A Travellerspoint blog

September 2011


For a long time, I’ve believed that things happen for a reason. This is one of those times. The short story is, if I had not had shoulder surgery we wouldn’t be in Yangshuo right now. You might ask yourself, “What is her reasoning for this statement?”

Here goes the long story. Yes, I really did have shoulder surgery and what followed were many long weeks of physical therapy. Fortunately, I had a great group of therapists and techs to work on me and make me work. The results were great and the shoulder is doing wonderfully. But the shoulder isn’t really the story. Maria is the story. During one of my PT sessions, as Maria (one of my PT techs) put me through my paces, I told her that there was a possibility that we would be going to China to teach English. Maria shared with me that her very favorite movie, The Painted Veil, was filmed in China. She offered to let me borrow the CD, which of course, I took her up on. I wasn’t sure if Jim would like it. Maria told me it was a love story but since it was about China he agreed to watch it. The story was interesting but beyond that, the scenery was phenomenal. We stopped the CD at the end so that we could see where it was filmed. It noted Guangxi Province, which we were not familiar with - not that that had ever stopped us from going places before. Jim and I both agreed, we had to go to Guangxi, specifically Yangshuo. As we read more about the region, it appeared Guangxi wasn’t some long lost area but a well known tourist stop. All the guide books warned that this area is really busy, but they say ”go anyways” because it is so beautiful….so…as I write from the Yangshuo Outside Inn…Maria these postings and pictures are for you, with my hope that you too, will make it here someday. Enjoy!!!

27 September 2011

We’re off to Yangshuo today. Still a little dizzy this morning – this is really beginning to piss me off. We packed last night, so we’re were ready to go when the bus arrived at 10am. Usually, a small bus would pick up passengers and then take them to another location for a larger bus, but today there are so many people from Wada going up to Yangshuo that we have the whole bus.

There are three ways to get to Yangshuo; 1) bus straight to Yangshuo (shortest and least expensive), 2) large boat river cruise (most expensive) 3) smaller motorized bamboo river cruise (not too short and not too expensive). We decided on #3. This included a cruise with two other people on a bamboo (actually large PVC made to look like bamboo) raft. We also decided to add on an afternoon “Countryside Tour”. This tour included lunch and a trip to a small village and a ride on an actual bamboo raft for two. Our tour guide, Trudy, called our guesthouse and let them know that we would be later than originally expected. It was a beautiful trip for which I will let the photos do the talking.

28 September 2011

We arrived at our guesthouse (Yangshuo Outside Inn- Chaolong Village) last night after dark, so we really couldn’t tell what the Inn looked like. All we knew was that we were about 15 minutes outside town, down a small road and then finally up a dark alley. At first we thought the driver must be lost. But that was not to be the case. In the dark, with dim lighting, it looked like a fairyland. Our room is huge. At least twice the size of our last two rooms with a small table and 2 chairs.

Come morning we were delighted to find a small complex of traditional Chinese buildings, great outdoor seating, and incredibly helpful staff. After large city, after large city, it’s great to be someplace so peaceful.

My sinuses are still bothering me a bit but I’m going to try some pellets (don’t know what else to call them) that were given to me by Charm (we met in Guilin) who had also been having head cold problems.

I spent the morning updating the website and Jim wandered off to see what life was like beyond our little complex. Lunch was noodle soup and it appears the “little pellets” might be doing the trick. Off we go for a short walk around town. It never fails; we always end up walking around during the hottest hours of the day. The nice thing was that we didn’t see another tourist, only a man and his water buffalo and two men cutting down some bamboo.

We walked to the river and then through the rice fields. A paved path took us past some traditional homes, a new home being built (with older men and women tying rebar together with the anticipation of cement) and a couple of small shops mostly with grandparents tending to grandchildren. We stopped at one of the local shops for a well-deserved cold beer (bin pijiu) before walking back to the inn. Along the last portion of our walk, we saw our first westerners on bikes. The Outside Inn is going to be just what the doctor ordered!!!

29 September 2011

We slept in and spent the rest of the morning thinking ahead and looking into travel arrangements for Vietnam. We’re trying to figure out what and where. Our itinerary has changed a few times and we’re still working on it.

Our evening was spent in Yangshuo at the Impressions Liu Sanjie. Liu Sanjie was the choreographer of the Beijing Olympics and along with Zhang Yimo (moviemaker) have a production here that we’ve heard really good things about. We head out about 7pm. Our driver obviously knows the streets well and we pull up right outside the main gate where he seems to have his own parking spot. Amid a huge crowd, mostly Chinese with a sprinkle of westerners, he finds our “ticket connection” – Kelly Lee. She leads us into the facility, gets our tickets and sends us on our way. The theater is an open amphitheater that seats about 4000 people and it’s packed. There are different levels of seating, lower, middle, higher and box seats (with prices to match) – we opted middle and were happy with those seats.

The show was pretty incredible. There is a story but it’s difficult to follow if you don’t speak Chinese. Not to worry! It’s the production that is the real show. We’ve heard there are about 500 performers in the show. The stage is set on a part of the Li River with twelve actual karst peaks as the backdrop. So beautiful!! I’ve added a few photos but they really don’t do this production justice.

