teaching, The China Chapter, travel, video

When Disney Feeds Wanderlust

I was fortunate last week to spend time in Singapore and Thailand, first celebrating Chinese New Year and then just relaxing near the beach.  Coming back to Chengdu was a bit hard, remembering the chilly weather I left, but spring seems to be making an early appearance here and the city has brightened up quite nicely in the nearly two weeks I was gone.

As soon as I got back, in the few days before school started up again, I plotted my next trip–spring break on Jeju Island–and booked hotel rooms and made flight arrangements.  After that, I fly to Germany to see my school next year.  I feel a thrill just knowing travel is happening again soon.

Today, I had the opportunity to show a couple individuals around the school here in Chengdu.  It’s always so much fun to pop into classrooms and the amazing things teachers are up to.  And walking around seeing kiddos reading in groups or programming robots or making stain glass windows, I felt the early sting of nostalgia.  I will definitely miss this place muchly next year, even though I think Germany will be a nice change of pace and place.

For some reason, the combination of loving the journey and knowing that I would miss the here and now had songs from Moana popping in my head all day today.  Rather than just push them out, I thought I would share them.  These songs have a way of almost perfectly emoting that feeling of wanderlust that settles in my soul.

First from the song “Where you are” we have two moments:

At 1:28, look at the cute, little, trapped-in-one-place Moana sadly sing:

 …And no one leaves…

And then at 2:17, we have the wanderlust meat of the song:

You may hear a voice inside.
And if the voice starts to whisper,
to follow the farthest star,
Moana, that voice inside 
is who you are.

Then we have one of my favorites, “I am Moana.”

Here, at 1:25, Moana sums up the wanderlusting, traveling life completely:

I’ve delivered us to where we are,
I have journeyed farther.
I am everything I’ve learned and more–
still it calls me.

And the call isn’t out there at all,
it’s inside me.
It’s like the tide, 
always falling and rising.

I will carry you here in my heart;
you remind me
that come what may,
I know the way….

And finally, from “We know the way,” at 2:05:

We are explorers reading every sign.
We tell the stories of our elders in a never-ending chain.


So there I end.  Lin Manuel’s lyrics can carry this post far better than anything else I could add.

China, schools, teaching, The China Chapter

作业现场 – The Job Site

I must have watched this video about a dozen times after I was hired.  Having taught here over a year now, I think it’s interesting how the school has physically changed so much and, in terms of staff, transitioned so much as well.  But, when all is said and done, this is definitely still the school I work at…

China, schools, teaching, The China Chapter

China Schools

I can’t believe my first year teaching in China is over!  I flew to Hong Kong over the weekend, saw some boat races and International Yoga Day being…”celebrated.”  Now I’m spending my last few days in Chengdu cleaning my apartment, hanging out with friends, and packing for a summer in the states.  I’ll be in the US for 6 weeks, primarily hanging on the east coast, before flying back here for year two in China.  Next year, I’m moving up to teach 3rd grade with my same kiddos (well, the ones who will be here) and same para-pro.  Otherwise, next school year will be so vastly different!  Out of 11 elementary school teachers, only 3 of us are returning.  I’m a tad overwhelmed with everything that has to be done!

But, it’s not time to think that far ahead.  Time to pay homage to this year…and what better way to do that then compare China and US schools?  (Also, to be noted, my school is much more like a US school than a Chinese one…)

creative writing, prose, teaching, The China Chapter

“Falling with Style”

Cleaning for China, I’m found a lot of papers I had forgotten about.  I hate throwing any writing away, even the terrible bits.  I love looking back, years after writing something, and thinking either, “How did I phrase that so poetically?” or, more often, “Ugh, what on earth was I thinking when I wrote this?”  Because I had little physical room in the luggage I was dragging across the world, I discarded much of the prose I’d written.  But first, I catalogued it.

