I had a delightful Halloween, considering how much I don't care about this holiday. My childhood memories of Halloween involve: never having a particularly good or creative costume, spending an inordinate amount of time stressing about social politics ("Who are you going trick-or-treating with?" "But I'm going with this group of friends, and should we meet up and where and whose house should we start at?" "I'm not your friend anymore!" etc), and ending up with a pantry full of stale candy. I had a nice time at Jordan's party in Brooklyn last year, but that was an exception, and my costume was still sort of lame.
This year we ate pizza, drank some beer, and watched "Halloween" which I had never seen. It's a pretty ridiculous movie. And I was happy just doing that, and going home, and going to bed.
And Other News:
1. One of my colleagues is having an operation & I am taking over two of her classes for the next month. So now I'm teaching ten classes a week, which is quite a bit. Normally I wouldn't mind, but it means missing yet another Chinese class and I just paid the painful 2,500 kuai fee, which now feels like a waste of money.
2. It took me all of one month to find myself with a crush on one of my students. I won't go into detail, since I'm oh-so-professional, but let's just say that he's got hipster glasses and a smoldering gaze. Unfortunately, I will teach these students all year, so I can't even fantasize about a situation in which he is no longer my student and I'm freed of these ethical constraints.
3. I'll be heading to Beijing for the weekend of November 13th, for a PiA get-together, which should be a lot of fun. I'm excited to see Beijing again, and hang out with the other PiA-ers.
As I wrote about it in a previous post, Nick and Kim visited last weekend and it was a blast. Here are some photos from Friday night - we all ate Mexican food lovingly prepared by Jess & Rob and drank tequila from cored cucumbers, carefully crafted by Chris & Lucy.
Note that I am wearing one of my favorite dresses, an awesome hand-me-down from Jamie. It's really flattering and travels well and I'm currently wearing it to pieces. Xie xie Jamie!
Since Dalian is famous for its seafood, Kim and Nick naturally wanted to try some. I had no idea where to take them, since we rarely eat seafood here, but Chris knew of a place and so we hopped in a cab and headed to Da Ke Yi. I knew it would be fresh, but I didn't realize we would be picking out our own fish (or crab or squid or shark or whatever).
Our fish is the one on the left - he was a fighter.
He was also delicious. Some of us ate his eyeballs.
And then we went to KTV and sang and danced and used the tambourine the establishment so kindly supplied for us. All in all, a wonderful evening!
Every day I have a couple of firsts - today was the first class I've had to cancel. Bummer. I got my period and while I always enjoy a reminder that I'm not pregnant, that was soon eclipsed by the realization that I didn't have any Advil or Tylenol on me. It was about to be a very long afternoon. First it was just terrible abdominal pain (also known as dysmenorrhea). Five minutes into class, I abandoned all dignity and appealed to my students. "I have a really bad headache," I lied, "Does anyone have any painkillers? P-A-I-N-K-I-L-L-E-R-S?" I wrote the word on the board. I mimed swallowing a pill. They all looked at me blankly. I gave up.
They were doing oral presentations today on their favorite musical group, so it shouldn't have been too bad, but I was just miserable. If only it was acceptable to teach a university class while in the fetal position. Instead I just sat there, nauseous, in a cold sweat, barely attentive - although I think I put up a good front. "That was a really interesting speech about Avril Lavigne," I would say weakly, "Who else likes Avril Lavigne?" (Note: they all do). Finally, my first class was almost over, and I tried to give myself a pep talk about the second one ("It's only another 90 minutes! You're already here!)" but all of a sudden I felt like I was going to throw up, and at that point I knew I had to go home. I wrote on the blackboard "SPEAKING CLASS 15:20. MS. GLASS IS SICK. CLASS IS CANCELED. WE WILL MAKE UP CLASS AT A LATER DATE" and then booked it home, swallowed a bunch of ibuprofen, and passed out. I genuinely felt terrible that I canceled class, but I was in no shape to teach. I can only say that I've learned my lesson that I should just carry painkillers around all the time, just in case.
Due to the miracle of modern science, I woke up a few hours later feeling like a million dollars. I was glad I felt better, because I had a meeting with my new speaking partner. It was our first get-together, so I really didn't want to cancel. With a speaking partner, you spent an hour speaking Chinese and an hour speaking English, and so it's really perfect for me, since I need help just getting comfortable with conversation. She's an awesome person and it was a bit of a lovefest ("Your Chinese is so good!" "No, your English is so good!" etc etc) and I am really happy it's going to work out. Some other good news of the day? Tae's sister had a baby! Welcome to the world, Lillian!
