Thursday, March 22, 2012 do with the price of tea in China...

This is the tea shop that is in the front of the Lotus Supermarket.  This bag of Jasmine Tea was 7 RMB (yuan).  The exchange rate is approx 6 RMB = 1 USD.  The bags of regular green tea are very cheap compared to US prices.  All the tea is loose leaf.  I also found dried lavender which makes great tea in the evening.  We have a hot water dispenser in our apt, so that is handy. 

On the weekend we went in the McDonald's which is about a 15 minute walk from here.  I mainly wanted to try the french fries and see how they compared.  They were excellent.  You could tell absolutely no difference from the ones we have in the US.  A medium fry is 9RMB.

Here is our shopping bag after a shopping trip to try to find snacks.  The Orion Pies are...yes, their version of Moon Pies.  Fairly good.  The dried kiwi is excellent, esp b/c it doesn't have that weird salty flavor that seems to permeate many of the other dried fruit snacks.  The little bag in the front is little cups of jello type things.  I like them.  Ben doesn't.  The bag in the upper right contains individually wrapped dried apples.  They are about the size of prunes, with seeds still in them too.  As one foreign teacher said about eating here, "Chew cautiously."  The snacks are pretty cheap, which is good, because it is a total gamble as to what might be appetizing...or not.

We bought 2 of these thermoses for 29 RMB each.  They are excellent at keeping water hot all day long.  The students and other teachers all carry them around and there are many hot water dispensers in the offices.  The little box of special tea was a gift from the principal here.  In the background, of course, is the view from one of our windows.  We don't pay anything for the view:).

China is certainly a land of tea drinkers.  So when we saw a coffee shop right around the block, Barry, Ben and I went in.  We were given the English menu.  The prices were Starbucks style.  Oh well, we thought, coffee is a, here we are smiling, which is actually grimacing, over this "special" instant coffee.  Uff da.  (yes, the Norwegian expression definitely fits here)  Mark "Ming Tien Coffee Language" (no, we don't know what coffee language is either) off of our list of top 10 places to go in Xi'an.
THEN...Kevin and Stacey discovered the Dunkin Donuts, which is in the Lotus grocery store complex.  THIS is the real thing.  I'm a bit embarrassed at how happy we were to find it.  One British businessman we met in there asked me (on the 2nd day we ran into him), "Are you pretty addicted to this stuff?"  Ha.  At 14 RMB it does feel like a bit of a luxury, so we are not making it a daily habit.  By the way, we haven't yet tried the donuts.  Some of them are standard--Boston Cream Pie...and others are standard Chinese--shredded pork donut, green tea filled donut...yes, I am not making this up.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

...sounds of Xi'an, continued...

After I posted this morning, I realized I had forgotten a very significant and frequent sound: firecrackers!  On a regular (think--daily) basis, and especially on the weekends, a rapid smattering of pop pop pop pows...echoes among the buildings.  We are not sure what they are all for, but Sunday morning we heard some in the courtyard of the next apartment building and we looked out to see a stream of people pouring out of a building.  There appeared to be some sort of celebration.  Last week we happened upon a wedding procession and in front of the banquet center, the red paper confetti that explodes from these noisemakers was all over the cement. 

The florists also decorate the cars used in the wedding procession.  This procession included at least 8 or 9 of these SUV's. 

Meanwhile, across the street, was this gentleman, in a much less noisy vehicle. 

...sounds of Xi'an...

Photos can't capture sound, but this morning I want to share some of the common sounds we've been hearing.  I should begin by saying that here in our apartment, we are fortunate to have a great deal of quietness.  This building only has a few occupants--all foreign teachers or students.  We haven't had to use our earplugs yet! 