This particular, unfinished piece was written when I was teaching in Virginia and trying to show fifth graders how sketching out a story (actually creating little drawings) could help you recall details of a story that you might otherwise forget to include.  We were also practicing brainstorming.  The assignment was to think of a person dear to you and come up with three or four memories you had of that person.  Choosing one, we then mapped out our stories and started writing.  What follows is my roughest of drafts that I never did finish nor edit…

My Dad 

I was flying down Eisenhower Lane.  This was the first time I had been on a bike without training wheels and I had not fallen yet.  “Don’t worry,” my dad shouted, “I’m right behind you.”  He grabbed the seat of my bright red bike and steadied it so I would not wobble.

I rounded the corner from Eisenhower, bearing right onto Rutherford Drive.  I was almost all the way home!  I felt like I was racing.  How was my dad keeping up?  I turned my head to see how hard he was running.  But when I looked back, I noticed he was way behind me.  Oh no!  How could I stay upright without his hand guiding my bike?  I felt myself teeter as I downed the final hill.  “I’m out of control,” I thought, forgetting how to slow down.  I was still flying, but now, I was terrified.

“Help,” I tried to scream, but my shout was cut short by a loud crash.  I had hit a neighbor’s black metal mailbox and fell, headlong, into a pile of gravel.  Small rocks buried themselves into my palms and kneecaps.

I tearfully looked back at my dad again and, through blurry eyes, I saw him anxiously running towards me.  Blinking to stop from crying, I sorely stood up, gazing down at the blood dripping from my fresh cuts.

China, creative writing, films, poetry, songs, teaching, The China Chapter

诗意搞乱- A Poetic Mess

It’s a moment,
then it’s gone.
Your heart catches in your throat
and you wonder if it was ever real
just a figment of a life you could imagine for yourself.

I realize I’m not making much sense here, mostly just waxing poetic.  I had so much to say about last week, but yesterday, when I went to write, my words froze in my fingers, hovering but a breath above the keyboard.  I spent time rearranging my discombobulated mind to the tunes of Cat-Stevens-turned-Yusuf-Islam and bathed myself in the comforting knowledge that music can wrap you in a tight embrace and make you feel so magically whole despite how crazily confused you might be.

But, being as though none of you have any idea what I’m talking about, I’ll stop with the self-analysis portion of this update and move into what’s actually been happening here in Chengdu…

Well, life’s been busy.  The first week after getting back from Bali, I spent a lot of evenings just eating Chinese food (Shao Kao and Chuan Chuan) with people.  Agh, I had missed that in Indonesia!

Last week flew by, but was punctuated with a few memorial events.  Wednesday afternoon, while the kids were working with partners to turn picture books into Reader’s Theatre scripts, I felt a bit of shaking.  It was a small, but noticeable undulation, especially when I saw the Smartboard rocking back and forth. “Uh…guys, let’s go ahead and get under our desks, okay?”  The kids immediately crawled under their desks, then peered up at me.  “Um.  Ms. Hannifin?  Why are we doing this?”  I love them and love that they would follow my directions first and then question me.  “Eh, I think there’s a earthquake.  And we just need to make sure it’s not a big one.  So we’re gonna stay under our desks for a few minutes and see what happens, okay?” “Yeah!  We don’t want things to hurt our heads,” one girl called out.  After a few minutes went by, it was clear the small disturbance was over.  “Alright, kids!  I think we’re good to go back to work. But if we feel anything else, we’re gonna get back under our desks, okay?”  “Okay.”  And back to work they went as if nothing had happened.  Earthquakes here might be fairly common, but I was very happy that the first one I felt with kids around was distant and handled very well by second graders.

Last Thursday, after Girl Scouts, two parents took June and me out to dinner at a Shao Kao restaurant.  It was completely unnecessary, completely delicious, and completely appreciated.  Then on Friday, I went out with coworkers to the typical hangout: The Beer Nest.  It ended up being a late night as more people stopped by as the evening stretched on.  But I made it home safely, albeit completely tuckered out, in the wee hours of Saturday.  I didn’t accomplish anything, really, on Saturday aside from Skyping with my old flatmate, Diana, and…napping.  On Sunday, Melissa and I went to go see the movie Seventh Son, which was…a rather interesting movie going experience, primarily because I am naive and China greatly confuses me.  It was a decent flick, though, and well worth the…$6…the entire outing cost us.

