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Summertime … the best time

July 23, 2010

Ahhh… summer…. For me, this is the best season of all. Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher, so I get to continue the childhood tradition of a long period of rest and relaxation. Maybe it’s because it seems acceptable to eat ice cream on every day that the temperature reaches 80 F. Maybe it’s because the days are longer and staying up a little later is more natural for everyone. Or maybe it’s because it’s simply the one season where I’m not constantly cold.

This summer has been extra-special. It has included a little bit of all the good things listed above – and, even better, has included visits to faraway places and friends. I decided to make my trip home from China a little longer in order to have a relaxing vacation and then to see some friends and family who I otherwise would miss out on seeing.

Stop #1 – BALI. I know how fortunate (blessed) I am to be able to visit! I was slightly worried that it might turn out to be China with a beach (I love China, but perhaps not for a relaxing beach vacation), but it turned out to be Bali. It was everything a sunny island vacation should be – long, hot days, lots of swimming, breathtaking scenery, pristine beaches… My present self will always slightly envy my past self for being able to take such a fabulous vacation.

So, I spent about 5 days in Bali, Indonesia with 2 friends who I worked at school with, and with one of my friend’s sister and brother-in-law and their two little kids (They are missionaries in Indonesia.).

Stop #2 – San Francisco I have a friend who I worked with last year at KIA (Tiffany). She lives near San Francisco, and so we spent a few days together and toured the city. My boyfriend Dan met me in SF and participated in the sightseeing fun.

Stop #3 – Fort Collins, CO Two couples from my church in PA now live in Colorado, and so I stopped off for a visit to see them. We relaxed and talked and laughed and did a little hiking and a little yardwork. I was beginning to feel the effects of the transition from China to the U.S. (more about that later) and these friends, who are more like family, were an encouragement and a relief to my soul.

Friends in Colorado

Stop #4 – Wyoming/ South Dakota My older brother, Tim, lives in Gillette, WY, so I took a short flight up to see him. I relaxed at his house for a few days while he went to work (sorry, Tim), then we went and caught some birds in nets and made it in to the local paper. And then we went to Custer State Park for a little hiking and camping. (Camping is definitely in my list of summer favorites…)

Catching birds in WY

Custer State Park, SD

Tim and I in SD

And the last stop… Lebanon, PA. This is where my parents call home, and where I will be living for awhile. I made it back to Pennsylvania by July 4th. Since then, I’ve been hunting for a teaching job, finding a church to attend, cleaning and organizing the room I will live in, and hanging out with my family here and my friends in Philadelphia. (No photos yet…)

It’s been a bigger transition than I thought – moving from Kunming to Lebanon. I miss my friends, my bike, my students, and just China in general. On several different nights, I’ve dreamt about noodles, about biking in the rain, about teaching at KIA, about going to the market. I miss it all, I really do, in a way I didn’t expect. But at the same time, it’s really been amazing to visit two of my girl friends and their new babies, to attend a good friend’s wedding, to see Dan every weekend, to eat breakfast with my parents, to spend time with my brothers and sister-in-law to be. Everything I’ve been missing out on for two years, I now get to do. I’m very glad to be here, to get this chance to participate in this part of life.

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What I’ll Miss in China… and What I Won’t.

June 7, 2010

Nobody likes goodbyes. They’re hard. They’re messy. Your face gets all sticky from the tears, and your nose runs. Any event that demands tissues is not really my kind of event.

But, regardless, goodbyes are necessary. This week is my final week in Kunming, China. (Where have two years gone??) So, lots of goodbyes are in store. So far, I’ve avoided the need for tissues, but we’ll see…. And, to help along the goodbye process, I’ve created a list.

1.  I’m going to miss going to the market and picking out fresh veggies for that evening’s dinner. I’m going to miss that they cost about 50 cents.

2.  I’m not going to miss the open sewer canals. What IS that white stuff that floats on the top? (Probably you’re wishing I hadn’t just mentioned dinner… me too…)

3.  I’m going to miss riding to school on bright sunshiny mornings.

4.  I’m not going to miss biking in rain showers that force me to wear my purple poncho. My stupid purple poncho. (Sorry for the name calling.)

5.   I’m going to miss learning Chinese.

6.  I’m not going to miss never actually being able to communicate in Chinese anyway. (You know how much good my ability to ask for stamps to send a registered letter has done me? No good at all.)

7.  I’m going to miss working with some of my closest friends.

8.  I’m not going to miss… well, I was going to say “seeing the same people in and out of work” but, who am I kidding, I actually really enjoy that I share so much of life with good friends…

9.  I’m going to miss the forced exercise each day when I ride my bike back and forth from school.

10.  I’m not going to miss that our “bike barn” (the sheltered area where we park our bikes) definitely smelled like pee this morning.

11. I’m going to miss the street food: pineapple on a stick, er kuai (rice tortilla grilled and wrapped around fried dough smothered with a peanut and brown sugar mixture), fried potatoes, xiao kiao (grilled meat and other things- I only eat the chicken, veggies, mushrooms…).