I had expected a constant, undecipherable din of humanity.  In actuality, the sounds are very distinct and not really annoying.  There is the honking of car horns, for sure.  But they seem to take turns, as if in a conversation.  (And, usually, they are having a discussion that seems to be translated into something like, "Hey! Can't you see I'm coming?  Why are you obeying the green light and going anyway?" and "Helloooo!  I'm a truck with no brakes and you are a mere bicycle with just a little load of 55 crates." or "ExCUSE me, right turn on red and left turn on green give me license to ignore pedestrians!"  Regardless of the chaos this seems to convey, it really all works miraculously smoothly.  I have yet to hear the sound of tires screeching to a halt. 

While we are on the note of crossing the street, I might mention that I had to override my instincts the other day on my walk to school.  A little grandmother with some sort of cane or assistive walking device started to shuffle across the large intersection at the same time I did.  My tendency was to slow down and walk with her.  Then my brain took over and said, "Kelly, this woman has obviously lived long enough to be using a cane.  You have not.  She likely knows much more about how to get across these 6 lanes of regular traffic and 2 bus/bicycle access lanes on either side of the road than you do."  ...and I traipsed across as cautiously as possible.  One thing that really helps is that the traffic signals here all have timers on them and so you can see how many seconds you have left to cross the road. 

Back to sounds...there are water trucks that traverse the streets daily, except on rainy days, I suppose, to spray down pavement, in a never ending effort to reduce the dust.  For several days we heard them from the apartment, and assumed they were ice cream trucks.  Why?  Because they play tunes like Jingle Bells and Yankee Doodle.  Yes.  Here.  In March. 

And onto more unexpected musical sounds: When the 2 hour lunch/nap break at the schools ends, instrumental music recordings are broadcast over the school grounds.  Last week the wake up song was Danny Boy, which was definitely pleasant.  Yesterday to my surprise another familiar tune emerged: Amazing Grace.  Yes. Here.  Paradoxes abound.

The walkway in the park is a beautiful detour to the sidewalks along the city street.  In the evening, we hear Beijing Opera selections booming out of portable stereos and there are groups of women practicing traditional dances.  It is really impressive. 

Earlier this week I heard what sounded like military marches.  I got nearer the square and saw men in civilian clothes in formation, marching around the square.  The next day, on my return from school, I heard the same group.  The day before must have been just rehearsal, because the 2nd day they were in full uniform.  I took a video of them, and showed it to Xiaolan back at the office.  She told me they were not military.  They are security.  (These are different people than police.) I guess they must have monthly practices. 

This is one of the intersections near the school.  The dog looks just like Buster Tackitt, so we were sure to take the photo for Steve and Pat :).  The pet dogs here are obviously well cared for, but rarely on leashes.  They seem share their masters' instincts regarding traffic navigation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

...around school...

Here are some snapshots around Gaoxin No. 1 High School campus as well as Gaoxin No. 2 Primary School.  I have a nice 20 minute walk to the primary school where I am spending a couple weeks.  I have been teaching some of the English classes there and it has been a great experience.  A few myths have been dispelled.  Namely the notion that students here sit quietly and at attention at all times.  Kids—no matter where they live on this planet—are kids.  J  To manage a classroom of 60 students takes some sort of magic that I haven’t acquired yet.  And when class is over, to be mobbed by all these first graders who want to stand right next to the teacher, requires more than a bit of balance!!  Their greetings never lack in enthusiasm.  And when they ask, “What is your nationality?”  and I respond, “I am American,” the entire class breaks into applause and cheers.  They are encouraged to answer all questions asked by the teacher in a very loud voice.  Chinese classrooms are not places for soft spoken folks.  I was comforted to see a teacher wear a wireless microphone on Monday.  She said most teachers have some voice problems.  I can understand why.

Gaoxin Primary students with Flat Stella and Pepe
*for more adventures with Pepe, check out Ben's blog:

The teachers are involved in the morning exercise, and I got this snapshot of Ben on the track with the Biology teacher when I left the apartment yesterday morning.  

After school basketball group @ Primary School.

High School girls between classes.

Ben and Kevin teaching English conversation.