turned out to be an absolutely enormous underground world of offices and apartments where many of the groundskeepers and their families reside deep in the bowels of the complex. I went to a receptionist and waved my electricity card. She smiled and said something, which I took to mean show her my apartment smart card which had my building, tower, and unit number on the back. She then handed me back my cards, picked up the phone, and waved me away. I took this to mean I should go home and wait, which I did. Of course, by now, I am sweaty mess. Minutes after arriving home to my flat, there was a knock at the door. The gentlemen took my smart card and then showed me how to stick it into the meter, push a button, and flip a switch. Moments later, 100 or so KW appeared on the meter which had been flashing red. I went into the apartment and test the lights which worked fine. Twenty minutes later, my flat was cooled and pleasant.

Ice Cream, It's Not Just for Dessert Anymore
For dinner, I had ice cream which, thankfully, had not melted. I don't remember what happened, I just know I fell asleep and then woke up in time to get ready for the second day of our opening departmental activities.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

28 August 2012 -- Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 28 August 2012

I awoke early as usual. When people say it takes a couple of weeks to get used to the jet lag when you move to a new spot on the planet many time zones from your previous zone, they know of what they speak. Lately, I find myself getting very sleepy around 4 pm, and I don't mean drowsy-I-want-a-nap sleep, I mean, ok, get into bed and go to sleep sleepy. Eventually, one has to give in to the urge or find oneself asleep in a chair, on the floor, or on the sofa anyway. Yet, then I have been waking up at two or three or four in the morning ready to get up and go. So, indeed, it does take time to adjust no matter what great tricks and tips world travelers' will offer – believe me, I received dozens of ideas. There is also a monumental difference between traveling and relocating, just for the record. In any case, I did not wake up to the alarm particularly well-refreshed but rather nearly dazed and confused. This was to be a nine o'clock report-to-school day with plenty of time to relax in the morning. Weighing on my mind, however, was the need for cash. So, I got ready, and decided I would walk to the ATM at my closest bank branch to get 100 CN 元 to use for food for the next few days. The gardens in the courtyards were full of people doing Tai Chi and the usual hustle bustle of people hurrying off to work. Likewise the morning street vendors were busy frying up any manner of delicacy for those needing a bite here or there on their way work.

I arrived at the ATM, acquired cash, and realized I needed to immediately break the bill. So, I decided to try McDonald's breakfast in Beijing. I thought I had been told that McDonald's didn't do breakfast in Beijing, that, rather, they served lunch / dinner all day. This turned out to be false. They do breakfast sandwiches relatively similar to the ones served in the USA. So, I ordered an egg and cheese sandwich combo. I did not pay attention to the drink attached to the combo worrying more about ensuring I ordered the sandwich without sausage and found it came with a steaming hot cup of coffee. Rather than attempt to go through a swap for a different beverage at the McDonald's where I worry I am already developing a reputation for being a nuisance and a pain in the neck, I decided to give my coffee to the ancient blind minstrel I had noticed strumming near the corner of the parking lot in front of the McDonald's and the bicycle / scooter lanes.

I tried to motion to get a passerby to help me deliver the coffee, but no one seemed to get what I was suggesting. One person did stop to inform me that the person was blind, "He cannot see," she said. I smiled and nodded in agreement. As I struggled more and more to figure out how to give a blind person a piping hot cup of coffee – probably one of the oddest things when you think about it, a small crowd of seven to eight people began to circle around me observing my attempt. They looked on with some amusement as if to wonder what I was doing. Eventually, the blind man began to feel around near his donation cup.

I thought of putting the coffee there but worried it would be dangerous and he would either burn himself or mistake it for something else. A man told the blind man I was there. I do not know what he said, but this caused the blind man to perk up and relax a bit. At which point, I took his right hand in mine and then opened his fingers and put the cup of coffee in his hand. The helping man shouted something and motioned that I should remove the lid for the blind man, but he removed the coffee lid himself before I could get a chance and immediately started gulping the steaming hot beverage. At this point the crowd had grown to perhaps 20 to 25 people. The blind man smiled and started thanking me. I am sure I looked pleased when I looked up at the crowd. It was a very surreal experience. I have no idea why this drew a crowd. All, I know is that I felt good about it because it was something I got the urge to do sort of spontaneously.

I then went to the Chao Shi Fa (CFS – grocery store) and found it surprisingly closed. So, I headed back home. I opened my egg sandwich to eat it as I walked along and noticed that the egg was poached and there was ketchup on the sandwich. I am not nor have I ever been a fan of any condiments on my sandwiches. I made a mental note that I need to use google translator to make up a quick chart I can use that says things like "hold the ketchup" and "ice water please". Eventually, I hope to be able to say these things on my own, but in the meantime...

I ended up having time to go back to my apartment which I am thinking I may start calling my flat and use the British English expression for it because it sounds nicer than apartment to my ears and my place is nicer than a normal apartment. It is more like a luxury rental condo. So, maybe my 'flat'? We'll see. Heading back turned out to be a good thing because we were enduring a heat wave with ultra-high humidity in Beijing, and that walk to the ATM which is probably a nearly a mile round trip, caused me to be entirely drenched with perspiration. I changed clothes and then went to meet Lena to walk to school.

So far, I am not going to lie, but I am really enjoying my 15-minute walk / commute to work. Realistically, a normal person could probably complete the walk in ten minutes assuming they get a favorable crossing of the main street that separates the school (BNDS) from the apartment complex. Oh, I found out what the apartment complex is called. It is called, Qin Shan Shui (pronounced Chin Shahn-Shhhweee). What does it mean? That is a good question. Some research has still not revealed an answer. Unfortunately, it is really difficult to look up meanings of expressions in Mandarin when all one has is the so-called Pin-Yin. I tried speaking into Google Translator, which is always fun, and it came up with "minor injuries belonging", so I'll have to keep trying.

Lena and I arrived once again in the conference room earlier than our peers to reclaim out seats at the conference table. When Todd arrived, we spent time going over the changes in the schedules to ensure we had no room conflicts. This process took me some time because there were so many details to check. It also gave me the first insight into my schedule for the term which I have a feeling is still going to change since one of my classes was reassigned due to a scheduling conflict which may mean that I end up teaching another class instead. Right now, I am slated to teach one section of Biology 11/12, two sections of AP Honors Biology, and two sections of tenth grade biology. This makes for 25 hours of class minus 5 taught by my Chinese counterpart or 20 periods, so I will probably be given another class. It may be a chemistry class in the national program in fact. I would much rather have an additional section of a class I am already teaching rather than another prep. We shall see.

The rest of the morning was all about faculty evaluations. We were told there will be a camera in our classroom, and we will never know who, if anyone, is watching. We were told that we know that people, especially our Chinese counterparts are known to watch so they can learn your style and decrease the differences between themselves and us when they teach our classes. It was also explained to us that the Chinese students and how much they enjoy us as teachers means more than it might in the USA. If we are perceived by the students as unprepared or not holding them to high standards, they will think we are soft teachers and find our classes boring. We are to give a minimum of 30 minutes of homework per night including weekends. Believe it or not as this would never fly in the USA, we are to assign EXTRA homework over any holidays and vacations.

We also learned something that I found incredibly fascinating as our school is a public school. We were told that the parents of students in our special International program are paying 90,000 CN 元 ($14,900 USD) to send their children to our public school. Yes, this was shock to most of us. We are very used to free public school in the USA. Free, in that the money comes from property taxes not tuition collections. Meanwhile, $14,900 by Chinese standards represents an enormous sum of money to any family just as it would to 90% of families in the USA. This huge monetary commitment from parents combined with the huge hurdle students must make just to be accepted (top 5% on the national Chinese high school placement exam) means we have a very rare and exceptionally talented student-body.