30 September 2011

Weather forecast predicted rain today and they are right on target. Good day to go into town, have a foot massage, lunch and just walk around, which is exactly what we did.

On the recommendation of our inn, we head to the Chinese Medicine Health-Care Center for our massages. We both get foot massages, I get a pedicure and with our discount tickets the total cost is 171yuan ($26.00). The pedicure was very basic and unusual. The technician (male) used a very sharp metal chisel type instrument to cut my toe nails and work on my calluses. Not my usual spa pedicure but very well done.

With our feet feeling really good we head off to the Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant. It’s been pretty easy for Jim to keep to his low protein diet while we’ve been here but we decided to venture into a veg only place. Well…..not my favorite. The food wasn’t bad it just wasn’t our cup of tea. I guess I’m just not an all veg, tofu kind of girl.

After lunch we walk along the Li River and check out the city of Yangshuo. We both decide that we’re so glad we decided to stay at the Outside Inn. I’m trying not to sound negative but the city seemed to me to be totally tourist related. Street after street of souvenir shops. I’m not saying don’t go, but use it as a jumping off stop. Get out into the countryside and you will see the beauty of this area. The scenery outside Yangshuo is magical. We were more than anxious to grab a cab and get back to our laid back guest house.

Three more days to go and it will get interesting. The Chinese National Holiday starts tomorrow. We have to change rooms tomorrow (we were aware of this). The GH is gearing up for more guests to arrive. With rain predicted for tomorrow too, we’ve opted for a cooking class. Should be fun!

Posted by pjburke 23:21 Archived in China Comments (2)

Wuhan to Guilin

24 September 2011

Saturday – Breakfast seemed so quiet with no other teachers to chat with. It was a bit lonely in fact. We made our last trip to the market to score at Jim’s “tea connection”. I picked up a tea cup also – water bottle sized container with a strainer on the top. With the sweet smell of tea in the air, I was inspired to make a tea purchase also. Chinese green tea to go with Jim's Go Gee berries.

On our way back to the hotel, we ran across Richard and Jason at the coffee café. Jason was helping Richard download some photos. We joined them for coffee and final good-byes. Jason is a very nice young man – he will do well in the science world.

The streets of HUST seem so familiar that it didn’t surprise us when we got a wave and a brief visit with our buddy Rocky who was on his way back to the restaurant with some duck.

Lunch was at “our place” and back to the room to chill before Summer and Tracy meet us at 5pm for our trip to the airport. The quick hour ride was too short. Again, farewells and we’re on to our next adventures.

The flight to Guilin actually took off early and arrived early. When does that ever happen in the US?? We called the guest house earlier in the day (thank you Brenda for the phone), so there was a taxi waiting for us when we arrived. Lady driver – 1st I’ve seen in China and she was a really good driver. We arrived at Wada House about 10:30ish. Settled into our room (on the 3rd floor) and headed downstairs for some liquid refreshment. We got talking with an older Canadian man who was traveling on his own, having lost his wife a few months ago. Come to find out – we may have a family connection through our Landry name. Off to bed, which by the way, is pretty comfortable – or I’m really tired.

25 September 2011

Sunday – Not such a good day! Being the loving husband Jim is, he loves to share. This time it’s his germs. I woke up with a head cold and felling a little inner ear dizziness – similar to a problem I had in Sonoma this past January. But this time it was without the benefit of alcohol. Fortunately, I brought Claritin D with me and in an hour or so; I was still feeling crappy but the dizziness as gone.

I spent the morning online downloading photos, planning for our next legs and napping in the afternoon while Jim wandered around for a bit. I made a call to the GH in Nanning to check on the Viet Nam embassy situation. After talking with Weston at Nanning City Hostel, our final solution is that we will return to Guilin on 10/4 and stay there a few days (with me being sick we really haven’t had time to explore the area as much as we wanted) and then we’ll head to Nanning on Friday 10/7 for a few days, get our visas on Monday and we’ll be off to Hanoi…hopefully!!

After a light dinner of dumplings, we walked around a bit. As with Wuhan, we saw very few western faces. Returning to the GH, we chatted with Dave and Charm (older American’s - like us) for a bit. Really nice couple! Played a few hands of 500 and we’re off to bed.

26 September 2011

I’m feeling a little bit better this am. Still a little dizzy (no comments) but better than yesterday. I think there will be a visit to an ENT doc when I get home if not sooner – but I don’t relish that thought.

We decided to take a river cruise this evening. After catching a cab (which cost all of 10 yuan- $1.50), for the ride downtown into downtown Guilin, we walked along the Shan Lake before boarding the boat. Guilin has done a very nice job with the parks along the river side. Cobbled walkways and small bridges that weave in and out of the trees surround the lake. Where there are walkways under the bridges, the walls are lined with beautiful carvings.

