Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Aspiring advertisers

I'm teaching a television lesson to some of my classes this week (basically if their computer works they get the tv lesson, if not we do something else).  We talk about different kinds of shows (sit-com, drama, game show, etc) as well as tv ads - side note: making them say 'reality tv' is hilarious.  After we watch that funny Pepsi ad where Jimmy Fallon dances down the street I explain that ads are also in magazines and newspapers and have them draw one.  So far this exercise was pretty much useless because the kids didn't want to do it, but since I need that time to draw up the game on the board, I considered it time well wasted.  Until today.  Here are a few of the funniest ones from my 7th grade class this morning:

The Chinese on the bottle means "Coca-Cola"

I was told this was a pizza ad...

This kid took my explanation of 'it makes you want to buy things' very seriously

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chinese Health Care, part 3

Two nights ago as I was going to bed I started to feel the onset of a couple of cold sores in the corners of my mouth.  Now, because this is China, pharmacies are...well...different.  Of course they sell band-aides and vitamins and pills, but because of their pesky habit of writing things in Chinese, it is a very difficult to sort that stuff out.  They also sell things like giant dried mushroom caps, worms, butterflies, cocoon-looking things, and a menagerie of plant-ish substances.  I'm am way to scared of this type of store to even attempt to find Abreva, so instead I decided to tell myself that they were not cold sores and that everything would be fine in the morning.
Everything was not fine in the morning.  Those tingling spots had grown into full-fledged cold sores because, as it turns out, telling yourself that you don't have them does not make them disappear.  Because my last bout of cold sores was so incredibly bad I decided to attack them with any home remedy I could concoct in my dorm room.  After a short Google session I decided to alternate rubbing on some toothpaste and pressing warm tea bags on them.  Everyone on the message boards seemed to think these had at least limited effectiveness, and I was willing to do anything for even a small relief from these bad boys.
Before I go any further, I should explain why exactly I was so terrified of these cold sores.  Now, most of us have probably had one of these at some point and they are no fun.  They hurt, they itch, they are pretty contagious, and you can spread them around your own body if you aren't careful.  I'm usually prone to getting a nose-full of them at a time, but only once a year or so...until China.  Last month I got a raging case of these things that completely covered my mouth and trickled down my chin.  Curiously I also had some allergy-like itchy bumps around my eyes, which were also extremely watery.  I chalked it up to either some new strain I must have encountered or to being in such a different environment than back home, and simply hoped they wouldn't come back.
Now, these home remedies seemed to do absolutely nothing for the problem, and if anything they were making it worse because those little spots on the corners of my mouth had spread around my mouth and were starting to travel down my chin again.  Even worse, they itchy eye spots showed up mid-afternoon.  By the evening I was pretty miserable but I convinced myself that the toothpaste had dried out my mouth area and everything would feel better in the morning.
Nothing felt better in the morning.  When I woke up I was absolutely miserable.  I sat in bed for a few minutes before going to the bathroom because I was too scared to face the mirror.  Eventually I got up and, at the sight of my own face, I burst into tears.  My eyes were puffy and surrounded by red blotches, my lips looked like I had over-done some botox injections and, upon closer inspection, were covered in tiny oozing blisters.  I was hideous, everything hurt, everything itched, and because of how contagious cold sores are, I was terrified of touching any part of my body.  I decided that I simply could not teach class like this and I had to go to the doctor.
I found Maggie (my contact teacher), who took one look at me and said, "Oh, how horrible" as another teacher told me to "drink more water, get more rest."  I explained the situation and got someone to take my class while she got the school's driver and we went to the hospital.
Chinese hospitals function differently than American ones, there are lots of lines you have to stand in to get anything done.  Also, they are confusing.  Thank God for Maggie's help because even she had trouble figuring out which line to stand in and in what order, and she's Chinese!  After waiting around for quite a while I got to see the doctor.  Now, another quaint little thing about Chinese doctors is that it is never just you and the doctor, it's always you, the doctor, and a nurse or two at a desk that is right next to another doctor, another nurse or two, and whatever patient they are seeing at the time.  When the patient is a big, ugly, swollen, white person, all 10+ people in the room are listening intently to what is wrong with you and often taking part in the discussion.  Maggie explained what had happened to me to the doctor, who proceeded to take one look at me and asked me when was the last time I ate a mango.  What I thought was: "F*ing quack China doctor", but what I said was, "Monday".  She then told me I have a mango allergy and I should take these pills, use this cream, and don't drink alcohol or eat anything spicy until I feel better, also don't eat seafood or any meat except pork, especially not beef or lamb.
Stunned, I took the prescription and we headed down to the pharmacy.  More lines and 25RMB (~US$3.75) later I had two kinds of pills and some cream and we were headed back to the school in a Fu'an school bus we happened to see and flag down.  The women we joined inside chattily discussed all my symptoms and the doctor's verdict and I was told that I also had to avoid pineapples because mangoes and pineapples have too much 'fire' in them (this is from the Chinese idea of balancing the foods you eat - some food are warming and some are cooling and you have to balance them...it is also why they hate coffee, too much 'fire').  I politely thanked everyone for their help and headed upstairs to my room.  I quickly fired up Google and it turns out that mango allergies are pretty much exactly like what I have and are a result of some link to poison ivy (among other things).
So, it turns out that I'm allergic to either mango skin, or seeds, or both and maybe that doctor wasn't a quack.  Live and learn, I guess.