We broke for lunch, and a whole group of us headed up the street to a traditional Chinese restaurant called Blue Horizon Zhongdinglou Restaurant. Out front, we were greeted by a series of hosts all dressed up like French bell captains who then directed / escorted us into the restaurant. Once inside the main entrance, we each picked an entree off a wall-sized picture menu and then were seated at a big table with a lazy-susan in the middle. It seems like there were many other options going on that we just did not know about.

We were served drinks by our wait staff. We managed to order a bucket of ice which I then had a glass of hot water poured over it to make chilled water. I was very happy. I know the expression, "when in Rome," and I normally subscribe to it, but when it's 90-degrees out with 120% humidity, I cannot drink hot water. I need ice water to feel psychologically healthy. Our entrees started arriving one by one. They were placed on the lazy-susan and shared around for everyone to enjoy. Some of the dishes were excellent and others missed the mark. I did not care for the dish I selected, but other people loved it. It was basically sprouting corn and soybeans in a very delicious sauce. It was oddly chewy to me. I loved one of Cameron's choices which was a bamboo steaming dish of vegetables and fruits including corn cob quarters, slices of sweet potato, boiled peanuts, and tender soybeans in the pod. This was definitely a dish designed to help one practice chop stick usage.

After lunch, we semi-hurried back to campus to listen to two presentations given by our colleagues. The first was a history of our program and the second was on what we can and cannot do in class – more of a nuts and bolts concept when it comes to reading the student-faculty handbook. The rules are pretty similar to US standards. We had free time then until 4 o'clock while all final changes in the schedule were made, and we returned to make class schedules for our rooms. Todd informed us that on Thursday we would be all going off campus to a nearby nature preserve or park. The school wanted us to be prepared to bring a sack lunch on that day. In addition, it was confirmed that I was going to be teaching most of my classes in room 5D.

It was a nice room that would soon be nicer as all of our rooms were undergoing a renovation to be completed by the end of September. One of the problems that our school is facing is that the International Department has grown by leaps and bounds. It has doubled in size between this and last year, but only recently has the magnitude of this become so apparent. We needed more classrooms than we had. We need more office space than we had. The Deputy Principal and American AP Principal are both going to have to move offices twice in the next two months to accommodate this growth. Two new science labs are being built as I write this – and when I say science labs I mean state of the art, brand new, science labs. It's like two days ago there where two empty rooms, a hive of workers descended, and now there are science labs. It's incredible.

By the end of September, there are supposed to be all new teachers desks and student desks, new white boards, and new printers in every classroom. It's pretty cool. After our final scheduling meeting, I walked to the dry cleaners to pick up my ironed shirts. For 15 CN 元 ($2.38 USD), I did not have high expectations. What I received was five beautifully ironed shirts, each bagged on a hangar. There is no way on this earth I could have done this myself to this degree of perfection of five shirts in one day. I have no idea how these were done, but this has to be the most well-spent $2.38 in my lifetime. I was so appreciative I wanted to hug the dry cleaner personally. Instead, I thanked the people so much, and I promised to bring them more business from all of my teacher colleagues. Then I decided to instead of walking straight home, I would take the long way by continuing on in that same direction (east) from the campus to the next big intersection. This took a while of walking. Eventually, I came to a very big street called Yong Ding Lu Road. I headed north and saw my first KFC in Beijing. I had to go in. If I had been hungrier, I would have immediately ordered up a bucket with mashed potatoes and gravy! Across the street, I saw my first DQ. I had to go in. They have a very interesting operation at the DQ / Orange Julius. Of course, they have two types of Juliuses (orange and pineapple). They have four types of blizzards (two of which involve green tea ice cream). They have amazing looking chocolate covered moon cakes. I did not stay for food, but I had an excellent time checking the places out.

Next, I then walked back west on Bei Tai Ping Road. Eventually, I came to our school-selected bank (China Construction Bank) and the Chao Shi Fa (CSF market). I entered the Chao Shi Fa to acquire items for my sack lunch on Thursday. I purchased: a half loaf of wheat bread, a nicely ripened pear, a box of Oreos with special cream (1/2 blueberry, 1/2 raspberry – two flavors in one bite), a small chocolate chocolate chip muffin cake, a two-serving package of Lays® Potato Chips (American Classic Flavor), and a bottle of sweet tea – similar to southern USA sweet tea with lemon flavor. I spent about 39 CN 元 ($6.90 USD) which is a lot more than I expected, but then again, the bread and cookies and chips are enough for more meals!

Note: I forgot I wanted to make a note of something about grocery stores, or should I say, eggs, in 中國 / Zhōngguó. At least in this region of Beijing, they do not refrigerate eggs. It's not like they do not refrigerate them sometimes, or for periods of time, or they don't have the ability or knowledge of how to do so, obviously. It is because they know what I have been saying for years and years and years, that eggs do not need to be refrigerated. They do not rot or spoil due to a lack of refrigeration. In fact, they only spoil if cracked. Either way, you will know because of the odor or appearance that the egg cracked. It is probably safest just to throw cracked eggs away anyway refrigerated or not. Finally, I was vindicated in my beliefs by an entire country!

Then I walked back to my flat in Qin Shan Shui.

I do not know if it was the long walk carrying my back pack and my ironed shirts, jet lag, dehydration, or some combination, but I wanted to go right to sleep. I readied myself and my bed and complied. I awoke at about 10 pm to find I had left the lights on. I got myself a little better organized for the morning, made sure the wake up alarms were adjusted for the earlier start time of 8 am, and selected my outfit for the opening of school faculty panoramic photo that would be taken the next morning. Then I climbed back into bed and went to sleep soundly.

Monday, August 27, 2012

27 August 2012 -- Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 27 August 2012

I awoke to the cell phone countdown timer set the previous evening. It was 7 o'clock in the morning. I rose, worked on my journal, and then had a bowl of cereal and sweet milk. I showered and got dressed up in a polo shirt, slacks, and dress shoes; and then I checked my email and surfed the web until it was time to walk to the south gate of our apartment complex to rendezvous with Lena, the AP Literature teacher from Siberia via Albuquerque whom I learned on Friday evening had been teaching most recently at the Albuquerque Academy where I attended for 5th and 6th grade. We then walked leisurely, umbrellas in hand to fend off the morning drizzle, across the street to the International Department Building of the Beijing National Day School (BNDS) to attend our first day of teacher meetings. Our preplanning allowed us to arrive first at Conference Room 2, something, I indicated to her, I had always taught my Public Speaking Students – arrive first and you will be able to (a) select the power seats and (b) control where every other person sits. So, indeed, we selected seats opposite the door, midway around the table – 9 o'clock if one viewed the gigantic table as a clock with 12 at the farthest point from the door. As teachers and administrators began to filter in, Lena commented as to the veracity of my comments about seating.

Soon, the room was a hive of activity as returning teachers greeted each other and introduced themselves to the new teachers. Also, we noted another ring of chairs around the peripheral of the room was being filled with Chinese teachers. We would soon learn that these teachers were our counterparts as there is a Chinese teacher and administrative counterpart for every International teacher and administrator. This is not always an exact one : one ratio. For example, there is one Chinese Biology teacher for the two International Biology teachers.

A paper cup of green tea set in a pink sleeve of a tiny teacup-like shaped silicone form and handle has miraculously been filled by a mysterious person during all of the entrances. Eventually, moments before our official starting time of 9 o'clock, we witnessed the arrival of Todd, our American Principal and Frank, his Chinese counterpart, and our Deputy Principal of the International Department and the Beijing National Day School, Ms Betty Wu – our so-called 'big' boss. I place 'big' in air quotes because Ms Wu is huge of importance and kindness of heart but not necessarily in physical stature as she is approximately as tall as my beloved Grandma Sweetheart – somewhere between 5' 2" and 5' 4". She circulated through the crowd of people quickly, making the sincere effort to recognize and interact with each new person while also very quickly acknowledging all of the returning members of the faculty.