The river cruise lasted about an hour and took us around the small lake and up a long tributary which was lined with hotels. It was a little Disneyish with small live entertainment venues that came alive as we passed. I’ve named them “people in a box”. Check out the photos – they tell the story. Again, we were the only westerners on the cruise with the exception of a woman from Maryland and a couple from Madrid who were on their honeymoon.

Close to the area of the marina is the Night Market. There were kiosks with souvenirs on the first part and then restaurants a little farther down. We decided on a Thai place. It’s been ages since we’ve had Thai food – fried spring rolls and a Green Curry – both quite good.

Tomorrow …on the road again!!

Posted by pjburke 21:35 Archived in China Comments (1)

HUST – Third and final week!!!

I’m not really sure how I’m going to be able to express in words the experiences I (we) have had this past week. Honestly, I never (in a million years) expected this week, and especially Friday, to be as special as it turned out to be.

19 September 2011

Monday COLD and RAINY!!!! I finally got to use my most recent purchase…an umbrella! Again, I layered all my warm clothes to ward off this chilly day. I met with Don’s (and Rosemary’s) classes today for line dance class. These classes were the last to learn the modified “Sundance Shuffle”. As with all the other classes, the students were so receptive. It’s not a bad day when you see so many smiles :-). After the last class, I joined Brenda’s class for their last hour. Brenda and I, with some ladies from this class headed over to the hotel for a “Girls Night Out”. Dinner was wonderful. Jocelyn and the other girls (Chris, Amanda, Helen, Catherine, Mary and Grace) ordered for us and we were treated to a variety of food. The evening was wonderful. (See photos)

Jim had gone to dinner with Jason and Summer (TAs) to plan Friday’s Farewell Party. Friday will be bittersweet. For Jim and me, it will be the beginning of our next adventure but it will also be tearful (not that it takes much for me). We’ve met so many wonderful people during these past weeks……

20 September 2011

Tuesday This was an errand and planning day for me.

Our plans, right now, will be to fly from Wuhan to Guilin on Saturday 9/24. We’ll be there for 3 nights and then on to Yangshou for a week. We’ve heard wonderful things about these areas. We were hoping to go to Nanning on 10/4 and get our Vietnamese visas BUT the first week in October is the Chinese National Day Holiday. The whole country shuts down. I’ve been in contact with a guest house in Nanning and they can’t get a straight answer from the VN embassy regarding which days they’ll be closed. We might just spend a few more days in Yangshou. Maybe not!!! We just have to be down in Ho Chi Minh City (Siagon) by 10/28 to fly to Singapore so we can catch our flight to New Zealand.
The afternoon was spent catching up on last week’s journal entries. For dinner, Jim and I met with five of the other teachers for dinner at Rocky’s place. Again, Rocky ordered for us (with Rosemary’s help) and all the food was really good. With time ticking down for our stay, Rosemary brought along some red wine she bought last week. Not too bad!!!

21 September 2011

Wednesday The sun was back this morning – it turned out to be absolutely beautiful. Brenda and I commented it was at little Indian Summerish. I spent my day with Brenda’s class. They were doing their 3-5 minute “Teach the Teacher” talks. I’ve gotten to know this class a little more than the other classes and wanted to see how much they had progressed through the past two and a half weeks. They all did so well. Their English proficiency has improved significantly. We all agreed that the “most improved” award would go to Smile Cat. For something that was so difficult when class started, he did an absolutely wonderful presentation. He received a standing ovation from us and his classmates. Tears?? Yes, there were!!!

No time for dinner tonight. Mary Korzick and I are off to monitor English Corner at 6:30pm. Our regular room in D9 building wasn’t available but we were given a room across campus. Brian (John Korzick’s TA) came to pick us up and walked us to the C12 building. I didn’t think it would be a problem to find on our own but I would have been very wrong. It probably would have been easy in the daylight but it was getting dark and Mary and I would have never found it. This was an impromptu English Corner but we got the info out to all the TFF classes a few days in advance. Last week we had 9 students, this week we had 50+ students. We were so thankful that some of the TAs (Brian, Jason and Summer) were there to help us with the groups. There were so many students, Mary and I originally thought we were in the wrong room. It was wonderful to see the students interacting and speaking English. Nine o’clock came too soon!!!

Only little downer right now is that Lori is sick and Jim is getting a head cold. But other than some minor stomach upset, this was the only real illness the group has had.

22 September 2011

Thursday – Thursday was a late day but also a short day because the teachers and TA’s had a banquet that evening at a local restaurant. For the afternoon sessions, each teacher’s four groups were combined into two. I spent the afternoon with Brenda’s class. They finished up their presentations and we said goodbye to some students who knew that they wouldn’t be able to be at the Farewell Party on Friday.