My internet was being funky for a while, but it's back on, so I'll write more soon. Next up: our Dalian exploration day (with fresh fish!) and photos courtesy of the one and only Kim Hagner
* So, I'm a teacher! I'm two weeks in and it's going really well so far. I teach four speaking classes (1:30 - 5 pm Mondays/Tuesdays) and four reading classes (8 - 11:30 am Thursdays/Fridays). I see my students twice a week for the whole year, so I hope I'll get to know them pretty well. I like them a lot - they're enthusiastic about improving their English, and I'm working hard to make the class interesting and useful. I'm still a little unclear about how much of the textbook I have to use, and what their final exam will consist of - unlike Tae, Chris, and Jess, I don't make up my own final, which is a little annoying.
A LOT more has been going on, so here's a little lightning round for ya: WOMEN'S GROUP: Jess and I have started a women's group. Or rather, we both came up with the idea and while I was ready to do my usual "let's-mull-it-over-for-six-months," she whipped into action. On Tuesday night, after setting up a plate of cookies and some soft drinks, we made our way downstairs to the bus stop, where we told people to meet. "I hope people come!" we said to each other. "Maybe we'll get ten!" And...surprise: FORTY girls were waiting for us. Our apartment is spacious, but not that spacious. Somehow, we crammed forty young women into our place and gave them beer and introduced ourselves and talked. I think they were mostly interested in Jessica's life and wanted an opportunity to speak English, but we discussed what it's like to be a girl in science, since most of them are science/engineering majors, and we touched on boys and marriage and kids. It was nice to see that they all had very different viewpoints and opinions about these issues, and it'll be cool to see where this goes.
VISITORS: Kim and Nick, two other PiA-ers from Shenyang are currenty visiting, as well as Jess's boyfriend Rob. It's been fun to have all of them in Dalian, and we celebrated in style last night with a Mexican night, complete with tortilla chips and rice and salsa and too much tequila. Today, Nick and Kim and I tracked down Russian Street in downtown Dalian, which I've been wanting to see for a while. Dalian has been occupied by Russia, Japan, and China numerous times over the course of the last century or so, and it's reflected in the architecture in a small part of the city. Most of Russian Street is really touristy and gross, but at the end of the street is a huge, gorgeous, decrepit building that was more impressive than the rows of stands selling cheap fur hats and nesting dolls and Russian cigarettes. I still haven't bought a new camera, so this picture is courtesy of flickr:
So eventually it was zaijian to Chang Bai Shan, and ni hao to Bai He, another town/city fairly close to Korea. We had a bunch of hours to kill there before getting on an early train to Shenyang the next morning, so we explored on foot for a while, which was really nice.
A shopkeeper recommended a local restaurant, which was packed when we got there. Finally a table opened up, and we ordered a bunch of food. When we saw one particular item on the menu, we knew we absolutely had to try it.
Any guesses? (And for the record, it tastes pretty bland)
After our hiking adventure, I think we were all looking forward to a nice, relaxing jeep ride up the mountain the next day, up to Heaven Lake. It was a beautiful, breezy day and we merrily got in line and jostled and bustled with all the other Chinese people until we got into our jeep and started to make our way up the mountain.
Relaxing it was not. The jeep drivers are nuts, and they were driving around these hairpin turns and switchbacks at what felt like top speed. Jessica was in front, and while she is normally a very fearless woman, her only fear is being in a car that tips over. So you can imagine the terror she was feeling, although the driver slowed down once he saw her expression/white knuckles.
We survived the ride up, and it was definitely worth it. The scenery was beautiful, and it was fun to see the lake in all its glory.
Lest you think there's some new adventurous Maggie in town, just know that I would not do this:
It was VERY WINDY.
Anyway, the whole day was pretty awesome, despite not spotting the famous Tianchi Monster that supposedly lives in the lake.
After we arrived in Chang Bai Shan, we spent the first day just exploring and checking out the waterfalls and hot springs, where people were dipping their feet and boiling eggs. It was a minor madhouse of Asian tourists, but it was fun to people-watch and check out the area.
The next day, we decided to hike to the lake itself (formerly a volcano) based on a hike that Max, a former PiA-er, had done before. It was a somewhat hidden trail that at first was pretty steep, and then evened out somewhat. Here is a picture of us, cold but enthusiastic, in the wild tundra of northern China.