12.  I’m not going to miss the mandatory stomach illnesses that come along with the aforementioned delicious food.

13.  I’m going to miss that it turns into summer here around April 6th.

14.  I’m not going to miss seeing my breath in my apartment around January 6th.

15.  I’m going to miss massages, $1.50 haircuts, $3.00 pedicures.

16.  I’m not going to miss squatty toilets, dogs in restaurants, the feral cat that cries outside our apartment door and digs through the trash.

17.  I’m going to miss riding my bike. I think I said that. It’s worth saying again.

18.  I’m not going to miss the black lung that I am most assuredly developing.

19.  I’m going to miss living in the city – public transportation, people everywhere, everything I need just outside my door.

20.  I’m not going to miss living in the city – continual traffic, people everywhere, no place is actually convenient to get to.

21.  I’m going to miss being stared at. Feeling semi-famous just for having blonde hair and light skin… people saying hi to me just because I’m different.

22.  I’m not going to miss being stared at. Feeling awkward just for having blonde hair and light skin… people pointing me out to small children just because I’m different.

So – I think that about covers it. Saying goodbye to this place will definitely be one of the most difficult goodbyes. This has been my home, for better or worse… the place I’ve felt most comfortable for the past 2 (or more like 1 and 1/2) years. Even when coming back to Kunming was difficult because of the people I was leaving behind, to come here to this place that was – is – more my home,  than any other place was such a relief. So, well, goodbye for now, China. It’s been a good home. I’ll probably end up missing it all – sewer canals, pee smells, feral cats, and black lungs notwithstanding.

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Thailand is (so far) my favorite

May 15, 2010

I recently took a quick weekend trip to Thailand. I missed out on one of the most amazing things about Thailand (The Beach!)… but it was otherwise amazing. Here are some of the reasons that I absolutely love Thailand, in no particular order….

1. You can take the water taxi for about $2. It’s all-natural air conditioning and a lovely way to see the city of Bangkok. (This is my friend Michelle. She looks like maybe she’s famous or something… I don’t think she is.)

2. Beauty is absolutely everywhere. Green plants, flowers, blue skies… even in the city.

3. Heat and humidity. This might be your personal enemy, but, for me, it’s like a welcoming hug. It makes me smile; it makes me feel like I’m on vacation; it makes me feel like summer…

4. Thai iced tea. Ingredients: really intense powdered iced tea, sugar, hot water, sweetened condensed milk, ice. Between this and Starbucks, I was literally shaking from caffeine and sugar. Totally worth it.

5. Tuk tuks. C’mon – even the name is fun! Cheaper and (debatably) safer than a taxi.

6. Thai massage. (Obviously not the sketchy kind.) This was a first for me. It was a little strange, but much more relaxing than a Chinese massage. Plus, it was clean and quiet. A nice step up from what I usually experience.

7. Did I mention the beach? I didn’t get to go this time though…

8. Thai culture fascinates me. The people are smiley, helpful, and kind. The way they love their country, the way they love their king…

Can’t wait to go back someday.

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The Lies Your Teacher Tells

May 15, 2010

On Friday, I was walking up the stairs from the copy room at school and was met at the top of the stairs by David, who was in a full on panic. The 4th graders had just come back from P.E., and apparently Gracie had captured a rather large brown beetle (a Chinese cockroach? *shudder*) and was now keeping it – along with a snail – in a paper cup on her desk. David, a rather eccentric and surprisingly business-savvy 12 year old, is deathly afraid of bugs of all kinds.

“Miss Ludwick, please tell Gracie not to feed the bug on her desk,” he pleads. So I head to the classroom to find out what has happened in the 30 seconds that they were alone in the classroom.

When I ask what’s going on, about 4 kids holler that the bug is dead anyway. Gracie reaches in to the cup and pulls out this beetle the size of my thumb and gives it a little shake. Its legs twitch a bit, proving that it is, in fact, NOT dead. David is literally standing behind me making not-so-quiet screeching sounds. I’m trying not to freak out when Gracie picks up the beetle, holds it close to my face, and says, “See?? It’s still alive!”

I tell Gracie that she cannot keep the bug in our classroom, that indoors is not the place for beetles. She begs, but I’m unrelenting. “Bugs belong outside. He’ll never survive if you keep him in a paper cup. He needs to eat and fly around.” I insist that she take the bug outside and toss it over the 3rd floor railing. I tell her that beetles have wings, and so he can just fly away. About 4 other young bug-enthusiasts join us out on the balcony. Gracie is clearly disappointed by my whole reaction, but since I have compromised and allowed her to keep the snail for the day, she reluctantly picks the beetle off its current location on her arm and gently throws it off the railing.

We all turn to go back in to the classroom to take a spelling test, when Yoon grabs my arm. “Miss Ludwick, that bird just ate the beetle!” And, yes, in fact, it had. The beetle made it almost to the bushes in the courtyard, when a small black bird swooped down and snatched up the beetle. And so I am effectively a murderer. I have now just heartlessly killed Gracie’s bug.

And so we talk about how birds have to eat too. And about the cycle of life. And about predators, since we just learned that word in science class. Gracie looks a bit weepy, so I have the other girls tell her how cool it was to watch the bird get the beetle. I give her a little hug.

