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!

China, teaching, travel

A Change of Scenery

It’s been quiet here on the blog.  Mostly this is due to a lot going on in my life.  I work, I volunteer, I attend baby and bridal showers, I prepare for big things this upcoming year.  Big things?  What do you mean?  I mean I’m trading my job of working with 5th graders for one of working with preschoolers.  I’m giving up my rented three-bedroom townhouse for a small apartment.  And I’m moving 7600 miles away…almost the other side of the world…

(On a completely tangential side note, how cool is this website?  The opposite side of the earth from me is…water.  But Perth, Australia is really close, which just cements my desire to live, someday, in the land down under.)

In July/August (not really sure of dates yet), I’m moving to Chengdu, China.  Although this is the capital city of the Sichuan (Szechuan, if you prefer) province in Southwest China and about 80% (so I’ve read) of the world’s giant pandas live there, I had never heard of this city before.  Now researching it is a delightful pastime of mine.  As a snowy day activity, I decided to compare and contrast my hometown with my future…town.

Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA 

Chengdu, Sichuan, China 

How old is the city? While the Virginia Assembly built a fort near here in the 1670s, Fredericksburg was not officially established until 1728. Um.  I don’t know.  The history of Chengdu can be traced back to at least the four century BCE.
How many people live there? In the 2010 census, there were 24,286 people living in the city.  Technically, I’m not one of them.  But the nearby counties are so spread out that this at least gives you some idea of the small population. The city houses 14 million.  Over 7 million live in the actual districts of the city while just under 7 million live in the area immediately surrounding Chengdu.
Where is the city located? This city is situated on the Rappahannock River at the Fall Line (where it becomes hard for boats to get upriver due to rapids).  Fredericksburg is 49 miles south of Washington, DC (the country’s capital) and 58 miles north of Richmond, Virginia (the state’s capital).  Virginia is located centrally on the East Coast of the USA. Chengdu is located at the western edge of the Sichuan Basic in Sichuan, China.  Sichuan, China is in southwestern China, bordered by various mountain ranges.  The Yangtze River flows through the western portion of the Sichuan province.
Tell me about its name. Fredericksburg was named for Frederick, Prince of Wales, the son of King George II.  Walking the streets, you will notice they bear the names of the members of the royal family. The emperor of the Shu Kingdom built the city, wanted it to be the capital, and named it Chengdu which literally meaning becoming (cheng) a capital (du).  And the name stuck although the city looks (obviously) drastically different now.
Does it have any nicknames? I remember Fredericksburg being called “The Pear City” once upon a time.  Legend was that George Washington planted Pear Trees, the descendants of which were lining the streets in the downtown area.  But now the trees have been removed which, I think, leaves Fredericksburg without a nickname. Chengdu is known at the City of Hibiscus ever since King Mengchang ordered Hibiscus planted on the fortress wall around the city in the 900s.  Although the walls have since been torn down, the city’s flower is still the Hibiscus.  It’s also known as the Brocade City (still have to learn about that one) and the Turtle City because the city’s lines were apparently originally demarcated by the path a turtle took as it walked.
What about a motto? America’s Most Historic City A City You Don’t Want to Leave
Why would someone visit?
  • To see the Civil War battlefields
  • To make business deals over a round of golf
  • To see the historic downtown area
  • To visit George Washington’s boyhood home, Ferry Farm
  • To play in one of the many parks or do something aquatic on the river or at Lake Anna
  • To try new drinks at a nearby winery or brewery
  • To eat Carl’s Ice Cream
  • To explore Central Park
  • To attend a First Night of Fredericksburg
  • And, currently, to visit me
  • To see the Giant Panda reserve
  • To make business deals over a game of mahjong
  • To see the Sichuan opera
  • To visit the important Taoist center, Mount Qingcheng
  • To play at the beach in the New Century Global Center (currently the world’s biggest building)
  • To try new drinks at one of the many teahouses
  • To eat “Hot Pot”
  • To explore the ancient Buddhist monasteries
  • To attend the Lantern Festival, the Huanglongxi Fire Dragon Festival, or the South China Snow and Ice Festival
  • And, starting in August, to visit me
celebrations, holidays, travel

Alphabet Memories

I was trying to capture the memories of 2013 in an effort to use this blog as a time capsule of sorts.  I got as far as listing the few adventures I had over the past year.  But one post will hardly help me reminisce about my year a few months from now when I’m trying to remember what on earth happened in 2013…

So, the first 13 letters of the alphabet help me with my ABC memories…

A=Adventures.  Post already done.  Moving on.

B=Babies.  Jenni and Ryan gave birth to a beautiful girl, Rachel and Drew are expecting a boy in February, and a bunch of coworkers had a child this year or are anxiously counting down to their due date.  Between the baby showers, the babysitting, and the random lunch dates with cute children, there was a lot of tiny goodness to fill up this year.

MotorbikeThe motorbike gift I always make for baby showers

C=Chilling.  I spent a lot of down time this year just hanging with friends.  Whether I was at Peter’s house watching Breaking Bad, grabbing sushi with old coworkers, or going on walks by the river with old roommates, I spent a lot of peaceful time enjoying the quiet moments of life.

