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.

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