So that’s been about it, save my poetic nonsense (oh, brace yourself.  more terrible poetry is heading your way soon!).  I leave you now with a song that is probably going to be stuck in my head the rest of this week:

China, holidays, teaching, The China Chapter, travel

离开纬度 – Leaving Latitudes

In Virginia, summer fades to autumn, the suns sinks in the sky earlier and earlier each day, and one morning you feel a slight winter chill telling you to break out your coat within the next few days.  At least that’s the Virginia I remember, before this polar winter weather came into our lives.  Chengdu, at least this year, is different.  The damp heat hung in the air until mid-October.  Comfortable temperatures followed until late November when the thermometer’s mercury plummeted and the pollution levels sky-rocketed.  Only now are some of the trees’ leaves turning vividly yellow.  We’ve had a couple days (like today) where kids were not allowed outside for recess because of the AQI (Air Quality Index).  Between the cold, the damp, and the pollution, I can’t tell what is causing my cough.  But, looking at the bright side of life (oh, so bright right now), it really doesn’t matter.  Because on Friday, after a half day of teaching (actually writing letters to Santa and drinking hot cocoa), I get to flit away to Bali for 3 weeks with my friends Adam, Jay, and Yang.  The sand, the sun, the inexpensive airfare?  It’s all oh so close!

But what’s been going on here?

The last Thursday in November, we celebrated American Thanksgiving.  Not really much to write about; there was good food, great company, and humorous conversation.  There were even fake flames on the television, which brought back memories of a tape my grandparents used to own that showed…well, pretty much the same thing.  But on a large screen TV, it just made the living room (where we ate) look festive and warm.  I guess the Christmas tree did that too…  So we ate, we drank, we were thankful for health, friendships, and family.  Afterwards, I even convinced Adam to sit through Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog which, in my oh-so-humble opinion, is all sorts of awesome and definitely a film I am thankful for!

Thanksgiving 2014
Kerensa and Me, toasting Thanksgiving

Last week was pretty much chock-full of school work, meaning I stayed late way too often.  We had narratives due on Friday.  This means we had to write a paragraph about how each child was doing in each subject we taught.  So I had 81 “blurbs” to write about student strengths and weaknesses in every subject (except, blessedly, science).  I don’t know yet if it’s a good or bad thing that our school never closes.  We have security guards around the clock, but if you wanna come in and lesson plan at 3am, so be it.  For the record, I have yet to be that crazy.

On Wednesday, we had a field trip to the Sichuan Science Museum for Kids.  The 7-year-olds had a lot of fun running around.  Although I was not as impressed as I was by kid museums in the states, we were pretty much the only people there which made the kids a lot easier to watch.  On Friday, we also spent a good part of the day out of school.  We drove over to the Women and Children’s Cultural Center to have a rehearsal for the Primary School Christmas performance that night.  The 7-year-olds sang and played bells and xylophones.  They were also the first group to perform and were amazingly well behaved (not that we have bad kids, but still, this program started at 7pm after a long rehearsal day) for the rest of the performance.  Afterwards, we gathered all the 7s up and tried to take a group shot, but with so many parents snapping away, it was hard to know where to look!

Most of the 7-year-olds after the Concert
Most of the 7-year-olds after the concert

On Saturday night, we had a staff Christmas party at a local restaurant.  The chef at the restaurant has kids who go to our school, so we were treated very kindly.  Below are pictures that my friend Lucy (always the self-designated awesome photographer at QSI events) snapped.  After the party here, we headed to KTV (Karaoke).  It was my first time going, so I was pretty excited, even though the time spent there was short.  Basically, you get a little room with a couch and coffee (tea?) tables.  Wait staff brings in any food you order while you look through a computer for songs.  Push a couple of buttons (always fun for us non-Chinese reading folk…) and hopefully up pops a music video that you recognize on the television in the front of the room.  We had a few wireless mics and shamelessly belted out whatever English songs we could find like…Scrubs by TLC.  I did get people to play Xiao Ping Guo, which is pretty much the only Chinese song I know…
52 3 4

That’s been day to day life.  Beyond that, many coworkers are hopping on the baby bandwagon (happiness) and many coworkers are going to be transferring to other schools next year (sadness).  My buddy Adam’s actually not coming back to Chengdu after Bali, but moving to another city, which sucks and pretty much means my American Horror Story days are over…

Well I just got my first package from Virginia, so I’m going to head home and open it!  Thanks Mom!  Mwah!