Dancing with Ivy

The River

Both these pictures were taking on evening strolls around the city with Diana.



D=Drinks.  No longer am I in any sort of bar-hopping phase, but a couple of my great nights this year did involve conversation over a good drink.  Whether it was giggling with champagne or more serious conversation with a Hefeweizen, I got to know a lot of things about a lot of people over a drink.  I even tried Scotch this year…although I think I can manage quite well without it.

summer wine

E=Encore.  In July, I got to go back up to New Hartford, CT to volunteer at Trinita.  Peer groups, family time, community meals, Olympics, campfires, pool time, basketball, volleyball, lodge nights, birthday parties, and just…fun, faith, and togetherness.  My heart is so happy here.

F=Family.  On the way up to Trinita, I got to visit my Aunt Barbara in Philadelphia.  On the way south, I picked her up and drove her back with me to Fredericksburg.  We ate at my mother’s favorite restaurant, explored Monticello, and just enjoyed her company. 

Monticello GardensThe Monticello gardens

G=Graduation.  This year, the students I had taught for two years graduated and moved onto middle school.  While it was rough to say goodbye to them, I really got a class of incredibly endearing children to make up for their leaving.  One of them, I student-taught when he was in first grade.  He said he had been hoping to get me because he knew me back with I was a “young thing, fresh outta college.”  Oh, the things children say…

grad nightKaren and me at 5th grade graduation

H=Housemates.  In August, Diana and Hoang both moved out to be closer to their jobs.  While I miss conversation with them, searching for batteries for the fire alarm at 2am, junk food runs to Food Lion, and girls’ nights, I didn’t have to wait long to find a roommate.  About 3 weeks after the girls moved out, Chris moved in.  Yeah for roommate hunting made easy!

I=Intermissions.  In November, I tricked my brother, Sean.  I had my brother, Ryan, text us asking us to come listen to a speech he was giving in Richmond.  Ryan really outdid himself in the text and Sean really thought we were being dragged down to Richmond to listen to some college transfer fair spiel and give feedback.  (Sounded far-fetched to me, but hey, it worked.)  In reality, I had purchased tickets to see Mozart’s The Magic Flute.  We had great seats, it was a great show, and Sean was thoroughly surprised and pleased.

J=July Fourth.  Regrettably, I didn’t get to spend much time with my age-old college friends this year.  That’s what made the Fourth of July so special.  I spent the holiday in Virginia Beach, spending time with Maria, Yianni, and the cutest Greek baby ever.  We spent the night of the Fourth of July watching fireworks on the beach and just enjoying the amazing weather.  Nostalgia!

K=Knoxville!  More people I don’t see enough…family.  Ryan, Sean, and I drove to Knoxville in June.  We spent time with family in Knoxville before heading out to Jamestown, TN to go on a family picnic with my Uncle Kenny, Aunt Donna, and Cousin Sara.  We were so spoiled in Tennessee.  Relatives took us in for meals, let us play with their children, and just spent quality time with us.  This was one of the most low-key, amazing vacations I’ve had in a very, very long time.

RyanRyan, hanging out in downtown Knoxville

L=Love.  Over the course of one week in September, I kept getting big, life-changing messages.  Friends found out they were pregnant, found out the gender of their baby, or got engaged.  What a whirlwind week.  One of those women to get engaged was…my old roommate, Diana!  Woot!  Her wedding is scheduled for July 2014 and I’m so tickled that I get to be a part of it!

And finally, the thirteenth letter of the alphabet…M

M=Meghan.  Some of the best memories this year involve my little sister…and being dragged places by her.  In January, she made me take her up to DC to see the Struck by Lightning premier.  She worked backstage in her high school’s spring musical, Once On This Island, we started a sister blog in June (okay, that was kinda more my thing), and she made me take her to see Legally Blonde, the Musical in November down in Charlottesville, where I suavely got us in to an all-but-sold-out show, skipping about 60 people who were in the queue before us.  So, I’ll end with a picture that typifies my little sister…


celebrations, holidays, teaching, travel

Top 12 of 2012

We are hours away from 2013 and, as I was thinking about the past year…well, it was probably the best year of my life thus far. I’m going to post, therefore, my top 12 memories of 2012.  These are not in order of importance or how much they meant to me…it’s more a timeline of my year.

12) On January 1, 2012, I was dating a French man.  I joyfully brought in the New Year’s in France then journeyed up to London that night. To have been in Europe both for New Year’s and my birthday (today!) was a thrilling occasion.  I also got to ride in the Chunnel, crossing a very old goal off my bucket-list.

11) I did spend a lot of incredible moments with my family this year.   We saw the Lion King on stage, sampled restaurants, went apple picking, etc.  But one of the funnest memories was heading down to Orlando over Spring Break.  I stayed with my friend, Jennifer, while my mom, my dad, and my sister stayed at a resort near Disney World.  I met up with them a few days and we explored Harry Potter World together, toasting with Butterbeer.  My sister, Jennifer, and I also rode Spiderman like 30 times in a row, by-passing lines by hopping in the single rider’s lane.  It was a glorious night!