All the teachers and the TAs met in the lobby of the hotel and were transported by bus to a local hotel. We had no idea what type of dinner this was going to be – though we had heard it was going to be a buffet. On the fifth floor of a very nice hotel was the Chinese version of a Las Vegas type buffet. OMG – first we walked past the sweet station, which actually wasn’t as big as a Vegas style buffet, but they sure made up for it with every other types of food. There was a sushi station, raw bar, seafood, beef, appetizers and (as you can imagine) food I couldn’t identify. There were cold foods, hot foods, food made to order, wine, Tequila Sunrises, some type of blue wine and Miss Budweiser – pouring just that “Budweiser”. I tried things I’d never tried before (Snake soup – which was actually very good), some things that I couldn’t identify but the only thing I begged off on was the Birds Nest Soup. Not going there!! The TAs had a great time. It was amazing to see how much (and what) these tiny girls could/would eat. We talked, laughed and posed for photos until the bar shut down (9pm) and it was time to head back to our hotel. Again, and I hope you don’t get sick of hearing this but….a great time was had by all.

23 September 2011

Friday…..I don’t really know how I’m going to describe this day. I think Jim said it best. “It was one of the best days of my life” – a profound statement from Mr. Jim. Sitting here on Saturday, writing about yesterday, it still brings tears to my eyes and will for a very long time. Not sad, but happy, happy tears!!

The teachers and their TAs traditionally organize this Farewell Party for the students. Each teacher handled it a little differently. In Jim’s case, he let Summer and Jason take the lead. Lori worked with Jamie (her TA) and Jocelyn to organize their party. There was food (cake, fruit, nuts, drinks and more) Drink was the only area that Jim made a veto; the class wanted beer. About 9am, all the classes met outside by the Confucius Statue for photos. It was organized confusion!!! But the class photos got taken. But more than that, there were students who barely know each other three weeks ago, taking photos of each other and taking photos with us. At every turn, there was a student asking for photos with us. Cameras everywhere!!

With photos taken, it was time to dance. With my small, portable speaker (thanks to Brenda) we started the line dance with about 100 students and I think about another 100 joined it. Many more watched from the sidelines and clapped. I’m still on cloud nine!!!! It was wonderful!!!
Dancing done, it was time to head into each classroom for the parties. The cakes were cut and more photos were taken. Many of the teachers, raffled off items that they had brought from US Maps, school supplies, food…you name it – it went. Then came the entertainment. Jim and Richard’s group were big singers as were Brenda’s and Lori’s group. Music could be heard up and down the halls. I’m sure we were driving the Chinese teachers crazy.

At the start of the party, the Law students from Brenda and Lori’s groups asked the three of us to lunch after the party. A little while later some of the other students also asked us to lunch. It was very hard having to let them know that we wouldn’t be able to join them. Not to worry, they figured it out themselves. We went as one group. We all headed over to the hotel but there wasn’t a room big enough to fit all so Brenda, Lori and I spent time going back and forth between the two groups. It was so much fun. We laughed and talked and parted without good byes.

As I told the whole class at the end of the party -It was not “good-bye” but “until we meet again”.

When you least expect it, people walk into your life and leave a permanent impression on your heart. To all the teachers and the students, who both Jim and I were lucky enough to meet and get to know, our lives have been forever made so rich by this chance meeting. We will remember you always.

Posted by pjburke 00:54 Archived in China Comments (6)

HUST - Week 2

13 – 16 September 2011

We’ve gotten into the swing of school. Jim is teaching English and I’m teaching ½ hour line dance classes, running errands, doing a little shopping but really keeping busy. I’m also trying to keep this site updated, though it does seem like I’m always playing catch up. We’re also trying to plan the next leg of our “adventure”. More on that soon!!

17 - 18 September 2011

Saturday - It seems our hot weather has broken. Today is our group outing day with the other teachers. The weather is very comfortable. We did a bus trip to some spots in Wuhan. Our highlights were East Lake Park, Hubei Provincial Museum, Yellow Crane Pagoda and a wonderful lunch. John’s TA Brian and our TA, Tracy, were our guides. They did a great job. Neither students are from this area or have acted as tour guides before so there was a little confusion a few times. Normally one of the administrators of the program comes on the trip. I was actually glad it was just the teachers and the TAs.

Sunday- Today it’s downright COLD!!! This weather is crazy. It’s probably mid 50’s. Neither Brenda nor I packed for this weather. I’ve layered all the warm clothes I have.

Brenda had heard about an antique market and she asked me if I’d be interested in going. SURE!!! One of the other teachers thought we should get one of the TAs to go with us. We decided to take Jim instead. It is far away (about 45 minutes by taxi) and yes, it’s takes us a wrong turn or two to find it but we didn’t get too lost. It’s more of a flea market or swap meet with about 100 people selling their wares. Some people had a lot of “stuff” (jade or what appears to be jade, pottery, jewelry, old Chinese stuff, etc.) others have just a few items to sell but there seems to be a camaraderie among the sellers. Each time either Brenda or I showed an interest in an item, a crowd would gather. I’m not sure if it was just because we were the only westerners or whether they were judging our bargaining skills. I picked up a couple small items and even with bargaining probably paid too much – but I didn’t pay a lot and enjoyed the experience. Jim did have to come to Brenda’s aid one time. She showed some interest in an item and when the seller came down to her price (which usually means you have to buy it). She realized it wasn’t something she really wanted so she had Jim come over; pretend to be her husband and he vetoed the sale – saving face for both Brenda and the seller. Another China adventure!!!