Todd distributed an agenda for the first two days of meetings for the International teachers, and Frank did the same for the Chinese teachers. Todd then introduced himself and Betty Wu. Betty then officially welcomed all of the new teachers in a graceful way filled with plenty of very unnecessary yet characteristic apologies about the school not looking its best for our arrival. I say characteristic because it has been my experience that the Chinese people are so humble and modest they truly are dissatisfied when everything is not up to their desires of perfection, especially, when they are 'showing things off' to the international community. Indeed, it is this modesty paired with a commensurate level of desire to achieve both perfection in the eyes of the world but also according to their own ancient traditions of balance and flow that often emerge as one of their nation's most endearing qualities.

Betty Wu is at once both charming and proud as she indicates how delighted she is to see the International Department family (her word) growing so large, and she knows we will have a "happy and harmonious" year (again her words). One of the things, also in my previous experience in visiting 中國 / Zhōngguó, that is very hard to understand until you visit yourself, is the emphasis on people being truly happy and fulfilled in their lives as being a compelling and driving nature of the Chinese people's existence. It is something that is inherently discussed here out in the open whereas, I think, it is more something taken for granted but rarely achieved in the genuine sense elsewhere in the world.

Betty Wu received a rousing round of applause from the entire group. It was so clear by her emotional reaction that she truly is very proud of her accomplishments in building this department from the ground up.

Todd then led us through the schedule and then initiated our first activity which was, quite simply, introducing ourselves. He started giving a very brief background about himself focusing on how long he had been at BNDS, what he would be teaching at BNDS, how many years he had been teaching and where he was from. Frank was next up. The introductions proceeded in a counterclockwise direction providing me an opportunity to prepare my remarks and still I forgot to mention my Chinese name so given way back when I studied the language for a semester. I did however, ensure that I was able to say thank you to everyone who had worked so hard to ensure the comfortable arrival of all of the new people. This was met with extra applause.

It has been my experience in studying Asian culture that brief, genuine, public statements of thanks help to build up positive feelings in a group even more so here than in the USA, for example.

After all of the International teachers introduced themselves, the Chinese teachers continued in turn. Once again, many were very shy and apologized for their English, causing Todd to remark that we would be doing the entire thing again with each of the International teachers giving their intros in Mandarin. I liked this 'joke' because it (a) reminded the Chinese teachers that they have nothing for which to apologize as their English is certainly a million times better than the Mandarin of any of the International teachers, and (b) it behooves us, even though we have been selected expressly to teach as foreign experts in English, to learn as much of our hosts' native tongue as we can.

I was very excited when I learned, at some point in the past few days, that BNDS hosts optional, evening Mandarin classes once a week for the International teachers – and, yes, Chen Laoshi, I will attend dutifully and do all of my homework and take all of the quizzes as it is one of my personal goals to learn as much Mandarin as I can absorb.

After the introductions were complete, Todd issued a challenge to anyone who thought he or she could now name every person. Several people tried and got very close, and then 4-year vet, Jarrod successfully named every International and Chinese teacher. This prompted Todd to shuffle us around to new locations and then Tony (a Chinese teacher) matched Jarrod's accomplishment. I was disappointed in myself because I would have only gotten perhaps a 90% in this challenge. The Chinese teachers then departed with Frank to conduct their meeting and planning sessions which included getting all of the rooms in order.

A catering crew began, at this point, to deliver an assortment of goodies including fresh fruits (grapes, bananas, and oranges), baked goods (traditional Chinese pastries (crispy and flaky dough figure eights – also the symbol of the Beijing National Day School – dusted with large sugar crystals; round dough cakes with a Chinese character baked into the top, filled with a thick jelly, and egg washed prior to baking to give a rich yellow brown color; thin but dense rectangles of dough with air vent slits cut that when baked pop open slightly to reveal the hidden thick jelly inside, and tiny sesame seed-covered sweet dough spheres), and beverages (instant Nescafé coffee, instant Lipton Sweet Milk Tea, and Apple juice). Now might be as good a time as any to remind readers that the Chinese do not, historically, believe in serving cold beverages. Traditions dictate that drinking cold things is bad for the health. Hence the hot tea with every meal. This does not switch to iced tea in the hot and humid summer, in other words.

We helped ourselves to the treats, used the lavatories, and circulated to get an inside look at our new classrooms. It was indeed true that we would each receive our own classroom this year with a couple of caveats though, I should think, would cause no one whom has ever worked in a school an sense of difference. First, our classrooms might be used for homerooms of various sections of students from each of the three grades our department serves (10 – 12 aka Senior I, II, and III). Second, apparently in a huge deviation from last year when BNDS International Department students left the building to take Chinese History, Politics, and Geography with their counterparts in the rest of BNDS, this year, teachers would be coming over to teach these subjects to our students. Of course, they will, therefore, need rooms from our limited allotment of twenty classrooms. Therefore, Todd indicated that if we found that we never have time in our classrooms other than when we taught, we would be given an additional office cubicle to use for our prep and planning work time. If, however, we didn't need this space, we wouldn't be given it. We were also informed that the goal was to have new teachers desks and fully installed room-wide white boards by the end of September as the International Department seeks to make the experiences of the students match what they would get and see in the USA as much as possible.

The classrooms were nearly identical to each other with freshly painted white walls on all sides, windows in all rooms on both sides (ones to the outside world and ones to the hallway allowing in a maximum flow of natural light), chalk / white boards at one end with the teacher's desk, and plenty of space for hanging student work, projects, and decorations on the walls. Everything looked clean, bright, and fresh.

Of note, the hallways were wide, open, and yet lined with lockers. Each locker had a bright LED next to its number. Turns out, these lockers open with a SmartCard – gone are the days of remembering your locker combination, I guess. Likewise easy for the administration to push one button and have every locker in the school pop open for inspection. Gone are the days of students thinking they might hide their locker mess until the end of the year, reminded the once administrator of a certain boarding school in Minnesota.

We returned to the conference room to select treats and refreshments before taking our seats again for a walk through the core elements of the requirements of the IB program. This is an emerging program within the International Department and open this year to 10th graders (Senior I). Todd also informed us as to the many changes and improvements in facilities and staff made over the summer including the appointment of a Dean of Students and Record Management, Phil V.

We then broke for a two-hour lunch on our own giving a large group of us the opportunity to go to Pizza Hut at the Wanda Plaza. Pizza Hut, in Beijing, is not like Pizza Hut in the USA. Here it is an opulent place with marble floors and granite counters, linen table clothes and decked out to the nines. The giant menu includes a variety of gourmet and traditional pizza, salads, and pasta dishes as well as decadent desserts. There are fixed meals for two and three people which include a drink, pizza, side dish, and dessert for a shared price of 145 CN 元 / 182 CN 元 ($23 USD / $28 USD or $11.50 / $9.33 per person). As you can see, this is an expensive restaurant by Chinese standards. I ordered a chicken meatballs over rice dish with a peach smoothie for a total of 50 CN 元 ($7.93 – basically my food budget for the entire day until reimbursement day and then pay day). Remember that one can eat a combo meal at McDonald's here in Beijing right near our school for 15 CN 元 ($2.38 USD). So, you can get an idea about how nice and expensive the Pizza Hut truly is. We took the 308 bus back to our apartments where I picked up shirts to take later for professional ironing believing that the garment steamer provided to us by the school will be ineffective at getting the proper creases in shirts that I like.