My toothpaste 'mask'

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

***scroll down***

I just posted stories and pics from the Philippines - sorry it took so long!

There are two parts: Part 1 is under the story about the motorcycle wreck and Part 2 is under the "Language of Love" post.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Language of Love

In honor of Valentines Day I did a lesson on the "Language of Love". I start out talking about boyfriends and girlfriends and how they go on "dates", then if they really like each other they get married and become "husband and wife". We talk about things people do on dates, what people say to each other ("I love you", "I love you too!"), and how people hug, kiss, hold hands, and dance. After we talk for a while the kids play "Two truths and a lie" (say 2 true things and 1 lie and have your friends guess the lie) then make heart-shaped Valentines. If there is time left over we play hangman. Considering I teach junior high, I was fully aware that there would be maturity issues, but some of the stuff these kids did and said made me laugh out loud:
~ After giving two examples of where people go on dates (movies, restaurant) I asked the kids to give me some more examples. My jaw dropped when, in unison, the whole class yelled "hotel!"
~ One male student made me a Valentine that said (in English), "Will you marry my father?"
~ "Yellow" is a funny word for these kids because it is associated with pornography. So when one boy went to the board for a turn at hangmang they were sure that that was his word. Imagine everyones surprise (and amusement) when, instead of "yellow", his word was "swallow"...and yes, I'm quite certain they meant that in a sexual way...
~ In Chinese feiji means "airplane" and da1 is something like "to do". Combined, the literally translation is "to do the airplane", but it actually means "masturbate". In one class I ran out of "love" words for hangman so I started pulling random words out of the air. I take full responsibility for everything that happened after I stupidly used "airplane" in an 8th grade class...

The Philippines Part 2: Just the Two of Us

I would say that most vacations are composed of varying percentages of relaxing and sight-seeing.  After Walter's parents left the majority of our sight-seeing was over and a lot of butt-sitting commenced.  We spent the night in 7 different resorts/hotels/hostels on 3 islands over the course of 2 weeks.  Some places were tiny rooms in the middle of a big town, some were right on the ocean, and the rest were somewhere in between.  We spent our days swimming, reading, and watching American television (a real treat considering there are only two English-language channels in Shenzhen and they only actually air American and/or Hong Kong programming for about 6 hours per day).  Aside from the motorcycle issue (discussed in a previous post) and a possible UFO sighting all was relatively normal and peaceful.  Until the last day, of course.