Can’t believe we’re two thirds of our way through our HUST experience. With our last week in sight, we look forward to our upcoming adventures but are very sad that we’ll be leaving the wonderful students we’ve met .

Posted by pjburke 01:52 Archived in China Comments (0)

Rollin' Down the River!!

Chinese Style

11 and 12 September 2011

Our day starts very early. Well, it was early for us but the other passengers were up much earlier and breakfast was picked over a bit but we didn’t go hungry. Mike gets us moving because we’re off to small boats for an AM trip up one of the tributaries. This area is beautiful in a very subtle way. The photos tell the story, if you can disregard the orange life jackets which they want us to wear even on land. Makes for an interesting photo op!! Our tour guide tells us that the walk way has been used by the military for years and can be followed for miles but we’re herded back to the boats after a short stroll.

After we make it back to the boat, the remainder of the afternoon is spent cruising the river. I try to imagine what it was like before the gorge was flooded. We see houses perched on the hillside and again I wonder if they were just a small portion of a village that no longer exists.
Before long, we see some ancient buildings on what appears to be an island – we later learn that it’s a peninsula. This area is known as the White King City named after Emperor Liu Bei. We dock and go by bus to the bridge that extends to this area. We’re able to wander around the buildings, in and around temples and over to the far side towards the gorge. Here there is a view point for the Qutang Gorge. Brenda and I agree that this is China’s version of Half Dome. This gorge area is beautiful and depicted on the 10 Yuan bill. Inside one of the temples, Mike tells us the story of Emperor Liu Bei who entrusts his sons to his aide Zhuge Liang when he dies. Liu Bei’s sons really aren’t “King” material but Zhuge Liang is well respected and the country runs well for years until he dies which is when havoc ensures. Not being a Chinese historian I’m sure my description of these events leaves much to be desired….so I beg your forgiveness and hope you understand the general idea.
Leaving the White King City, the ship again cruises the waters towards the Three Rivers Gorge Dam.

While I’m wandering around the ship that afternoon, I make my way through the Mah Jong room towards the front viewing deck. There is a group of people (one man and three ladies) playing Mah Jong. I can’t help stopping and watching. No one speaks English but one of the ladies has been smiling and waving to me throughout the cruise. Through hand signals, I ask if I can watch. I get the idea that they want to know if I’d like to play, words are exchanged and one of the children heads off, it appears on some type of errand. The errand was to get the lady’s (I find out later her name is Lee Lee) son. He speaks English. I explain that the American Version of Mah Jong is very different but the tiles are pretty much the same and ask if I can watch. He (I never do get his name) stays and helps with translation. The Chinese also have the coolest tables. After playing each game, there is a center area that pops up revealing a hole, you push all the tiles into the hole. The table actually has two sets of tiles, so while one set is being washed the other set pops up in a line (like our racks) in front of each player. I’ve never seen anything like it!!

After watching for a while, I bid farewell and head off to find my cruise partners and it’s on to dinner. We sit at an assigned table. Initially, we’re watched with a wary eye, but with Mike as our interpreter, we do have a bit of a conversation and at the end of dinner we’re bid good bye with waves and smiles. Lori, Brenda, Mike and I decide to adjourn to the rear deck, have a beer and enjoy the sites with our Mooncakes.
(I’m reading back through my recent entries and I realize I left out Mid-Autumn Festival. Our first weekend at HUST is a long weekend. School is closed on Monday for Mid-Autumn Festival. It’s an ancient holiday that is celebrated the week of the full moon near the middle of September. That’s the reason we’re able to make this cruise – also Mooncakes are the traditional food eaten on this holiday. The prices range from very low to very high and the fillings are different – mine reminded me of a sweet fig newton filling – so many different kinds but everyone eats Mooncakes on this holiday…..Sorry for any confusion)

Lori heads off to bed while Brenda, Mike and I sit up on the roof deck. It’s actually fairly windy but not too cold. I wouldn’t have bet money on the moon making an appearance but I was wrong. The last night on our Chinese cruising adventure was made memorable by the beautiful full autumn moon played peak a boo with the rolling clouds.

Back in our room, we (the girls) laugh (mostly at ourselves) and talk about writing a survival list for people thinking of taking an All Chinese cruise.

This is our “what to take” list”:

1. A Chinese person – if that person can be handsome, polite and well spoken (like Mike)–all the better.
2. A smile – will help in a multitude of situations
3. Flexibility – get outside that comfort zone
4. Your own toiletries, soap, toilet paper and towels
5. An alarm clock
6. Your own food – water, beer, snacks etc. for the bus (coming and going) and on the cruise
7. Earplugs
8. Small backpack rather than a suitcase (space is at a premium)
9. High heels……NOT!!! But there were plenty on board and on all the side trips – just one of those things us US girls can’t get used to
10. Extra cash for side trips
11. Book, IPOD etc. for long bus ride
12. Be prepared to push. It’s just the Chinese way – if you don’t you’ll be left at the end of the line.