A child’s wish

Sorting through my life’s collection of randomness in an effort to cleanse for Asia,  I came across a child’s paper from a few years ago. I had asked my class to write just a few sentences about what they wished for most in the world.   As typical 4th graders,  most students wrote about getting the latest gaming system.   But a few were a bit deeper.  This was one of my favorites:


China, holidays, random, teaching

Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho

A Snowy St. Patrick’s Day
(My stretch of Virginia rarely looks this beautiful in winter)

Well, yesterday was Monday which, this winter, seems to mean SNOW DAY!  Originally, snow days were freaking me out a bit as I thought of all the writing I still had to cover with the kiddos.  Fortunately, I came to the revelation that I can’t control the weather so…stress less.  Instead, I enjoyed the extra time off catching up on a few things since I was in Virginia Beach last weekend.  I did laundry, wrote lesson plans, read, and then drove over to spend a few hours with my friend Rachel and her baby boy who were in town for a long weekend.  Not only was the drive to Rachel’s amazing (see the top of the post), Cole was precious.  He smiled, he cried, and he smelled like…well, a baby, which is just adorable.  (Speaking of which, what does make a baby smell so good?)  He is also extremely gifted at the art of cuddling which makes me wish, now more than ever, that Rachel and her family didn’t live so far away.

And speaking of living far away, I got an email late last night that it was time to contact my school to purchase a ticket for August.  Work permit paperwork has been turned in, but there always seems to be more to do.  I have a criminal-background-check affidavit to send in, flight booking, and the small matter of going through all my stuff for a rousing game of send*, sell**, stash***, or trash****.

*to China
**a bit obvious
***in my parents’ basement
****again, obvious

I suppose I should go get my things ready for work.  Enjoy your Tuesday!

holidays, photography, teaching, travel

Shamrockin’ It at the Shore

Virginia Beach


After a full week of teaching (no snow days?  unusual this winter), I could not ask for a more glorious, relaxing view to wake up to than this: a glassy, still ocean, a subtle breeze, and the early morning sun peaking through the clouds.  I’m reminded of an e.e. cummings poem about children with “m” names like maggie, milly, malificient, whatever….  I only really remember the end of this poem:  for whatever we lose (like a you or a me), it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.  And  it’s true.  Here, my soul is soothed and wounds healed.  Even as the day begins to awaken and I find myself amid CNN coverage of the missing Malaysian flight 370 and the 8k runners outside the hotel, my brain is busy processing and reflecting on various aspects of my life: family, friendship, disappointment, reconciliation, and, above all, hope.  And while I don’t know where I’ll end up or what my future holds, I feel confident that the choices I have made have set the course for a fantastic trajectory of my life.

From the Shamrockin’est Shore in the USA, enjoy your weekend!

songs, teaching

On Top of the World, Ay!

Crazy day, crazy week, crazy life!  We found out last night that our work day is going to be extended by about 30 minutes for the rest of the school year to make up for all the snow days we’ve had, so we spent part of our planning today trying to figure out how to best utilize that time.  Half an hour more, an hour, or three, there still never seems to be enough time in the day.

Today, however, has me in a great mood.  The weather was wonderful with sunny skies and temperatures pushing up into the 70s.  It felt like full-fledged spring.  The birds and frogs are engaged in cacophonic vocals (okay, I’m waxing poetic; I really find their songs quite relaxing despite their discordance) and seeing snow still in the forecast has me shaking both my head and fist at Mother Nature.  For the first time in forever (as the kids would tell it anyway), we went outside for recess.  After we dropped the kids off at lunch, the fifth grade teachers even ate outside at one of the picnic tables at the school.

Although I stayed late at school for a PTO meeting, after work, I drove over to Pete’s for dinner and a bit of Breaking Bad (yeah, I’m still not through it).  Didn’t get home ’til nearly 11pm, but for the first time in a while, I feel energized.  I guess sunlight will do that to you.

Now, Imagine Dragons with my present mood: