Sunday, October 28, 2007

CD58: 2007 San Francisco Nike+ Women's Half Marathon (in China)

Before I get to the real excitement there are some other random updates I need to make.

First, my passport is back. The government never had it. China Bob took it to get my Foreign Expert Certificate from the local police station and it just took FOREVER to get it back. The Chinese government and I are still like peas and carrots, so stop freaking out.

Second, Andreana and I died our hair black. Why? Why not? I think it looks pretty cool. It was way more drastic of a change for me than her, but it's rockin'. Yes, we do blend in better with the locals but no, it was not our motivation.

Third, we went to a movie set. A student invited Andreana and I to her house and she happens to live right next to 'Movie City' which is in the outskirts of Anyuan City (right next to Pingxiang). The movie set itself was pretty cool. There was also a huge traditional style house on the set where people live but we got to walk around. Andreana and I also happened across some wood carvers in one of the set's buildings so we bought some really cool carvings.

Forth, we had our first birthday here in China! Apparently Western traditions are backwards from the Chinese. In China, when it is your  birthday, you take all of your friends out and they don't pay for anything. Oh well! We kept it traditional for Clyde's big 2-8 festivities.

Now to the reason why I have gathered you all here today. Through the magic of technology and the masterminds that are Ipod and Nike, I ran the SF Women's Half Marathon today! Clyde joined me and we managed to run 13.1 miles without dying or being killed by some crazy Pingxiang motorist. As it was my first half marathon, i am not sure how my time compares but we finished in 1:48:30 with an average mile pace of 8:16. Not too bad I would say!

After we ran we ended up meeting up with a teacher who was here last year. He is dating one of the students here and was in town visiting for her birthday. We went to Pingxiang's big park -E Hu and found a previously undiscovered amusement rides area and possibly the most depressing zoo in the world.

There are tons of new pics up so check them out!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

CD43: How I Spent My National Day Vacation

After 4 short weeks of school, the only reasonable thing to do is to take a week off, right? Granted we still had to make up Thursday and Friday classes on the weekend, but a movie quickly solved that problem. Sunday night all of the foreign teachers and one of the Chinese teachers got together to celebrate the start of the holiday and we all stayed up too late in consideration of the fact we had to be up at early to head to the train station. Our train left at noon but considering how late we stayed up,11 was very early!

Another American teacher Andreana met earlier in the summer had decided to come to Jiangxi Province with one of his students to visit the student's hometown. We all (minus Tim) decided to meet up with them. Shangrao is 6 hours east of Pingxiang by train and despite not having seat assignments for the trip, we were able to get seats, sleep a little, and arrive in one piece. Michael and his student Gray met us at the train station along with Gray's cousin and his girlfriend Jane. We decided to grab dinner first and they went to the river that runs through town for some entertainment. There were fireworks going off (as usual) and the bright night lights of the city made the river really beautiful. We all rented some Dragon Boats and paddled along the river enjoying the sights and sounds.

Tuesday we got up at 4am to hike to the top of Yunbi Peak to great the new day at sunrise. The hike up the peak was a bit treacherous, especially in the dark, and getting up so early wasn't fabulous, but the view was amazing. The whole way up, other climbers were scattered about stretching, doing yoga, and yelling out (greeting the day apparently). Many elderly people climb the mountain every morning and this was made obvious as they jogged past us trudging up the stairs. Sunrise was viewed from the Yunbai Pavilion at the very top. On the way back down, we stopped at the Dongyue Hugao Temple. Both of these buildings are within the Langya Yun Bi Feng National Forest. The temple was beautiful inside, but photos are limited there.

Leaving the temple and walking back into town we came across one of the biggest street markets I have seen so far. There was all sorts of crazy stuff going on. Some highlights were the birds - you could see all of the stages from alive to ready for dinner (slightly disturbing...), people carrying their live birds home by the wings, bicycle optometry, and baby turtles to eat. We decided to walk back along the other side of the river after the police stopped us from taking a fun pedicab home. After a huge lunch with Gray's family, we played mahjong, cards, and rested before having dinner with Gray's family.

All of Wednesday was spent with Gray's uncles fishing out in the country area surrounding Shangrao . Andreana and I both caught fish but none of the other foreigners did! HA! I finally caught something other than trees and tires!! The uncles caught many fish and we had some for dinner. This day also marked the start of our ''trying interesting food'' spree. We had sugar cane (straight from the cane), rice paddy eel, cobra soup, and little fish (whole) with our dinner. We missed out on dog as it still isn't readily available - they don't eat dog when it's warm outside.

Thursday Gray took us to the Shangrao Concentration Camp which is where the Kuomingdang built a jail to detain many Chinese military officials along with others. The Chinese have kept the site as a memorial to the martyrs and it is a powerful spot for the Red Army as there was a prisoner uprising and many of them escaped and killed those detaining them in the process before rejoining the Chinese forces. In addition to the memorials, they have preserved one of the prison buildings and side rooms that was used for torturing prisoners. The day was made slightly more light hearted by an early evening basketball game between the foreigners and Gray's uncle (who is a PE teacher at a college)  and his colleagues.

There is an old train station in the middle of town and they turn the plaza outside of it into a huge restaurant area at night. Seemed fitting... This is where we got to try some more fun stuff. We all tried frog, river snail, pig's feet, chicken feet, undetermined pig insides... We finished off the last night there with a trip to the KTV with Gray's mom, aunt, and uncle for some late night singing and dancing.

Friday we decided to check out the ''Walking Street''. Every city has a (supposedly) pedestrian street lined with shops that is supposed to be the cool place to go. For our last day in Shangrao, Gray's aunt and uncle wanted to treat us to a traditional Chinese trip to the salon. The first put some strange stuff in your head and give you the longest head massage. Then, the wash your hair and massage your face, neck, arms, etc. It was relaxing but would make any trip to get your hair cut quite the time commitment. All but Ben resisted the urge to get ''fashionable'' Chinese hair styles - I am still not fully comfortable with the female mullet. After dinner with Gray's family one last time, we headed back to the train station, back home, and back to reality.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

CD37: Pop Star Mentality

Rehearsal schedules are such a pain, aren't they? They are much worse when they are useless. Sunday was our first rehearsal for our big performance. I think that was the last day we sang our song more than 1 time. Lisa, the Chinese girl we sang with picked Madonna's La Isla Bonita as our performance piece. There was brief talk of adding a second Madonna song or perhaps even Shakira (to keep the Latin flavor) but then Andreana had to mention that she knows the words for a well-known Chinese song called Pen Yo or 'Friends'.

Not only do I not know this song, I don't speak Chinese, Apparently that was an oversight. So, it's decided that it will be La Isla and Friends (in Chinese) so we have to find costumes. It is only until we actually arrive at the theatre on Sunday that we realize that this is an all out production…requiring a costume, rehearsals, etc. So, they found these great Spanish-style skirts for us and because we refuse to combine it with either a different Spanish-style tube top or an Asian-style vest, we are left to find our own.

Our next rehearsal is Wednesday. Because Andreana and I both teach, we don't arrive until 4pm and there aren't many other performers there. We then realize that we might be the only performers who are in fact not professionals. The good news was that we didn't rehearse until everyone else was done and gone. We sing our songs maybe 3 times in our silly skirts and are told to add some dancing. I read the Chinese song off the paper and tell myself I will have it memorized in 4 days. We then eat and drink with the owner of the theatre and his associates and call it a day.

Thursday we finally find out what the deal is with the holiday the following week. We had been hearing mixed tales of having to make up classes from the National Day Holiday where we get a week off, but none of the stories agree to when and why these make up days are needed or even that they actually happen. A holiday off from work means no work, right? So, in light of all of this confusion I finally corner the dean and request some answers. Apparently the 1 st, 2nd, and 3rd are the actual National Day holidays but the school gives the students/teachers the whole week off. Because they should technically have class on the 4th and the 5 th, those day's classes must be made up on the Saturday and Sunday before the holiday. The idea of getting up for my 8 am class for 2 extra days isn't great, but what can you do?

Thursday night we have rehearsal again. This time it is a dress rehearsal, which no one bothered to mention to us, and we arrive with everyone else so we get to see what we are working with for the first time. The performance is meant to honor local civil servants who will be receiving awards and to honor ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /> China, for it is her day. Before any rehearsing gets underway, Andreana and I end up posing for roughly a million pictures with a large group of the civil servant men who will be performing. Rehearsal seems more real this time as the whole show is run through. Most everyone else is in their costumes and we are quite blown away by it all. Again they have us go last but there are many people there to watch us. I still haven't learned my Chinese song so I just turn off my microphone and lip-sync. We sing 1 time then go and have dinner and drinks with Lisa after finding shirts for our costumes.
Friday is our last rehearsal before the big show and Andreana and I are not happy with this. First, we are so behind in getting anything done for our school work that it is starting to stress us out. Second, we have no time to breathe as we keep having rehearsal right after teaching and don't get back until after dinnertime. So, we unhappily go to rehearsal at 230 – 30 minutes late. (Lisa's fault, not ours.) Many of the other performers aren't there or are late so Mr. Wang (the head guy) proceeds to yell at everyone for a good 30 minutes. We then sit around for about 2 hours while some of the other groups do their routines multiple times. We are told that we won't be using our previously discussed costumes and that we will instead have to wear our own clothes. They think this will help us feel more comfortable and help us to act more 'sexy'. We are then told to go home. Yes, without singing our song or doing our dancing at all. We had been invited to our students' parties all week for the holiday but were unable to attend due to rehearsals so we declined dinner offers to head back to school. We lucked out and made up 1 of our classes that would have been Sunday that night by watching a movie. Sweet.

Saturday morning we both have to teach 1 class. We were expecting more rehearsal before the performance but instead, we just met up with the other performers, directors, etc for dinner before the show. Thank goodness I thought to bring nice dresses with me to China and thank goodness Andreana is close enough to my size. We wore our dresses to dinner thinking everyone else would be dressed up. Needless to say, we were slightly overdressed. Despite the sold-out tickets, we talked Mr. Wang into getting us tickets for the other foreign teachers so they could come as well. Someone had to video tape it, right? The performance as a whole was pretty cool. There were fireworks, bubbles, tassels, crazy costumes, the whole nine yards really. Sadly, we had to watch it from backstage, but we got a good enough impression of the goings on. We were expecting crazy Chinese-style makeup but it wasn't that bad – they did make us both very pale though.

After the performance, we went to a club with the other foreign teachers, Lisa, and a guy from the performance (along with his sister and her boyfriend). It was pretty unlike anything else we have seen here. To keep things PG, I will just say it would make my San Diego boys quite envious. There was a ton of techno/dance music and we danced until the wee hours of the morning. It was a crazy end to a crazy week.

Pictures are up and available now under 'China: Performance of a Lifetime'. The video of the performance is too big to upload. If anyone knows of a free video editor I can get online, please let me know!