We reconvened at 1:30 pm where two returning members of the faculty led us through the use of the online grading system called Engrade which I then tested on my iPad and found that it works great and is full of robust features such as online quizzes, flashcards, and discussion boards that go along with the online grade book and assignment calendar for the faculty, students, administration, and parents. The ability to put in daily / weekly practice and real quizzes that are scrambled both in question order and answer order to prevent misuse that are then scored and entered into the grade book automatically seems like a dream come true especially for teachers who may have been used to a student load of 45 and will now be carrying nearly double that like myself. The system also allows teachers and students to message each other within itself. It was a pretty slick system that I think I will enjoy using very much.

We were dismissed at 2:30 pm into our planning time. A returning physics teacher named Santosh had previously agreed during lunch time to escort me to his favorite dry cleaning service location to get my shirts ironed as we will be needing one for Wednesday's big faculty introduction and official BNDS welcome lunch where we will finally meet the BNDS principal, Mr. Li. Another returning teacher named Rob (Economics) accompanied us on the journey which was just past the restaurant from which we acquired our first Chinese dinners on our arrival night. I dropped off five, clean shirts for ironing and was charged 15 CN 元 ($2.38 US) – yes, that's the going rate to have 5 shirts professionally pressed in Beijing!

On the way back, Rob treated me to an Iced Cold Milk Tea from Jack Hut.

What is a Jack Hut?

Jack Hut is a chain of cold beverage spots around Beijing. How far the chain expands outside of Beijing, I do not know, yet, but I have seen them all over Beijing. They are not quite as ubiquitous as Starbucks in Seattle, but close. They do, surprisingly enough, sell iced cold beverages. They do not have ice in them, but they are stored in the cold and pre-made in sealed plastic cups with thin film lids through which a large diameter straw (standard in China) is popped for drinking pleasure. Rob told me this would be a very good introduction to the joy of Jack Nut. I noticed a tiramasu layered tea on the menu that also looked quite interesting for next time.

We walked back to our apartment complex.

Upon arrival in my apartment, I delayered from my steamy, humidity-collecting attire and donned comfy fresh clothes in the air-conditioning of my apartment. I had begun to feel light headed from the heat index of the day, and this welcome respite made it possible for me to skim two entire Biology resource and activity manuals of nearly 400 pages each, work on my journal, and chat with a few friends on Facebook. Then for reasons to which I can only attribute the fact that I was still enduring residual effects of jet lag exacerbated by the high heat index, I got an overwhelming urge to take a very long nap until 10 pm. I awoke with a start to find it dark outside and myself needing a snack. I consumed a FunPie™ and a Snickers® bar and then sat down to work on my journal which I was noticing as the hour approached 11:52 pm had grown to 21 pages of text from fewer than seven days. I feared, of course, that I am writing way too much detail and definitely over-sharing. Yet, I know that there is much to be gained herein, and much that I will want to remember in the future when my memory fades of these experiences and all they entail. As much as so many people have asked me in advance to please write and please journal about my experiences here each day, I have to remember that this is first and foremost for me. I also have little doubt that once school actually commences, and I find myself engaged in the lively practice of teaching, I will be fortunate to be able to provide a quick list of bullet points and a handful of brief comments every few days. So, perhaps, this is just fine that the details be rich and insightful now before the real harmonious chaos that is the life of a high school teacher, no matter where on earth, begins. With that thought, I put myself to sleep.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

26 August 2012 -- Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 26 August 2012

I awoke late and stayed in bed reading for a long time. My foot was still tender and a bit swollen. i felt it best to just take it easy and go nowhere, walk nowhere, and eat at home! The morning was interrupted, however, by the arrival of the rental agent who had been instructed to come by and turn down my hot water heater and show me how to get hot and cold water out of it. I had not been having trouble with either of these issues, until, that is after he left and now my hot water only heats to luke warm. He left, and I made a sandwich for brunch and worked on my journal. I pretty much spent the entire day vacillating between journal writing, nibbling on food, napping, and reading Mockingjay. Then I became determined to finish it, which I did. All I can say about the ending is that it was what I wanted to happen although maybe not the way I want it to happen exactly. People have said they did not think the second two books of the Hunger Games were as good as the first. I cannot agree. I think they were not really two additional books; but, rather, they were the continuation of the original story. I do believer that many people did not want the story to turn out as depressing as the it did, but these same people must have lost sight, somehow in the Katniss / Peeta / Gale triangle that the Hunger Games was not really all about fun and games, now was it?

By nightfall, I decided to watch the Chinese Cable News in English which was a fascinating experience. The entire way the news broadcast was conducted was very interesting. It is very difficult to describe. I feel asleep at some point and woke up to a loop about the european soccer scores. Oh well, good night.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

25 August 2012 – Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 25 August 2012

I awoke early in the day and having finished the second book of the Hunger Gamesdecided to start the third immediately as the cliff hanger from the second was too big to keep waiting too long. My foot was feeling a bit better. I drank water and then read in bed for a while. Eventually, I noticed I had email from my sister-in-law urging we could connect by Skype at 11 my time and watch Thursday's "Big Brother" vote out show which my family had been saving for me. We got the idea to watch a show each week together when we realized it would be possible to do so a couple of weeks prior. We are sure that nobody probably wants people doing this, but until somebody says we cannot do, we will probably continue to do it.

So, I switched over to Skype and called her up. Our connection was great, and I got to see my niece and talk with her as well as my brother and sister-in-law. We then watched Skype with my niece's computer serving as my conduit to see their big tv. The quality of the sound and picture were quite amazing considering. It was also a great way to get over some feelings of homesickness etc. My niece also modeled her new school uniform and told me all about her first week of school – her first week at independent school! I read her summer reading book, so we were also able to gab about the twists in the ending. When I hung up, I felt a lot better knowing that I will be able to spend some time each week with them! It is not the same as being right there but pretty close. I was disappointed that my mom wasn't back from Michigan yet so I could see and talk to her too!

Due to my swollen foot, I decided to forgo the trip to the IKEA-Beijing store. I was really looking forward to Swedish meatballs. I'm sure there will be a trip around the first of October right after pay day where I plan to acquire a mattress! Anyway, I did have to go out on a shorter venture to the grocery store. I first went to the bank. I wasn't sure if it would be open, but I wanted to convert my last $101 in US dollars to my name into CN 元. Turns out the bank is open nine to five everyday including Sunday! It is one of the things that is very different in 中國 / Zhōngguó than in the USA. There is no huge emphasis on Saturday and Sunday being days off for people. People tend to have two days off per week, but they can be on any day of the week. It's not a big deal here to work on Saturday or Sunday. The apartment tower to the east of my building that is under construction was worked on all day.

It took about twenty minutes and a lot of stamping and entering information off my passport to finish the transaction. I had them put all the CN 元 on my debit card. Supposedly it is very safe to do that here. I am not sure why. I do not know if you can use it to shop on line here or not. I do not know if you can withdraw currency using it outside of 中國 / Zhōngguó. It does not have a master card or visa logo, but I am told I can use it anywhere in 中國 / Zhōngguó at ATMs and stores. If I use it at ATMs from other banks, then I will have to pay an ATM fee. I took the card to the grocery store next door to the bank, and this is what I bought...

First Solo Grocery Store Shopping Acquisition List
Store: known to us now as the CFS (Chao Shi Fa Store)

1/2 Loaf of Wheat Bread
• the regular sandwich bread is sold in half loaves of 8 slices in white or wheat for 4 CN 元
• the consistency is a little more dry than US wheat bread, but the taste is more wholesome and grainy like something out of Whole Foods®.

Jar of Skippy® Crunchy Peanut Butter
Notes: tastes just like at USA-version, also comes in creamy and a special "swirled with chocolate" flavor

Jar of Honey
Notes: There are a wide variety of choices in honey from the faint yellow to the rich golden brown.