But I know I’ve just crushed her world a little. Oops. The teacher is a liar.

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Spirit Week #2

April 25, 2010

This wasn’t supposed to take this long to post… and there were supposed to be more than 2 posts. But this week was greatly interrupted by a bout of the flu. Not my plan at all….

Well, Day 2 was Decade Day. We chose the 90’s. Tonya sort of looks like Topanga from Boy Meets World. I look… unfortunate. I think we would’ve been uncool even in the 90’s. (Wait, I actually remember being uncool in the 90’s…. And wearing overalls.)

I did get to pass on some wisdom in the form of “How to Peg Your Jeans.” Certainly that’s knowledge that we don’t want to lose.

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Spirit Week #1

April 20, 2010

Thought I’d give you a little treat this week… an opportunity to laugh at my expense.
This week is Spirit Week, which at our school means that each day has a theme. I do not particularly like to dress crazy, so these kinds of things are the bane of my elementary-school-teacher existence. But here I am, to the delight of my students, participating anyway.
Day 1 – Fairy Tale Day. I’m Cinderella (as is my fellow teacher and friend, Tonya). She’s pre-princess, so she’s copping a little attitude. It’s unlikely that she was all sweet and docile until that one night of the ball….
My students’ costumes are much better. However – due to the possibility of creepiness when pictures of children are posted, I will never post pictures of my students. So you are just stuck with laughing at me
Tomorrow… the 90’s!

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Funny Things

April 17, 2010

I’ve seen a couple of things recently that have made me laugh out loud. They might not make you laugh as much as I did, but I hope you try to laugh a little.

Story 1:

We have a high majority of kids at our school for whom English is not their first language. And sometimes they buy t-shirts in China or Korea that make no sense. This happened in America for a while too. I can distinctly remember a time in the 90’s that girls’ shirts with random French or Latin words were popular. I don’t think anyone knew what they said; they just thought the script looked fancy or something. This is much like that…. So sometimes kids wear T-shirts with crazy words or phrases on them.

Last year, a girl in my class wore a shirt that was so inappropriate and dirty that I couldn’t even tell another teacher about it without blushing. Yikes. This girl’s shirt was also pink and sparkley and had a picture of Minnie Mouse dancing.

So this year, the funniest T-shirt so far was the one a boy in the 3rd grade wore on Thursday. It said, “Every day I find a new person who pisses me off.” Again. Yikes. You can guess which word his limited English vocabulary definitely doesn’t include.

Story 2:

On my way to English Corner on Wednesday nights, I go under an overpass on the highway. (Yes, I bike on the highway. And, yes, it’s mildly terrifying.) A couple of weeks ago, I nearly fell off my bike. There was a cabinet under the overpass with two legs sticking out! A second glance told me that they were the legs of a mannequin. Why?? Where is the top half? How did no one else riding by even slow down?

Story 3:

On Thursday night I stayed late at school to get some grading done. I went out to the covered bike park, dug through my bag for my key to my bike lock, and then did an actual double-take. (Like, the cartoon kind where you see something, look away, and then your brain registers what you saw and you whip your head back around.) There was a bird perched on the back of my bike. And not just any bird – a parakeet.

I waggled my fingers at it, but it didn’t fly away. I unlocked my bike, wheeled it out of the bike park, but it still didn’t fly away. Then it occurred to me that, of course, this was no wild parakeet, that it was likely someone’s escaped pet. Probably it couldn’t fly. So what was I going to do? Leave the poor bird to die in the bike park? But the idea of letting the bird hitch a ride all the way to my apartment was also unappealing. (I was not going to keep it; I’m not really a pet person.) So I tipped my bike almost to the ground, and the bird fluttered it’s wings and hopped to the ground. And then I realized that I couldn’t leave the parakeet in the middle of the road to be run over by a motorbike.

Just when I was thinking that I was going to have to adopt the thing, an elderly man walked up. He asked me if the bird was mine; I assured him that it was not. So he started trying to catch it. I left for home then, so I’ll never know the fate of that little bird.

Story 4:

This one is inappropriate. If you are offended by inappropriate, then don’t read it. You’ve been warned.

So in America there are these guys with big pickup trucks that for some reason feel that it is more manly or …something… to hang, um, male genitalia from their back bumpers. I will not pretend to understand this phenomena. It’s a little disturbing, I think. I have never seen this in China.

But two weeks ago, my friend Tonya and I were on our way to English Corner and were passing under the aforementioned overpass, when we saw this cart. Where I live, carts are often attached to the back of specially made bicycles. These kinds of carts carry recycling piled 10 feet high (I’m not exaggerating), vegetables headed to the market, carcasses of pigs or goats also headed for the market, small children on their way to school, and whatever else you might need delivered or carried – furniture, metal beams, buckets of river sludge – you name it. Attached to the back of this particular cart were, well, bull genitalia. Yikes. I’m assuming the rest of the bull was chopped up in the cart. But Tonya and I were a little too shocked to notice. But the thing that made us really laugh was that in the whole big crowd of people who were biking alongside us didn’t even seem to notice. Seriously? I’ll never get used to some of the crazy things I see here.

I really should start carrying around my camera.