The very last day in Manila (the last city we flew out of) we decided to take one last sight-seeing tour around a couple of parks and the old city.  We hopped on a metro train line of some sort and found our way to the heart of the historical section.  We wandered into the old city through the gigantic zig-zagged fortress walls and wandered around an antique/craft shop for about an hour.  After that we got out of that city because we were tired of being harassed by men on horse-drawn carriages who wanted to give us tours...at a steep price I'm sure.  We headed to this park that was named after the Philippines' national hero, Jose Rizal.  The park now encompasses both where he was executed and a monument under which he was eventually buried.  While walking through this park I really had to pee and the most convenient way to do this was to pay 5 pisos ($.10) to get into the "Chinese park" where there were bathrooms.  This seemed oddly ironic since it really did look like a Chinese park, but the novelty was completely lost on us.  I should point out that the reason we knew that this was the most convenient way to find a bathroom was because some Philippino guy overheard me tell Walter that I really really had to go and directed us there.  We sat in the park for 20 minutes or so before moving on.  Imagine our surprise when we exited the gates and that guy was waiting for us!  He introduced himself as Paul and proceeded to adopt us so he could take us on a tour all around the park.  He was great; his stories were funny, he really knew the history of the park and the politics surrounding Dr. Rizal, and he loved to talk about all the American and Australian friends he had met this way.  We followed Paul around for nearly an hour before we had to go.  He never exactly mentioned paying him but we were pretty sure that's what we were supposed to do, so we over-payed him (and under-guessed his age by 20 years...he may have appreciated that more than the cash) and headed off to the airport.

Now, because we knew we were heading home we had let our money dwindle down to next to nothing so we wouldn't have to exchange much (mostly because their money is practically worthless, it's nearly 50 pisos to US$1).  We got to the airport with plenty of time and stood in the ticket line FOREVER.  But, eventually got through and headed to customs.  There was a counter between us and customs that required us to pay an airport usage fee which, of course, we didn't have enough cash for.  Walter left me with the stuff while he went to exchange money, came back to get his passport (which is required to exchange money), exchange all the Hong Kong and Chinese money he had, and find an ATM after that still wasn't quite enough.  Finally he got back and we payed and headed on to customs.  I went first and the lady looked through my passport and all was well until she noticed that we had overstayed our visa by 2 days.  Shit.  Well, rather than being helpful and telling me the next step or handcuffing me or whatever, she just looked at me and asked in this 'how could you?' voice, "Why did you overstay your visa?"  "Uh, it was a mistake?"
This was the first I had heard about this, but apparently we were given conflicting reports on how long a tourist visa was good in the Philippines and chose to believe the wrong one when purchasing airline tickets.  5 bajillion forms, a couple ATM trips, and a few thousand pisos later we were through customs and through security and really, really ready to get out of that country.

Our flight was delayed (of course) but we got back to Hong Kong and then Shenzhen in one piece.  It was a weird feeling to "come home" to China.  You see, in the Philippines a lot of people can speak English but they don't use it with each other.  The result is similar to any foreign country, you just get used to a constant buzz of words you don't understand.  However, it was oddly comforting to be back in China with the familiar buzz of mostly Mandarin with a small sprinkling of Cantonese and there's at least a shot in hell that I can understand some of it.

I really did like the Philippines, but I would recommend to anyone who wants to visit there: always have cash and bring all the patience you've got!

The view from our room door

One of my favorite things about the Philippines - livestock everywhere!!!

Dr. Jose Rizal's monument and grave in Rizal Park

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


About halfway through our vacation, Walter and I found ourselves at a pretty terrible resort: the mosquitoes terrorized us constantly, the water was too shallow and full of wildlife to swim in, and there were daily "brown-outs" (a planned power-outage because work is being done on the lines somewhere). Our first day there was miserable and boring, so when the power went out again the second day we decided to take matters into our own hands and rent a motorbike for the day.Motorbikes are definitely the vehicle of choice in the Philippines. People use them to carry multiple people around, transport goods, and attach them to carts to make "trikes", which are the nearest approximation to taxis most towns have. 
Despite the apparent lack of road rules (other than "always honk when passing") and the fact that roads can vary from paved to gravel to "under deep excavation" within a single kilometer, traffic feels surprisingly safe. Because I actually have a motorcycle license in the States and because no one laughed at the idea of two American-sized people riding one one motorbike, we decided I would drive and Walter would ride behind me.