Things are going well at this point. I'm slightly behind everyone, due to the fact that I have short legs and a terrible physique, but overall we're enjoying the hike. Yes, it's getting colder, and yes, Jessica sidles up to me once in a while to whisper, "I don't like the look of those clouds" (big, dark, looming over the mountains) but we're all young and invincible-feeling. The wind, which was crazy to begin with, gets worse. At points, we are scrambling over rocks (Labyrinth-style!) and climbing up steep inclines. I can't think of what kind of outdoor adventure movie it reminds me of, but...it was like that. At this point, it begins to dawn on me that:
1) Nobody knows where we are. 2) Which happens to be on a completely amazing but completely desolate mountain ridge. 3) Literally on the border of North Korea. 4) In a miniature blizzard.
And oddly enough, I wasn't concerned. Maybe it's foolish, but I felt really safe in the hands of my co-fellows. Also, Jessica was doing most of the worrying for me. I think my favorite part of the hike was when we weren't 100% sure that we were on the right path (we were waiting for a fork in the road) and Jessica leaned over to me and said, "It's really important that we make it there." I nodded and said, "Yeah, totally." A moment later, I looked at her again and said, "Wait, are you saying that if we don't make it there in a few hours and it gets dark, we'll freeze to death?" She looked at me gravely and nodded.
How awesome is that!?
Luckily, we found the fork soon enough (also spotted: a ragtag set-up in the distance, North Korean border patrol) and kept on trucking. At this point, I've borrowed Chris's gloves and Tae has switched his shoes for Chris's shoes and put plastic bags on his feet and Pat is wearing socks as gloves. It's very very very cold.
Eventually we reach the lake. We realize that we are at the edge of the cliff, and there is no easy path to the lake itself (where there might be transportation) and so our only choice is to backtrack. We probably looked at the lake for about two seconds before starting back down, in order to beat the sun. It was a steep climb up the mountain and an equally steep climb back down.
Our weird little hotel/hostel never looked so good. A bowl of bland noodle soup never tasted so delicious. I thought maybe it was just because I'm not an experienced hiker, but my adventurous co-fellows all agreed that it was one of the best hikes they had ever done, if not the best. It was exciting, exhilarating, snowy, and crazy, and just generally awesome.
Next up on the Travel Journal: We see the lake up close, and eat some interesting food. Stay tuned! Photo credits: Taehoon Kim, Christopher Hildner.
Despite my love of the little ones (see above) I started teaching university students today! It was fun and it went pretty well. I teach two classes every day except Wednesday, and I think it’s going to be a good semester. I have lots more to update from my trip, but I’m sleepy and I wouldn’t write anything good now anyway. I’ll be back soon to finish the story of our journey! Thanks for your patience.
What is it that makes an overnight train so magical? Maybe it's the triple bunk beds, the cozy proximity to strangers, towns rushing by outside...or the wonderful vibrations and gentle bumps as you sleep - kind of like the adult equivalent of putting an infant on top of a dryer. For me, it was a mixture of all these things, plus the general excitement of beginning a journey. We boarded the train around dinner time and settled into our narrow little area (called a "hard sleeper"), which consisted of the four of us, plus an adorable little boy and his grandparents. The six of us sat together on the bottom bunks until it got awkward, at which point we retired to our individual beds, where the ceilings were too low to sit up, so we had to sort of contort ourselves in order to make eye contact. We talked until the lights went out, and then whispered a little bit more, and fell asleep.
In the morning, we awoke to some truly beautiful scenery, which looked a lot like upstate New York in autumn. The leaves were turning brilliant colors and the sky was bright blue and it was nice to just lay there and look at the world go by. In the early afternoon, we finally arrived in Yanji, where we met up with Pat, Tae's friend who flew in from Beijing. We then hired a driver to take us to Chang Bai Shan, the national park/mountain area, which was another four hours or so. By the time we got there, we were tired and hungry and a bit chilly (or at least I was, in a skirt and flip-flops) so we picked the most convenient hotel and settled there for the night. The next few days would be spent exploring Chang Bai Shan and having many adventures. Stay tuned, dear readers!
We are back from our glorious Golden Week holiday up north. It was a really terrific trip, but my camera was lost/stolen towards the end (bummer) so most photos will be credited to my fellow traveler, Taehoon Kim, who took some great pictures.