Bucket of Mini Snickers Bars
Notes: Much like European grocery stores, here in Beijing, the grocery stores have huge sections, not just one aisle, devoted to sweets. You can find all sorts of things you never knew existed. There is more of an international flair to it as there are candies from all over the world, not just 中國 / Zhōngguó or the USA.

8 Pack of Single Serving Milk (came with 5 free Winnie the Pooh pencils)
Notes: Turns out the stuff I bought that looks like little juice boxes of milk are actually little juice boxes of sweetened milk. Not like condensed milk, but more like a vanilla milk. It's very good on cereal! It would probably be good in tea and coffee too.

Box of Bimbo® Brand FunPies™
• The FunPie™ is about the size of a pre-packaged Rice Krispie® treat. It is made of two layers of an off-white cake with an off-white cream in the middle with the whole treat coated in a thin, thin layer of a chocolate-like substance.
• It may come as some surprise to those who don't follow the international baking scene, but Bimbo Corp was founded in Mexico and has cleverly grown into the world's largest international bakery. In 2008, it acquired a huge number of US brands including Boboli, Brownberry, Entenmann's, and many others. They have a huge presence in the snack cake market here in 中國 / Zhōngguó as well.

Pack of Prince Sandwich Cookies (Strawberry flavor)
• Picture two sweet Ritz® crackers with a strawberry cream filling
• If you want to know more about the Prince go to – only if your Chinese is very good.

2-L Bottle of Pepsi® Mirinda Soda (Grape Flavor)
• Mirinda Soda was started in Spain and purchased by Pepsi in 1970 to compete with Coke's Fanta. It is a huge brand outside of the USA, so why not in 中國 / Zhōngguó!
• This variety tastes a little like carbonated grape Tylenol® for kids. Too bad there was no taste testing of these sodas as I might have picked a different flavor. Still, it will be a nice diversion from drinking so much bottled water. Arnold Palmers have yet to be found.

Box of Nestlé Milk & Egg Stars Cereal
• This was my second cereal purchase in 中國 / Zhōngguó with the first being Nestlé's KoKoKrunch®. I have already tried both of these in my last trip to 中國 / Zhōngguó, and they are good. I always find it fascinating what different cultures find valuable in their foods. I don't think something called Milk & Egg Stars would sell well in America, but here, apparently, it seems natural.
• Nestlé has the rights to make a lot of USA cereals outside of the USA. I had a choice of Trix® and Multi-Grain Cheerios® also. I will probably purchase them over the coming weeks!

Small Package of Lays® Potato Chips (American Classic Flavor)
• Yes you read that correctly, and either the chips are made here to the exacting specifications of Lays or shipped over. In either case, they are the most authentic-tasting of the products designed to taste like those from America that I have yet eaten in Zhong Guo. I had to really focus not to eat the whole bag in one sitting – and this was a small bag, about enough to accompany two sandwiches.
• There are many more flavors, however, than the American Classic Flavor including such great flavors as "Italian Meat Flavor" and "Spicy Prawn".

Pint of Nestlé Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
• Unlike in the USA where you might find five or six places to taste-test products, there were like twenty on this particular shopping day. It was more like being in the Underground Atlanta food court where every restaurant is out hawking tastes to draw customers in. It is great for international shoppers who have no idea what these foods may be or how they taste. I tried the ice cream, and it was delicious. So, I bought a pint.
• I was given a free Nestlé ice cream cold bag with my purchase – a necessity when transporting home your ice cream three Beijing blocks on a hot, humid afternoon.

Bottle of Beibeixiong Dish Soap
Notes: There are so many kinds of soap for sale, and the only way to tell which one is which, unless your Chinese is excellent, is to look at the pictures on the labels. Unfortunately, I couldn't find what I was looking for. So, I went to the dishes aisle and grabbed a bowl. I took it to the soap area and motioned as if I was washing it. A lady took me right over to the dish soap proving that there is a real and useful value to playing charades and learning to pantomime well!

Total Cost: 179.10 CN 元 or $28.42 US

Other notes about this grocery store:
• You want a bag? Here you pay for each bag. Right! That's the solution America is missing out on. Instead of crediting people who bring bags, charge everyone who doesn't. I brought my big back pack, so I was ready!
• This grocery store has two-stories and uses a low incline escalator and specially designed fittings on wheels of carts to allow you to go up and down with your cart.
• There are all sorts of fruits and veggies we don't even know exist in the USA, but there are many missing here as well–notably avocados and blueberries.
• This particular grocery store is more like a mini-walmart with all sorts of other stuff too including clothing, small appliances, toys, games, cell phones, etc.
• This store is not known for being the best at carrying western-style products, yet you can see how many there still are – amazing how much more diverse is the product selection than we find in the USA.

After returning from the store to my apartment, of course, I put away all of the food and made myself a peanut butter and honey sandwich with some chips and Snickers® bars for dessert. I poured a tall glass of Grape Mirinda soda and sat down for lunch / dinner. I know what some of your are thinking. What kind of a Chinese experience is that? Well, to that I say 'hogwash'. Every experience I have over here is a Chinese experience. Searching out products, trying things out, learning my way around, testing the "American Classic Flavor" Lays potato chips to see if they are, indeed, American Classic Flavor is a brand new experience. I have been to 中國 / Zhōngguó on three previous occasions. I did the whole, "I want an authentic experience" thing before. I refused, for example, to eat at McDonald's before, and I really missed out. I didn't know that until I went to Sweden and tried McDonald's there kind of by accident as it was the only restaurant near our hotel that didn't have an hour wait, and I wanted to get back into that megacomfortable bed ASAP. There was little about the McDonald's other than the golden arches that reminded me of the ones back home. The prices were out of control. But, really, it was sitting in there eating a Pixar's Nemo-themed Happy Meal in the middle of Stockholm and watching all the of the Swedish people enjoying something that was born out of the inventive minds of Americans that was really kind of cool. Now, does this mean that I think you should travel to another country and stick to American brand names, absolutely not. On the other had, in America I drove a German-made car, ate at restaurants with food from all over the world, and wore clothes made mostly in 中國 / Zhōngguó, India, and the Philippines. What is an authentic American experience? In a global world the ideas of this are becoming more and more full of grey areas as we witnessed over the outrage of some that the Ralph Lauren-designed uniforms for Team USA were made in 中國 / Zhōngguó. Did the Chinese show outrage that the biggest restaurant in the Olympic Village was a McDonald's? No, they did not. And nor should we be outraged if the Chinese made our uniforms. Part of the experience of getting out and becoming a more globally aware person is seeing both the positive and negative effects of globalization.

Meanwhile, I am sure there are many Americans who believe that the proliferation of McDonald's, Starbucks, etc. around the world is sad. We forget that both are symbols of American success, rightly or wrongly, and for many others the world over, they are a sign of the American dream coming true.

Finally, before one passes judgment, remember one more thing, the diversity of America's melting pot has created eating habits whereby USAers are very used to eating very different food every day. USAers tend not to like Italian food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for example. Well, it's fine for people living back in America to want me to each Chinese food three meals a day, seven days a week, for two years, but that simply isn't going to happen. I am going to eat Chinese food more often than back in the states, to be sure, but I am also going to venture out, try the Outback Steakhouse, try the Pizza Hut, and by golly, I am going to occasionally whip up some French Toast for breakfast in my apartment!

After that, I spent the rest of the day working between my journal and reading Mockingjay while keeping my foot elevated and praying the swelling would be down by Monday morning and our first teacher's meeting.

Friday, August 24, 2012

24 August 2012 – Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 24 August 2012

I awoke at 6 am to the countdown timer on my cell phone. I dressed and got ready to go. I almost drank a glass of water, but remembered this was a no-no just in time. I walked over to the main entrance of our campus (also known as the West Gate) to meet up with my group. When I arrived, I was reminded that we were supposed to bring two passport photos, but now it was too late for me to go back for them. I was bummed that I had forgotten them until I realized that I put all of my extra required passport photos in my backpack! Finally, lugging this thing around packed with stuff was paying off!