Pause for road construction

Map in hand we took off and encountered our first problem: I couldn't figure out how to up-shift. On every motorcycle I have ever driven you step down to down-shift and pull up to up-shift. Not this time. When I pulled up I down-shifted and when I stepped down nothing happened. No problem, we just got used to shifting from 2nd to 3rd by down-shifting (2nd to 1st to neutral to 4th to 3rd). This, of course, is a terribly rough way to drive, but I couldn't figure out any other way.
For the next hour or so we motored along a coastal road at a speedy 40 km/hr (25mph), taking in the sights. We passed rice paddies, cows and goats tied alongside the road, dogs sleeping in the street, schoolchildren taking lunchtime walks, and a lot of people escaping the heat in shaded sitting areas. Many of the people we passed waved and yelled "hello!", some stared in wonder at two white people on a motorbike, and quite a few pointed and laughed when they realized the woman was driving the man around.Eventually we got to the one turn we had to make to get to a waterfall we wanted to see. The turn immediately turned into a steep hill so, being the skilled motorist that I am, I down-shifted and the motorbike immediately stalled to a stop. We both hopped off the bike and very carefully rolled it back down the hill to a closed-down gas station. After our failure the first time with the hill, I was certain that trying again would lead to almost-certain death. Walter, however, was less convinced because he claimed that I was in 4th gear when we idled, not 2nd as I had assumed. I declared him a liar because I had been completely unable to up-shift the whole trip, so how did I possibly do it mid-hill? After some mild bickering I hopped on the bike to turn it around (still totally unwilling to try the hill again) and miraculously discovered how to up-shift. Brilliant! I reluctantly admitted that maybe he was right about the 4th gear thing and maybe the hill wasn't going to kill us. With just a little bit of difficulty and a lot of cursing from me (and, subsequently, laughter from the passing Philippinoes...) we got to the top of the hill in one piece. We wound around and found the place to park for the waterfall and headed down the steep stone staircase to check it out. Walter had slightly burned his leg on the exhaust pipe when he got off the motorcycle, so he quickly hopped in the water...with the map still in his pocket. We fished it out and tried to unfold it, but mostly we just tore it to shreds. Oh well, we'd figure it out later. The waterfall was beautiful and it felt good to sit in the shade, so we hung out at the river's edge for quite a while. Eventually we climbed back up the stairs, paid our 5 pesos for parking (~US$.10) and headed off to the city for lunch in an internet cafe.

Me at the falls

The parking people told us the two ways to get to the city from the falls; one included winding through the mountains and one was basically back-tracking the same way we had come and then going a little further. We figured the drive there was relatively easy and familiar so it was probably a better option than the presumably steep and curvy mountain paths.
As we made our way back along the coastline road I started to notice that the back-end was handling funny and fish-tailing a little bit. We were in a construction zone on a dirt road, but it was getting more and more out of control as we drove. Even though neither of us know a thing about motorcycle maintenance, we decided to pull over and see if we could figure it out. Luckily for us the problem was very easy: the back tire was completely flat. Unluckily for us we had no idea how to fix this problem and we had zero cellphone reception.
We managed to get ahold of the resort but knew it would take them a while to get to us, so as I sat and read on a dirt mound Walter headed off to see if there was a vulcanizing shop nearby. A few minutes later he returned on the back of a motorbike being driven by a small Philippino man. The man knew of a nearby repair shop, so he helped us walk the kilometer or so to a house with a greasy garage behind it. In the garage (which smelled of burnt rubber and motor oil) there were a couple men working on another bike's tire with an open flame. Chickens, roosters, and a couple of well-fed but mangy puppys wandered around the working men and me on my plastic stool. Another dog slept in the shade nearby and a couple of women came and went, performing household chores. We waited there in the shade for about an hour before our bike was fixed, and we were pleasantly surprised to only pay 50 pesos (~US$1) for the repair.