Monday (9/12) we’re up early and off again. We thought it would be more of a “travel” day but the Chinese pack as much as possible into each day. Right after breakfast we’re off on long boats to an area where we walk (on floating plastic blocks – almost like big Legos) into a canyon, up a lot of stairs along the canyon wall and then down to an area where we view a play. Back to the boat and then by bus to three different viewpoints along the Three Gorges Dam area.

It was a rush from one bus to another and then a long ride back to Wuhan where we arrived at the location we left from. What we didn’t count on was that being a Holiday the parking was so crowed the bus let us out on the street and there where tons of other people looking for taxis. Mike came through again and we made it back to the hotel tired but with many memories of a great weekend.
I’ve added a number of photos from this trip – they tell the “real” story.

On a personal note, even though I wasn’t at home in the US – my thoughts were with you all and the memory of September 11th 10 years ago..

Posted by pjburke 21:47 Comments (1)

How to Survive a Chinese Cruise

I’m so bummed… I have a terrible night sleep!!! Arghhhhhh!!! We head down to breakfast and I see Brenda. She’s still waiting to hear back from the travel agent. I quickly make my way over to the classroom on the off chance that my equipment is still there. I must be luckiest redhead in China!!! They (MP3 and thumb drive) are both there – right where I left them plugged into the USB port. When I get back to the hotel, Brenda lets me know she got me a ticket for the cruise. Mike has already arrived so I pack at lightning speed; I make it down to the lobby for an early departure to the bus station.

Let me explain why Mike is going with us. Brenda originally asked both her TA and Lori’s TA if they would like to go. This cruise is a “Chinese” cruise. Both girls told Brenda that she would need someone to help with translation – they were adamant. When they weren’t able to go, Mike offered. (He is one of the best English speakers in all the classes.) This was with the understanding that he would be our guide and we would pay his expenses. We thought that the arrangements were that Mike and Lori would each have their own rooms and Brenda and I would share a room….just remember…..flexible – we must be flexible.

Mike had arranged for a driver to pick us up and take us to the bus station. We arrived a little early but with the holiday traffic is was much better than being late and miss the bus. The bus arrives about 1130ish and now we are becoming more aware of why the TA’s had insisted that we needed a guide. There were a number of buses and we were unsure which one to get on. Mike made a phone call and guided us to the area we needed to be, let us know who our tour guide (from the travel agency) was and which bus to get on. It was about now that we realized that beside Mike – we’re the only people there that spoke English!!!

The bus ride to Yichang (where we’ll get the boat) was about 5 hours on a very, very crowded bus. A couple of quick stops along the way at the Chinese version of a truck stop and we make it into Yichang at about 1630. We’re told that we have two hours before we’ll board another bus and that we are on our own for dinner. Mike has also had a conversation with our tour guide (Dun Dun) and he lets us know what is and isn’t provided on the cruise (See notation at the end of this entry – What to take on a Chinese Cruise). We need to do a little shopping. We notice across the street in large yellow letter….Wal-Mart. This one is not as big as the stores in the US but similar. But first – we need to get something to eat. Right in front of us appears a KFC. Now…I haven’t been to a KFC in 20 years, but the Chinese seem to have a fascination for the place. It really did taste like what I remember KFC to taste like except they give little packets of hot pepper to put on your chicken. Dinner – 20yuan each (about $3.50). 1830ish we head back and our tour leader lets us know it’s time to board another bus but first bags must go through a scanner. It’s a free for all!!! You would have thought that the boat was leaving without them. It was crazy – pushing and shoving and that was just to get the bags at the end of scanner. From there, it’s another one hour bus ride. By this time, it’s dark and raining. Dun Dun starts to give out room numbers. I’m sitting next to Mike and he gives me the numbers – 2123 and 2124. Ahhhh – there are only two rooms. He says he’ll speak with the her when we get off which he does…there are still only two rooms. After we see the rooms (two single beds in each cabin), Brenda comes through with a great solution. We take the second mattress from Mike’s cabin and put it in our cabin. I wasn’t hopeful but these cabins were actually better than I expected and also a bit roomier, so it was cozy but not horrible. It was like a 2 night girl’s PJ party.
Our cabin - 2123

Our cabin - 2123

We all go up top and watch the lights of the Three Gorges Dam as the boat pulls away from the dock. It's very dark and misty.
Our first morning on the Yangtze river

Our first morning on the Yangtze river

By this time it’s about 2030 and Lori’s ready for bed. Brenda and I grab a couple of beers (which we bought at Wal-Mart) and we have a great conversation with Mike. We’re both really interested in every aspect of China and Mike (being a PHD law student with 2 MA degrees) gives us Chinese History 101 from an insider’s point of view. It was a great conversation. Finally with heavy eye’s we had back to our room (across the hall) and try not to wake Lori (unsuccessfully).

All three of us are glad we’ve made the trip and are looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures.

Posted by pjburke 02:14 Comments (3)

HUST Week 1


08 Sept 2011

Today is a “late” day. Not sure why, I think it has to do with classroom scheduling. All classes start at 1430 and go to 2210 which makes for a very long day.