We were merged with a group of four new ESL teachers all recent graduates of Cedarville College in Ohio named Steph, Robby, Xiao (where Xiao is the pronunciation of the Chinese character for little 小 – meant as a term of endearment not stature) Jared I named him this to distinguish him from the other Jarrod (Pre-Calc) whom I decided should simultaneously be called 大Jarrod (where 大 is the character for big in Chinese and is pronounced "Da"), and Niall. I thought they were pretty cool people, and it was fascinating to hear what had drawn each to take this opportunity to come and teach English in Beijing. I debated internally whether they or I was more brave and concluded they are far more brave.

We were transported by mini buss to the clinic which was about an hour away.

Once there, we filled out a one-page form and stood in a line. Clinicians took our form and stamped it, took our passports and entered a ton of information about us into their system, and then printed us a new sheet with our information typed onto it and a bunch of matched bar codes. After signing and approving the information on the form, we were directed to the payment line where Beijing National Day School (BNDS) paid for our physical. I was personally glad that I did not pay for a physical in the USA as I had been tempted to do because all of the people who did were informed their information wasn't helpful, and they needed to go through this process anyway.

From there we were set lose to go to various rooms and labs for each test. It was a round-robin sort of thing similar to a health fair in the states. I picked the shortest line to start which turned out to be an ultrasound of my belly. Guess what, turns out I am not going to get Disney World if you know what I mean. From there, it was an ECG, then blood pressure, then chest x-ray, eye exam (color vision and distance), blood test, blood pressure, and finally what they called surgery. I really did not want to go to surgery. I had no idea what it could mean. It turned out to be height, weight, and a glandular exam. Our height and weight were taken electronically on this one device similar to a scale, and a doctor felt the glands under our chin. At each station, our bar code was scanned and attached to our result page or sample. Then our form was stamped or signed to ensure we went to every station. I think the first person to finish should have gotten a prize. It wasn't I, but I still think he or she should have gotten a prize. We then waited in another line and submitted our form to a final person who gave us a receipt for our group leader to use to acquire our results the next week.

We returned to campus and were told we could have lunch on our own but to be back at school by 12:30 pm for a campus tour. A group of us headed to the grocery store for things. Lena bought a slice of some kind of melon with parsley decoration so she wouldn't have to find a place to wash it before lunch, and then I said I just wanted to go to McDonald's for lunch rather than take the bus to the mall to go to Pizza Hut. Lena agreed with me, so the two of us went to McDonald's.

I really wanted to use the wi-fi to get a FourSquare check-in and check my email. I also wanted to try the McDonald's. I had never been to one in Beijing before. It was a cool experience. The combo meals cost between 15 – 18 CN 元 ($2.38 and $2.85 USD). They are a more healthy portion size than the USA versions but taste relatively the same. They also do special things like bubble tea and this month they have yin-yang buns meaning some are pure ghost white and some are black. Apparently the black ones have a fish taste to them. Lena's melon slice was basically tasteless. She thought it was honey dew or cantaloup or watermelon. To me it looked like none of these, and it had zero taste. It was neither bad nor delicious. I accidentally ordered a spicy chicken sandwich and had to swap it with McNuggets later. Lena and I ended up sitting at a table next to two students who will be Senior II students at BNDS. They explained to us that Senior II is equivalent to 11th grade. Here, they are called Senior I, II, or III instead of 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. We were also told they wear school running suits of the same color depending on grade level with each grade having a signature color. Senior II is navy blue. They told us about the hamburger buns and translated some words for us. They were delightful students. They also told us that Lena's melon was not to be eaten that way, rather, it was supposed to be chopped up and put in soup to add a crunchy texture to the soup – sort of, I guess, like USAers add celery. This made sense. It was the first encounter either of us had with kids from our school. Mind you, we had not yet toured the campus or met any of the students in the interview process, etc. We told them we were new teachers at the school, but they did not seem to believe us.

We walked back to campus and met up with our people for the tour. Todd immediately took us into the International Building / Department. The building is a huge Corporate HQ-looking building that would fit nicely on any upscale college campus or office park. The inside rotunda was filled with the flags of nations from around the world. Much of the place was still in disarray as many things were being moved for the start of the year. The biggest thing that was going on was something that may well be extremely traumatic for the success of the students.

Traditionally, in middle and high school, Chinese students are put in groups like big families. They then get a classroom and a desk, and it is the teachers who move from room to room, not the students. This is the way it has been done for decades, and this is the way it will continue to be done in the rest of the school. In our department, however, it was decided at some point this summer, that this system is not good for the teachers and eventually it is not good for students who intend to go to university in the USA for which our program is designed to prepare them. I cannot imagine how much time and effort it took to build the case for this monumentally complex change. Of course, the motivation for it in the USA is that it allows for students to take courses for which they are developmentally ready. Some are stronger earlier in math and science or language. So, rather than teach a class of wildly mixed levels of ability; and, in our case, the ability may be predicated somewhat also by how good the students English is, the students will be placed according to level of ability. The end result is that most teachers will now have their own classrooms starting this year of the program. So, needless to say, this means a lot of stuff is being moved around. It will also create rooms that are designed to deliver on a specific area of content, something that was not previously possible. It also explains why Todd wrote to us this summer authorizing a $150 budget for classroom decorations – I couldn't see how that would work and didn't acquire anything given knowledge of the old system only. I guess my classroom is going to look sort of boring for a while! I will have to do creative projects right off the bat to get things up on the walls! Anyway, back to the tour. So, we got a tour of the 3rd and 5th floors which house our department in this giant building. What else goes on in the building we had no clue. We ended our tour in Conference Room 2 which looked like something out of an episode of "The Good Wife" where the partners would hold a meeting to impress an Asian law firm. It is here that we would be gathering for our first 'official meetings of the school year'. Opening Ceremonies for the school year would be held a week from tomorrow – the birthday of one of my relatives by some coincidence – and school would start on 3 September.

After that, we were dismissed to return to our apartments and await for internet set-up. We did not actually get a campus tour or even a tour of the rest of the building which we could only imagine might occur later.

Internet set-up took an incredibly long time. Jasmine had to go with the installers to each apartment and give instructions as to what the guys were to do. I was so grateful for her time and everything she did for all of us. The whole thing had to be paid for upfront for one year of service to the tune of 1,700 CN 元 ($269.84 USD) including a wireless router. I did not budget for this at all, not even close.

Anyway, it was great to have Internet set up and be able to email and Skype though I may have to eat Ramen for the entire next month!

Because of the delays in getting Internet set up, we had to leave on our planned group trip to get what we were told was going to be the best pizza in Beijing in two groups which turned into three. This trip involved taking the number one subway line about five stops to the number two line. Then we got on the number two line for about three or four stops and then walked about 200 miles, actually it was probably two miles but it felt like 20 to the pizza place. The pizza place itself was off a road that ringed a beautiful lake. The best way to describe the area would be to imagine Venice Beach's boardwalk merged with South Beach Miami and throw in an element of Chinese gardens, dragon gondolas, and lanterns everywhere. It was a sight to behold. It is a place I would love to go back to, but early in the morning so I could spend the whole day exploring the hundreds and hundreds of shops, restaurants, bars, karaoke spots, street acts, and vendors. The one thing I noticed most that was new and unusual were vendors who could carve up little plastic dolls and paint them to look exactly like you and your sweetheart. Sort of a new twist on the caricature artists. When we finally got the pizza, it was pizza in the sense that it had a thin crust and toppings. It is possible you must ask for sauce and cheese if you like that sort of thing on your pizza. I ate it without complaint, though I did have to wonder what the worst pizza in Beijing might be like.