Our broken-down bike

About 20 minutes later we were going through a construction zone and saw that our path was blocked by a couple of big trucks. I slowed to a stop to wait for them to finish, but the construction workers waved me through a small path between the first truck and a pile of dirt. We easily slipped through, but I did not see how we would slip through the next path without getting off the bike and walking it. What happened next I cannot explain; as I tried to slow to a stop the back tire continued revving until I completely lost control and the bike went down. Luckily the fairly light bike mostly went down one my left leg (in pants) rather than Walter's bare legs. As the construction crew ran over to pick up the bike and I inspected myself for injuries I heard the bike loudly rev again. I looked up to see the bike hopping on it's back tire with Walter wildly trying to hold onto it. As he tried to help the other men pick up the bike, he had unknowingly grabbed the throttle and was giving it a lot of gas. "LET GO!" I screamed as the other men yelled and got out of the way. Walter let go and ran out from under the bike as it finally came to a rest on the concrete.
The men picked up the bike again and quickly set to work pounding things back into place. At this point Walter realized he had burned his leg pretty badly on the radiator so he took off to the nearby water to dunk his very painful injury. After the men had fixed as much as they could, I was handed the very broken tail-light and was told "You can never use this again" as they pointed to the kickstand.
At this point we were both very shaken, but we wanted to get the bike fixed as much as possible on our own before returning it to the resort because we figured it would be cheaper that way. We very slowly made our way to the next town and the nearest repair shop.
I must have been quite a sight as we pulled up because everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and stared at the tall, dirt-covered, sunburnt white woman entering their shop. I explained that we had taken a spill and needed a new tail-light, but they quickly informed me that they didn't have any in stock. When I asked them to look at the kickstand, I was met with blank stares. "Kick start?" someone asked. "No, kickstand," I repeated while pointing to one of their bikes. Blank stares. "Ooooh, side stand!" they corrected me in unison. "Yes, side stand. Can you fix it?" The agreed to look at it and after about 15 minutes and 50 pesos it was repaired and we were on our way.
At this point Walter wanted to go to a pharmacia, but it was another 10 kilometers drive and my nerves were completely shot so I insisted that we return to the resort. Sunburnt, hungry, sore, dirty, and exhausted we returned to our room and collapsed into bed. As we lay there, drinking a beer in front of the fan, we agreed that this was going to be one of those days we'd remember for a long, long time. And while we didn't want to say it wasn't miserable, it was certainly anything but boring.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Philippines Part 1: Family Vacation

Mark Twain is credited with saying, "There is no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them." Never is this more true than when you travel with someone else's family.
I want to make something very clear from the beginning: in no way am I complaining here, I know that different people have different methods for doing things with pros and cons to every approach. That being said, traveling with the Brummunds is, well, different from traveling with the Colemans. When you travel with the Colemans there is a folder full of print-outs, confirmation numbers, attractions at various points, and other well-planned and useful information. This folder is started weeks, if not months, before the vacation begins. If flying is involved, we are at the airport well in advance and always go to the gate first before wandering off for coffee or food. Not with the Brummunds.
Walter's parents arrived in Shenzhen one week before we were to leave for the Philippines. At this point we had no airline tickets, we weren't yet certain whether one or both of his siblings would be joining us, and Walter was very sick. Despite his fever, we were able to get out and about a little bit and eventually (after many hours on websites and making phone calls) had plane tickets and knew that both siblings would indeed be meeting us in Hong Kong before flying to the islands. The day of our flight Walter was feeling better so he took his parents out for some last-minute sightseeing before leaving. I opted out of the trip and spent the afternoon at the Starbucks just across the Hong Kong/Shenzhen border. Between my shady cell-phone reception (because I was technically in Hong Kong), some misjudgement in their timing and some plain old bad luck in the timing of my bladder, we had to really scramble to find each other in the metro station and get on the train. The train trip from the border to the airport is not particularly quick and we realized that we were really pushing it, but once we were on the train there was not much we could do. For the whole trip we had to buy two sets of tickets and switch trains twice, with each switch eerily resembling a flock of headless chickens running around. When we finally got to the ticket counter our plane was supposed to be boarding, so we flew through security and ran to our gate (which of was the farthest one, of course). As we arrived, completely out of breath, we saw that our plane was delayed and we could actually grab a bite to eat before leaving. We boarded about 30 minutes later and were in Manila about an hour after that.At this point I should mention that Walter and I were by ourselves because his parents were waiting for his siblings' flight to get into Hong Kong. Their flight into HK was kind of late, so they couldn't get into Manila until well after midnight. We decided that it would be a good idea for at least a couple of us to go ahead and secure the hotel room before it was the middle of the night. Upon arrival at the airport we, of course, had no Philippino money so we had to hit up the ATM before getting a taxi and heading to the hotel. We were very happy to find an ATM that accepted UnionPay (the Chinese equivalent of Visa or American Express on our cards), but we were markedly less happy when it would not allow either of us to withdraw money. Oh well, we decided to figure it out later and used our American debit cards instead. We grabbed an airport taxi and as we pulled away I was fighting back tears because all the signs we passed were in English! I didn't even know how homesick I was for my own language!
We drove around for quite a while because the taxi driver had no idea where the hotel was, but we didn't mind because the price was fixed and we considered it a bonus city tour. Finally we made it, eventually his family made it there too and everyone fell into bed, exhausted.