For me, I started my first line dance class today. Lori’s class (which is also Brenda’s class) is the first class I’m working with. I gave a quick half hour lesson to each of her four groups of students. I wasn’t sure how line dancing would go over in China but a modified version of the Sundance Shuffle (easiest dance I could find) was a hit. At first, the students looked at me as if I was a little crazy. I gave them a brief explanation of country western music and line dancing and then I got them all up on their feet in a rather small space at the front of the class. All the classrooms we use have the seats and desks bolted to the floor so I had to make the best of what little space I had. By the time we did the dance to two different songs, they were clapping and I saw huge smiles. It was great!!! But it was also 2210 and I’m really tired.

09 Sept 2011

Boy was that short night sleep. Up early but I don’t have to teach until 0930.

About 0715, we get phone call-never a good sign. Chris Durboraw (another teacher) called to let Jim know that he would be taking over her classes. She had a family emergency and she and Bill would be flying back to the states as soon as they coould get a flight. It’s a holiday weekend and they weren’t sure when they would be leaving. Chris asked Jim to meet her at lunch time to exchange info on the classes. Jim will be getting a chance to teach but it’s unfortunate that it’s under these circumstances.

Mary is taking John’s class for him today and she’s invited me to teach line dance. We structured the hours a little differently. I teach the last half hour of the first class and the first half hour of the second class and then the same for the afternoon session. This means I’m done by 1630ish. After meeting with Chris, Jim came to the afternoon sessions with me and took photos and videos. (This is very good and a little bad – after downloading the photos/videos to the netbook I could get video but not sound. I think it has to do with the format from my new camera (Panasonic). I’m still working on that.)

Jim, John and I leave the class and head back to the hotel. It’s really hot day…ok it’s not really so hot but a bin pijiu (aka cold beer) sounds really good after my physical activity. We chat for a while – long enough for Mary to finish her last class and join us. After we drank all the beer (this was basically a coffee shop and he only had 6 beers) we headed back to the hotel.

Since John is our group leader, he and Mary get a suite-lovely purple furniture!! We chat for a while before Brian (John's TA) comes and picks John up for a visit to the University's Robot lab. John was the head of the Robotic Club in the high school where he taught. Jim, Mary and I head out for dinner. While we’re eating, we notice a couple next to us watching us. The girl (maybe early 20’s) comes over and starts to speak basic English. She asks why we’re in China and we explain our situation. She and her friend are students at Hubei University (another university in Wuhan) – she stays and chats – she just wants someone to practice her English with. We were also treated to birthday cake by a group celebrating behind us.

Back to the hotel and I stop and catch up with Brenda. I ask what she’s doing this coming weekend. She tells me that she, Lori and Mike (one of her students) are going on a 2-night cruise on the Yangtze leaving at 0830 the next morning. “I want to go”....she said she mentioned it to Jim but he wasn’t interested but he never mentioned it to me. “The more the merrier – come along”. So I went back and talked with Jim and called Brenda. I let her know if she could get a ticket I’d love to go. Since it was so late, she’d call the travel agent in the morning and see what we could do.

I started thinking about what I would need to bring and I decide to make sure my MP3 player was charged. I can’t find it anywhere!!! I think I left it in the classroom after my last class with Mary. Also, my thumb drive with “everything” on it is also missing. The classrooms are cleaned each night – I’m sure they’re gone.

Posted by pjburke 00:55 Comments (1)

HUST (Hua Zhong University of Science and Technology)

Week 1 ......it's been crazy!!!!

NEWS FLASH.....sorry this didn't get posted earlier. I was going to work on the blog over this past weekend but, last minute, I had a chance to do a two night cruise on the Yangtze River. Jim decided he wasn't interested but I was so......off I went. Had a great time and I'll posting info soon.

03 September

First night’s sleep in Wuhan – not too bad. The bed is pretty hard. There is an extra comforter which I folded and made into a very thin feather bed for me. Jim could sleep on a bed of rocks!! Breakfast at the hotel (which is included) except for some watermelon is an Asian breakfast; rice soup, noodles, dumplings, watermelon, cherry tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, different types of steamed buns, some stir fried veggies – actually pretty good but more of what we would have for lunch or dinner. When in Rome……

We walked around the university area – found the open air market – pretty big. Many types of food I’ve never seen before. When we meet with Jason later this afternoon – we’ll be asking him to come back with us and tell us what they are.

We met with Jason about 3:30 and Richard (another teacher) and another TA is with him. We find out that “yes” Jim is the float. This means that Jason won’t be our TA. Jason is going with Richard and Tracy (Tong-lee) (who has a much busier school schedule will be our TA). We head out to walk around campus to become familiar with the teaching building and other areas. The market was next on the list – I had to find out what some of the strange veggies were. After this adventure – we stopped for a juice/coffee break and talked for a long time – just getting to know each other. I have a very good feeling about this adventure.

Dinner is back at the hotel – I’ve found my first veggie that I don’t like. We ordered stir fried bitter melon – yup it’s bitter all right. Good thing Jim liked it.

Sunday 04 Sep

Up early – 0615. Slept pretty well. We went down to breakfast where we met some of the other teachers. I think we’re expecting one more teacher in today. We’ve got a group meeting at 4pm.