After filling our stomachs, we boxed up the uneaten pizza and exited into the bright lights of the area. We were told there would be few if any expats or tourists, but it was teeming with tourists and expats. I don't care about such things. I am not one of those people who thinks that unless you are 24-7 doing the 'right 'cultural immersion activity, you are missing out. I believe that every experience is invaluable, and it was just as fun either way! We then walked around the lake to the Starbucks but had no time to really go in and look at it as we had only until 11 pm before the subway closed. We hurried, but didn't make it back in time forcing us to wait quite a while for taxis. We had to split into two groups for the taxis which hold at most 4 people if you really squeeze in the back seat and put one up front. Three is better with two in back and one in front. The cab ride back for three people cost us 50 CN 元 or around $7. Nowhere in the USA can you take a cab with three people, late at night a distance of nearly 20 miles for $7, I don't think.

Bedtime! Very long and tiring day, and now the swelling of the foot after all that walking was causing some concern and pain. I emailed my sister-in-law hoping to connect via Skype sometime Friday night her time and Saturday morning my time. I put triple antibiotic ointment on my elbow as my 'Rocky' injury was still healing and hurting, and hydrocortisone on my angle and foot. I slept with my food elevated of course!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

23 August 2012 – Journal Log

Scooter's JournalTravel Log
Earth Date 23 August 2012

Special Note about "China" the name: As some of you who know me know, I have never been a fan of the idea that we, meaning USAers or less specifically Westerners, invent our own names that we can pronounce and spell well in our native tongues for other countries. I do not see why we cannot, at the very least, use our own letters to produce a name that fits with the pronunciation of the countries used by the citizens of that country. We do not need to call it Germany, we could all say and pronounce Bundesrepublik Deutschland, couldn't we? So, for the purposes of this journal, when I refer to the country of China, I am going to call it 中國 / Zhōngguó. The latter part (after the slash) is what is called the Pin Yin spelling of the characters,中國 – if your computer does not display these characters, that is unfortunate because they are cool. The first character (Zhōng) which looks like a box with a line drawn through it literally means 'middle' or 'center'. The second character (guó), which looks like a box with a lot of things going on inside of it, means 'kingdom' but is used these days to mean 'country'. So, Zhōngguó literally means 'middle kingdom' or 'central kingdom'. It is so named because, at the time of its naming, the people believed their world was the center of all the universe – not such a crazy notion as this was invariably the belief held by most people at the time that their place was the center of all existence. I am not going to call it China anymore. And just as an aside to those of you who are really into the real, real, real names of things, China is called the People's Republic of China, officially, which would be 中华人民共和国 in Chinese. I hope you will forgive my abbreviation to the traditional 中國 / Zhōngguó, which is also used all the time and more frequently throughout the country.

While, I would also like refer to the language spoken as the Mandarin dialect of 中文 / Zhōngwen, not Chinese, and the Chinese people as 中國人 / Zhōngguó ren, I feel that might be too much at this point. I will take the one step to embrace a cultural shift in thinking.

Now, of course, I would be misleading if I were to give the impression that westerners are the only ones who have a history of corrupting the local names and imposing their own. The Chinese people have created their own names for all of the countries too. For example, the United States of America is called 美國 / Měiguó (the first character meaning 'beautiful' and the second 'country' – and before you get to excited it is due not because America is beautiful, but because Měiguó sounds a little like A-meri-ca). Doesn't it? So, you can see from this inverse example, why I again feel it would be great and cool if we could actually just learn the actual names of the countries and spell them in their own languages. This truly would be a better exercise in helping us all to understand each other just a little bit better rather than employing a system whereby we each have to learn what and why we call each other whatever it was that was chosen to be what we call each other.


For starters, no, I am not already having so much fun that I skipped a day in my journal. I am having so much fun, but the missing day is attributed to crossing the international dateline as one does when flying from the USA to 中國 / Zhōngguó. That being said, the morning began bright and early to the dulcet tones of my cell phone count down timer I had set the night before to awaken me at approximately 5:00 am. My intention was to spend one hour on my journal and one half hour getting ready to depart, leaving one half hour to locate and gain entrance to the sky high apartment of the principal of the International Department wherein the new teachers and returning teachers who had volunteered to be guides had been promised to be fed a rare, traditional, American breakfast of omelets and French Toast. I arose and worked on my journal probably a bit longer than planned given I had no idea how to make the shower work. I gathered my toiletries and my clothes and rushed into the bathroom. There is much about the bathroom to address in another post. For now, suffice it to say that there was no shower curtain and nothing to enclose the water and prevent it from running everywhere. It did not even seem like there was a slope to get the water to run toward the in floor drain. Never mind, I just turned on the water, got it nice and warm, and planned to reign the water back in later. I then finished the process of getting dressed and ready. I grabbed everything not knowing what I would need and exited the apartment turning the key in the lock to engage the four double-long bolts. I took the elevator to the first floor, and exited into the courtyard in front of my building.

The apartment complex is made of 16 buildings with a 17th and an entire new shopping mall under construction. Apparently, the entire complex is fewer than three years old. Each building consists of three or more towers of varying heights from 10 to 25 stories. In and between each building are paths and gardens and fountains and trees galore. No cars! Bikes and scooters are ok. It is beautiful and modern. I found Todd's building and some other teachers walking toward it. We had Todd buzz us in and rode the elevator to his high floor. His apartment is very nice, pretty much like the rest of ours only maybe a bit bigger, higher up, and well-stocked with furniture and glass shower stall etc. The sounds of eggs and bacon frying emanated from the kitchen. Several people were already present. Orders were taken and prepared in succession. The eggs and French toast were amazing. No syrup, but honey was just as good. It was so great of Todd to do this for us. I washed all the dishes as a gesture of thanks inducing some teachers whom had not been on my shuttle bus to think I was either a veteran returning teacher or the servant.

After breakfast, our entire group departed for the bank led by Todd and three returning teachers: Santosh (Physics), Cameron (Calculus), and Jarrod (Pre-calculus). We were to meet Jasmine at the bank. Little did we know that the branch of the bank used by our school closest to the school cannot set up accounts for international persons. So, we needed to walk approximately four or five more Beijing blocks to a branch that could. Beijing blocks, by the way are like Las Vegas blocks. In other words, they are long, long, long. Literally, they are at least a half of a mile.

Once there, we all got numbers and waited for our turns. This put a crimp in the original plan which was to have the guides take on a grocery store tour and a subway/bus smart card acquisition trip while waiting for our numbers to be called. So, we all just waited at the bank. We were all processed and done in and around an hour and fifteen minutes. We walked out with a debit card loaded with a minimum of 50 CN 元 / yuan and a six-digit pin.


Special Note about the Money: The money in 中國 / Zhōngguó is officially called 人民幣 / rénmínbì which quite literally means "the people's money" yet it is also called the 元 / yuan or kwai (sort of like how USAers call dollars, bucks). I will refer to money in this journal as CN 元.

Special Note about the PIN: In China, PINs are 6 digits. That gives us two more digits of security and makes it harder to crack your PIN. USAers might want to think about it. Six digits is not that much more to remember.


This will be our card to our account. "Don't lose it," we were told. This is probably a good time to mention that here in 中國 / Zhōngguó, everything official is about the red ink stamp. Sometimes it's the stamp of the name chop of the person, but usually it's about something else official, like a red star or a date and star, or some other information. Without a red stamp or two, no document in a bank is official. So, when you are involved in an official process, expect there to be what might appear to be an angry flurry of stamping at each step of the way, when really, this is just a part of the process.