The next morning we were woken up, brighter and earlier than most of us had expected because our flight to the island of Bohol had apparently been booked for about 10am. We threw our things into our bags and headed back to the airport. Initially we were running a little late, but were blessed with another delayed flight so we had some time for breakfast and a newspaper. Eventually we took off and 45 minutes later were in Bohol. Now, the airport we landed in was tiny. Tiny. To put this in perspective, it was about twice as big as the Monticello airport and our plane was bigger than a plane you would take from Champaign to Chicago. Walter's parents (who both have pi
lot's licenses) both commented on how tiny the runway was for the size of our plane. We deplaned, gathered our luggage and found a taxi van to drive us around.

A sign near the baggage claim

At this point we had no real plans and no reservations yet, but we did have a list of possibilities, so we asked to driver to take us to check out some resorts. The first one we got to was right on a pretty nice beach, had a decent enough restaurant, and had two rooms available for the six of us. Good enough, so we made our reservations and headed off to settle in. On the way to our rooms there were two animal cages. One had turtles and chickens, the other had a monkey and a monstorous lizard. As we bent over to check out the monkey it immediately swiped Walter's US$400 perscription sunglasses and started to chew on them. Walter flipped out, but was able to grab ahold of the monkey's arms and pull them through the bars (as it shit itself) and a nearby small child was able to reach through the openings and grab the glasses that had been dropped in the process. The whole ordeal pissed off the monkey and Walter almost equally and the monkey definitely held a grudge, because it hissed and spat at him every time it saw him for the rest of our time there. Walter 1, monkey 0.

Eventually we got tired of that resort because they kept fiddling with our reservation and moving our rooms. On the last day I was playing with the monkey and Walter was standing behind me. Quick as lightning that thing snapped the glasses off his face and promptly broke them into three pieces. We practically had to tie Walter up to keep him from killing the monkey. Walter 1, monkey 1

Our next resort was called the Bohol Bee Farm and it was GORGEOUS. Each room was different and unique (we moved rooms every night), the food was delicious (and usually covered in edible flowers), and the view of the ocean was spectacular. The farm was self-sustained with wonderful organic gardens, bee hives for honey, compost pits full of worms, a craft shop, and (most importantly) no monkeys.

The view from the Bee Farm's restaurant

Me with the bees...I don't like bees

Someone's beautiful dinner - all edible!

Walter's mom met some Australians who were also staying at the resort and decided to have both groups go on a sight-seeing tour together. The next day this absolutely ridiculous-looking open-air van thing showed up with an Australian expat in the back to take us around the island. This van was definitly built for Philippinos, NOT 5'10"+ tall white people. Not only could I not see out the "windows" (read: opening at approximately window height) without practically laying down, every time we hit a bump I got a concussion. Eventually I quit being a huge crab about the whole thing (mostly because Walter made it his mission to make me happy) and started to enjoy the sights. We drove around the islands and saw wonderful and interesting homes, schools, and locals, as well as a plethora of animals lining the roads. We passed rice paddys and climbed mountains for spectacular views. One of our destination was the Chocolate Hills. The area that the Chocolate Hills occupies used to be an inland sea. Over time the underwater mountains were eroded and smoothed until they resembled...well...boobs. The inland sea dried up and now the mountains are covered in a kind of vegetation that turns brown every year, making the mountains look like chocolate mounds...thus the name.

The "bus"

Chocolate Hills

Some other highlights:

Tarsier monkey (their brain is smaller than one of their eyes!)

Which one is the monkey?

Rope bridge (my father would NOT walk on this...come to think of it, most of my family probably wouldn't...)

On the lunch tour boat

How to drive a tour boat in the Philippines

Musical performance, native style

Walter's family was in the Philippines with us for about 10 days before they had to go home (they had school and real jobs, after all). It was really cool to hang out with all of them and we were sad to see them go, but we were also excited because there was still a lot of fun to be had in those beautiful islands!