10) Also in the spring, my co-worker turned friend, Heather, and I ran the Color-Me-Rad 5k in VA Beach. It was easily the best 5k ever created.  While down there, I got to spend time talking to Heather (really, our first time hanging out).  I also got to meet up with my high-school friend, Rachel, and meet her boyfriend, Drew.

9) In early May, Colin–my youngest brother–graduated from VCU with a masters and a bachelors, so the family went down to Richmond to celebrate.  Meghan and I filled out an amazing tribute book in Colin’s program and we ate at the really interesting meat-on-a-stick place whose name completely eludes me.  Hmmm.

8) I had one of the greatest summers of my adult life this year, traveling up to Connecticut to volunteer with inner-city families at Trinita.   I met some amazing individuals and, I will admit, cried like a baby when I had to leave.  I am definitely going back this year and, perhaps, bringing a sibling along.

7)  In August, I returned to school.  This year, the transition back was so smooth…because I was teaching the same students as last year!  I also have the same team to work with!  Consistency makes life easy for both me and the children.

6) In August and September, it was also time to celebrate the fact…that I am really old.  I didn’t attend my regular high school reunion; I was busy helping Rachel stuff wedding invitations.  Yep!  Her boyfriend was now her fiance!  In early September, I did attend my 10-year Governor’s School reunion though.  This was a 3-day event, orchestrated by a very talented classmate.  Due to everyone I know having bridal or baby showers, I couldn’t make it to all 3 days, but I did attend a very nice dinner at a downtown restaurant and a cookout the next day at a nearby park.  The cookout was also a time to see old classmates’ parents and children for the first time in years….or the first time ever.

5) In October, I flew out to California to see Andrew.  One day, not needed at his house, we journeyed down to Mexico.  It was his first time despite living so close his entire life.  We ate at a Tijuana restaurant, saw a lovely church that was being renovated, took pictures and videos, and one of us even was bitten by a dog.  (I won’t say names, but it wasn’t me).  The trip ended with us standing in line for over an hour to get back into the USA.  What an awesomely, incredibly-stupid day trip.

4) My co-worker turned friend, Karen, also went on some great trips with me this year.  We went scrapbooking up in Sugarcreek, Ohio, toured Skyline Drive, visited random counties for sweet apple cider and honey, and spent a glorious day in Williamsburg, buying candles, eating at the Cheese Shop, spending too much money at the bookstore, and seeing my old alma mater.

3) The highlight of October was definitely being a part of Rachel and Drew’s wedding.  What a whirlwind year for the two of them!  The wedding was lovely and, afterwards, we journeyed to a gorgeous clubhouse on a lake for the reception.  Wedding festivities ensued.  And, as I couldn’t make it to Alex’s wedding in California over the summer, I got my wedding fix for a while.  The best part, though, was obviously seeing how happy Rachel was.

2) Also in autumn, my roommate and I were eating at my favorite restaurant, Kappa Gardens Sushi Bistro, and they completely named a sushi roll after me.  I was tickled, especially when Jong Sung, the chef, gave me a picture of it and hung it on the wall as a menu option.  Fantastic.  Deliciously, deliriously fantastic.

1)  Although, I didn’t see my college friends this year as much as I would have liked, we did have a chance to get together over the summer at Maria and Yianni’s house by the beach.  We spent time at the beach, played board games (I really know nothing about movies) and fell asleep ridiculously early (proving how old we are).  In November, however, Maria and Yianni had a son.  While I have yet to see him, he has the cutest pictures ever.  And I really, really cannot wait to meet this little guy.

Ahh, 2012.  You rocked.  2013, let’s see what you can do!

films, holidays, teaching

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

I feel like this past month has escaped from me.  There is too much to do and there are never-ever enough hours in the day.

On the job front, I’m trying to turn my students into writers.  This is hard when “if then she know” passes as an acceptable sentence in their minds.  We poured over a writing prompt for most of the month.  I think we’ll only have time to do one more before it’s time for the state writing test in March.  I am a tad bit nervous!

One of my kiddos also withdrew from school this week.  She came to my class last year, speaking very little English.  This year, she was being tested for the gifted program.  I cried Friday night after she left. I have high hopes for her though and know that she can change the world wherever she is.  This gave me a taste for how hard June was going to be, wishing goodbye to a class of kids I’ve known for two years. Oy vey.

In my personal life, many friends have been coming back into town for the holidays, meaning the last few days have been insane.  I’ve scouted out Christmas lights with Jenn, spent hours talking to Rachel and Drew, saw Lincoln (the movie, not the person) with Heather, and helped Peter move all within the past 48 hours.  Today, I’ll meet my family at church and then head to their house for the rest of Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.

I also started a new workout routine.  I tore a ligament in my right knee in November and haven’t spent too much time at the gym since then.  But I found a great 12-week program that concentrates on lifting weights the first 4 weeks before really introducing cardio.  It sounds like just what my knee needs.  Today I concentrated on my triceps…and man, I ache!

Okay, I’m off to prepare for tonight!  Merry Christmas, everyone!