By this time, just about everyone was getting pretty hungry, so we walked down for our grocery store tour to look at all the cool and exciting new food but not get to eat any. This is a tactic developed to make people really appreciate their first meal when it actually comes. The nearest grocery store to our school and apartment complex is huge and stocked with just about everything you can imagine (more on that in a later post). I bought a box of cereal, of course. Then we met up with Todd and our entire group for lunch at a really nice neighborhood Chinese restaurant where groups eat in exclusive rooms with giant circular tables and huge lazy susans in the middle. Before we knew it, dish after dish was being placed on the middle for sharing. Soon we were filling our mouthes with delicious foods of every category of the Chinese menu. There were things that were straight out of the American version and some excellent new dishes. The good and bad standouts were a stunning and delicious, crispy fried, glazed shrimp served in a blue blow floating in a clear bowl filled with water and dry ice as if to add to the mystery and a aromatic tofu served in a mini, wooden sandbox (smelled, unfortunately to the uninitiated, like used hockey gloves and tasted like wallpaper paste). Dessert was in the form of sweet potato filled pastries. The lunch, all in all, was magnificent. We left the restaurant and our welcome luncheon to go to the Subway stop at the corner and get our subway/bus smart card. The bus costs .4 CN 元 (6-cents US) each trip and the subway deducts according to where you get on and off but is said to be around 1 CN 元 per segment. In other words, Chicago, New York City, and Denver, there is no reason to be charged $2, $2.50, or even $8 to ride your rails and buses! In the epitome of the good conscience of the Chinese system, we put 50 CN 元 on the card for which we received a smart card for the system and five different slips of stamped paper as receipts including two each for 20 RMB and one for 10 CN 元 adding up to the 50 CN 元.

Then we all took the 308 bus, one of our main west/east bus lines, to the police station where we registered as legal aliens. This is required within 24-hours of arriving in Beijing for people on work visas. We arrived, however, to find the police station on lunch break and waited until two o'clock to get in. I thought of it as one of those planned stops in the "Amazing Race" that allows everyone to catch up. The process was smooth and easy and full of stamping documents. They took our photos and information. They did not, however, give us anything to prove we did this. I hoped that was ok.

Santosh took those of us wanting to go to Walmart to Walmart on the 308 bus, same bus just opposite direction from campus, afterward. Everyone else went home for a nap. I will have to write up an entire Walmart post later as it was an experience in and of itself. There was just too much to see and do and describe on a day that was already so full and about to get more so.

After returning home, I got in about an hour nap before I awoke suddenly remembering the trip to Wanda Plaza Mall at seven. I grabbed shoes, key, and smart card to the complex and smart card for the bus and ran out. I was lucky and not the last person to arrive at the rendezvous point. Todd was leading this trip. We took the 308 bus that goes to Walmart but in the opposite direction – same direction as the police station but a couple more stops west. We rode it for about ten minutes or so, and got off and walked a block to the giant indoor mall. This place was absolutely enormous. Four levels throughout. It will definitely take its own post later as well. For now, I recalled it had a KFC and a Pizza Hut, a giant IMAX movie theater, an Apple Store, tons of other restaurants, and zillions of shops. In the basement, it had a giant Carrefour store which is similar to USA Walmart Super Center except that unlike Walmarts here it carries a lot more USA-similar products. For example, I am told I can get microwave popcorn but I didn't look! I bought a shower curtain and a lot of people bought hangers. Apparently they do not feel the eight the school gave us will be sufficient! The group voted to not eat at KFC or Pizza Hut and instead eat at Sobikawa – a Japanese, fast food bowl restaurant over my objections. "We had Chinese food for lunch," I said. We were short of time, and everyone else was still seeking the authentic Chinese experience as if Pizza Hut in Beijing isn't authentic. I ordered the teriyaki chicken bowl which I guess is really Japanese. One person who shall remain nameless, ordered something she could not then eat, and I couldn't blame her. Todd volunteered to swap with her reminding me what an excellent gentleman he is. I would probably have agreed to swap too, but her meal was clearly pork. I have decided that I will not knowingly eat pork here in 中國 / Zhōngguó. If I eat it unknowingly, so be it, but not knowingly. Same goes for other exotic animals. Of course, usually, these are considered delicacies wasted on Westerners, so I don't think I need to worry.

We left the mall and took the bus back halfway to our apartment complex. Todd treated those of us who went to a one-hour Chinese foot massage at his favorite massage center. I was not sure if my feet wanted such a thing after seeing what happened to the people on the "Amazing Race" when they had a Chinese foot massage as a roadblock a few seasons ago. But, I figured, I would try it once and pray it wasn't as painful. My feet were mostly numb anyway from the whirlwind day. We were seated in a room for four in giant, reclining lounge chairs. Todd and another teacher also ordered a back massage.

The foot massage began with a soaking of the feet in boiling hot water. I had to have them add a lot of cold before I could even put my feet into the bucket. Then they gave us a short back and neck massage while our feet soaked and served us a delicious green tea to drink. Then they gently scrubbed and washed our feet. I would have ordinarily loved this had my feet not been so sore and tired and had the lady been just a bit more gentle. Still, it was my favorite part. After this came all sorts of various feet tortures designed to bring health to the skin and blood flow to the feet. Todd taught us the Mandarin word for pain, which he said is pronounced like the English word "tongue". I checked this out later and think I found that 痛 (tòng) might better be pronounced more like the 'o' is an 'oe' in the word 'toe' and technically means more of a pain as that from losing a loved one or heart ache, whereas I think 疼痛 téngtòng means a pain, ache, or soreness in the body. Of course, my Chinese is not really good enough to be certain on this point. Any one else care to weigh in?

Anyway, using the word got my masseur to calm it down. And, anyway, once she did, either due to jet lag, an exhausting day, or both, I apparently feel asleep for some time and was snoring away. I awoke to a loud popping sound and a flash of fire by the feet of the people next to me. I was forth in order and therefore about a step behind everyone else. "Was I next for the popping and the fire?" I hoped not. The popping was being creating by inserting a flaming stick into a small glass orb. The orb was then placed on the bottom of the foot. As the warm air in the glass cooled, the pressure inside was reduced. This caused a rapid increase in the blood flow to the area of the skin under the glass. Then when the orb was removed, it made a popping sound as the pressures inside and our equalized. I was only able to stand this once on the bottom of each foot before asking for no more. Fortunately, that was the end of the massage, and I was allowed then to rest and drink tea while Todd and another teacher received very unique full body back massages that bore some resemblance to acts I witnessed at the Shanghai acrobatic show years ago. I was certainly glad, I had opted out of the back massage portion of the event. The massage I got cost 44 CN 元 or just under $7 US – totally worth it, and I will certainly return but this time I will know how to ask for a very gentle type of foot massage! I was so grateful, mostly, to Todd for spending so much time with the new teachers and then treating us to the foot massage. It was a generous gift and welcome introduction to this part of Chinese culture and well-being.

We took the 308 bus back to the apartment complex where I and Lena (English) went to shop for fruit for a late night snack in preparation for our midnight to 9 am fast. We were told earlier in the day we would not be able to eat or drink between midnight and the scheduled time of our government-mandated, alien-resident physicals the next day. I did not end up buying any fruit. I was not the least bit hungry. Lena ended up buying a lot of fruit including a giant watermelon the size of a basketball and weighing over 8 pounds. I carried the watermelon to her apartment for her. She lives a few buildings away. This might be a good time to mention that the new teachers are spread all over this sprawling complex rather than being grouped together. This has many plusses and minuses.

After that, I returned to the futon in my apartment for a good night's rest. Unfortunately, in the middle of the night, I had a dream that something was biting me on the ankle. It woke me up because it was so real. When I examined my ankle, sure enough something did bite me. I think it was probably a spider, but I have been unable to find a single trace of it. The bite was painful and caused an immediate swelling. I put triple antibiotic ointment on it and went back to sleep praying it was not some kind of known killer spider like the brown recluse or the black widow of Beijing.