Tuesday, November 27, 2007

First Blog

Here’s my first attempt at blogging. It’s been awhile since we last wrote, and life has been busy at times and at other times rather ordinary, in an unordinary place.

Within the past month or so we’ve had some interesting traveling experiences. I went with the boys to Shanghai in order to meet up with my parents. We took an overnight train, which was surprisingly comfortable and convenient, even though we only bought “hard sleeper” tickets (they were sold out of soft sleeper). Basically a long car of triple decker bunk beds. Tal got the top, Noam was in the middle and I was on the bottom. Not much sleeping due to lots of snoring throughout the car but it was fairly clean and orderly, all things considered. Shanghai was a different world than Xi’an, completely. Modern skyscrapers, tons of foreigners, Starbucks and Haagen Dazs on every corner. One of the best things we did was go to a Chinese acrobat show – we were on the edge of our seats throughout most of the performance. Truly amazing.

Showing my folks around Xi’an was also lots of fun, and they even put up with our 3 star (barely 2, according to my dad) guest house on campus. For Hallowe’en we did some trick or treating around campus. There’s a variety of foreigners who live here and about 10 of them said they would be happy to have trick or treaters. So the kids went out with some other foreign kids and one local friend brought her daughter as well. The mother was quite taken aback by the amount of candy the kids gathered and asked for advice about how to regulate it. Luckily, this was not such a problem for us as much of the candy had red bean filling or some other local delicacy and my kids were happy to donate a good portion of theirs to my students (who were equally happy to have it). Yoni developed a new tradition of getting invited to drink alcohol at some of the houses that gave out candy. And a good time was had by all.

We also went to visit Western China with my folks; the Silk Road. That's where the pictures are from. We saw the furthest West outpost of the Great Wall (that's the picture of us and my folks - and the one where me, Yoni, and Noam are dressed up in Mongolian warrior costume), and then went to a desert oasis called Dunhuang with huge sand dunes (the background in the picture of us and my mom), where we also went camel riding on two-humped camels. I'm also including the best picture of my dad EVER! sliding down the dunes. We rented these mini sleds for sliding once, but quickly realized that sliding down snow was much funner and faster . . so we reverted to jumping, running, walking, and falling down (and up, grunt) the dunes. Much more fun. Of course, #1 fall was Noam's. A head over heels blunder with his mouth wide open (why can't that kid learn to close his mouth when he falls?). He had a mouth full of sand for the rest of the day. Just outside of Dunhuang we went to the Mogao caves, the best collection of Buddhist art in the world, according to the locals. It was truly spectacular - paintings, statues, frescoes, over 300 caves in all (we were allowed to see about 12) all relatively untouched by the Cultural Revolution. Only one cave had remnants of a fire in it as some Soviet soldiers (according to the story) built one to keep warm. There was a large section dedicated to how savagely Westerners had stolen artifacts from the caves (and other parts of China). Made me feel bad, but I think that was the point. Nice part was we had an excellent, very knowledgeable guide, who was relatively easy to understand. Not a given around here.

Other news is more day to day. Tal has begun trumpet lessons with a local teacher. His English is limited, but they seem to do OK communicating through music. When Tal first started we spoke to the teacher about time dedicated to practicing - the teacher said at least one hour a day, every day. We had to (gently) explain to him that Western kids were not as disciplined as Chinese kids (nor are their parents, for that matter). So we're down to something we can manage. Despite initial protests, we think Tal is doing quite well. The teacher seems more focussed on his sound than his tutor in NP.

I saw a pig on a motorcycle the other day, maybe it was a vespa. He was strapped down in front of the driver and none too pleased with the ride.

Been slowly trying to get my kids adjusted to local snacks, as opposed to feeding them some of the various foreign crap that I could find. Mostly stuff that I would NEVER buy back home but we were struggling with food for awhile. I've met other foreigners who also claim that they used to eat relatively healthy back home but things kind of deteriorate here. So now my kids snack on seaweed, and rice crackers with either a sweet or seaweed coating, and then there's these eggroll biscuits. We've stayed away from the new varieties of potato chips: mexican meat, sweet prawn, savoury prawn, italian meat, and others.

Teaching is going well; the students are so young sometimes, so eager and gung-ho. They had a "decorate your classroom" competition (my students surprised me in this competition by putting up a huge poster of Mao in the classroom - what does the foreign teacher say when greeted with that???). They giggle incessantly and I can see some of them playing "pat a cake" at breaks. Mention anything about sex, love, or romance and the giggles and whispers explode again. My colleagues attended a party of some of their students and were amazed that they spent most of the evening playing musical chairs. Not exactly the decadent behaviour of some of our finest young minds in the US or Canada, eh?

Tal and Noam continue at school, with more absences for travelling than we would allow back at home. Tal identifies himself as an American with his peers, and Noam says he feels more Canadian. But Noam can change his allegiances on any given day. I've begun to help the school library organize their books (their classification system was pretty much non-existent). They have both become rather fond of yo-yos, and it seems there are some pretty expensive yoyos at their school. Tal has begun learning tricks and Noam is working hard to keep up. It's pretty amazing.

You'll have to let me know how this blog is working. I can't view it from China (blogging is censored) unless I use a proxy server and this is slow and cumbersome. We already struggle with the speed of our internet connection so I can't imagine doing this on a regular basis. But do let me know if I forget to add pictures, or the text is difficult to read, or the pictures are way over-sized, or anything else I should know about how this blog is working. I do believe that there's a way you can register with the blog so that you will know if there's a new post. And any comments you send to the blog also comes to my email (at least that's how I tried to set it up) so I should receive it no problem.

By the way, the picture at the beginning of this blog is of me and the boys in front of the old city wall in Xi'an shortly after we arrived.

Over and out.