We were told that there was an IGA, where we could get some different foods, so we headed off to explore. We walked walked and walked some more. We were gone more than two hours in the hot, humid Wuhan heat. We did make it back to the hotel – only after asking directions and never making it to the store. It was actually much closer than we thought. We’ll try another day.

We met everyone at our group meeting; about half the group has been to HUST, either July or September. They are a great group with a lot experience and very willing to help. I offered to take photos and teach line dancing. A couple of teachers have taken me up on my offer already. Guess I better practice.

This is our group:

John Korzick California – with wife Mary
Rosemary and Bill Hallinan Tucson
Ellen and Phil Edwards NY/FL
Lori Taniguchi Tucson
Brenda Rubacha Chandler, AZ
Judith Bouzon Green Valley, AZ
Don Campbell Hillsborough, OR
Christine Durboraw Marana, AZ (Dove Mt) – with husband Bill and Grandson Mike til 9/9
Richard Callahan Tucson, AZ
David Babbitz San Francisco

Teachers are paired up as teaching partners which means that these two teachers will have the same students. Each student does three hours of English each day and this is to prepare them for an oral exam that will be given in March 2012. Also each teacher is assigned a Teaching Assistant (TA).

The rest of the day was relaxing before the start of what “may” be a busy week. We’re still not sure what we’ll be doing.

Monday 05 September

There is not much going on this morning for us. This afternoon, Rosemary invited me to sit in on her class and I took her up on it. This is my first exposure to the students. Most of the students are either Masters or PHD students. Men and women who don’t look much older that our college students. First day for the teachers is mostly sharing with the students; information about themselves, expectations for the class, etc.

Tuesday 06 September

Brenda has asked me to help with her four classes today. Most are pretty big group (20-23 students). Class schedule goes like this – 8:30-10:00/10:10 – 11:40/ 2 hour lunch break/14:30-1600/1610-1740 for Monday/Tuesday/Wed and Friday. Thursday starts at 14:30-16:00/1610-1740/1 hr. 20mins dinner break/19:00-2030/2040 – 2210. Not sure I’m going to like Thursdays.

When the first group of students come in, I get introduced. I tell them a little about myself. The group is varied; mostly men, different levels of English proficiency and definitely different personalities. This holds for all the classes.

After the second class, a group of students waits outside the classroom and asks Brenda and me if we would like to join them for lunch. Sounds good to us!! It’s a nice opportunity to meet the students, one on one and also they can order and we can try to figure out what we’re eating and how to eat it. Learning is a two way street. We head over to the dining room at our hotel and sit in one of the private dining areas. There are 11 of us; me, Brenda, Brenda’s TA (teaching assistant) Jocelyn, Samuel, Cloud, Nancy, Jill2, Alex, Mark, Kevin and Michael. (See photos) All of these students are PHD Law Students, Samuel is a lawyer already with practices in Beijing and Shanghai, Michael studied in the US – Missouri and San Diego and many of the others are already professional teachers. It is a VERY fun group.

I look at the menu and give up – “please order for me” and they do. We try things we’ve never tried before and it was ALL so wonderful. The fish (see photo) was “interesting”. A big thank you goes out to Samuel and the whole group for sharing that special time with us.
Brenda, Jocelyn and I head back for afternoon classes. These two classes are smaller. The smaller class changes the group dynamic a bit. Discussions in smaller group take on a more personal tone. I’m really enjoying them all.

Oh….by the way – all the student’s names are English names that they’ve given themselves. I doubt that Cloud’s mother named him Cloud. We also have Banana, Smile Cat, Kelven and Box to name a few.

It rained on and off this afternoon and the bus didn’t come to pick up the teachers. Brenda and I just made it back to the hotel before it poured. Time for dinner and Brenda joined Jim and I. Brenda and I have become fast friends. We actually met at the training sessions in Tucson. It was just one of those things. We’re about the same age and we enjoy the same things. The students think we’ve known each other for a long time. It does seem that way.

Wednesday 07 September

I went to Brenda’s AM classes. They had presentations to complete and since they are the two biggest classes I was able to help. I also took photos of the students with their name tags for Brenda. Hopefully, it will help her. Jim came back with me in the afternoon to finish taking photos of the third and fourth classes and then we head out to explore more of the university. We find two athletic areas –both basketball courts, both very different. Both have about 20 basketball courts – the first one is over grown but still being used, the 2nd is also about 20 courts, nice and full of students. There are so many basket balls being bounced it sounds like gunshots. There are tons of dorms – not in the least like we know dorms and there are also some nice little park areas with statues and pagodas.

It’s off to dinner with Rosemary and Bill, Lori, Brenda and Don. Rosemary takes us to a place near the hotel the TFF teachers used to stay in. It’s a neighborhood we didn’t even know existed. We were the only ones there, but the food was really good and for about $6 per person you can’t go wrong.

Lori has asked me to teach line dancing in her class tomorrow. I’m ready!!!

Posted by pjburke 22:27 Comments (1)

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