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China-December 16-18, 2006

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Saturday, 16 December

It’s dark these days at 4:30 and the daylight hours will only get shorter when I get to the Netherlands. Yikes.

Last night I spent the night at Xie Cai Xia’s house, something I’m glad we finally had a chance to do. We left school and met her mom at a small shop in an alley by her house where she was gathered to play Mahjong with some friends, bought ingredients for dinner at a grocery, and then went to her house where we ate with her parents on the floor of their bedroom since it is the only part of the apartment that had a space heater. Her mom went to great trouble to prepare fresh crab and traditional noodles, and it was a great meal with all-Chinese conversation. Though my vocabulary hasn’t improved as much as I hoped while being here, I can say the things I know how to say more fluently, and do have better comprehension. I can now discern between the classroom Mandarin I’ve learned, and the slightly varied dialects that are around Shandong.

After dinner, Xie Cai Xia’s grocer’s daughter came over so she could help her with English; the only break in the schedule of a middle school student here is on a Friday night, and she came straight from school at 7 pm. I played Chinese Checkers with Xie Cai Xia’s father while they worked, though my comparative lack of skills was quickly evident in the first three moves, at which point he coached me on how to respond to his moves. It was fun.

I fell asleep watching my breath cloud in her room, under the weight of four blankets. This morning after we had a breakfast of shredded salty tofu at a small restaurant nearby, we came back to school with a student’s family on their way to attend extra Saturday lessons. Shortly after I returned, the world outside turned into a blizzard, with windy snow everywhere. 30 minutes later, however, the sun came out and all the snow melted; and though it was still very cold, I went down to the sea to read outside.

It is hard to believe I only have four days left here. Jack asked me to write a testimonial for Global Volunteer Network, the program that facilitated my teaching in Yantai, and I’m at a loss about how to capture this total experience in any succinct way.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

I just finished my 15th book since the beginning of Fellowship, still behind my reading goal, and am now listening to the kids do their evening classroom exercises, organize their classrooms, and go to their sushe (dorms). Already I’m developing an acute nostalgia for my life here.

I will miss the kids, the earnest ones, the adorable ones, the mischievous troublemakers, all of them. I will miss the calls of “Hello teacher!”, and in the later weeks “Hello Victoria!”, the looks of confusion that I couldn’t help but smile at, Li Ping’s ceaseless enthusiasm, Mei Laoshi’s sassy attitude, and Xie Cai Xia’s genuine friendship.

I printed photos to give to some of the students, and started thinking about how I hope they don’t forget me and about what has made my own most memorable teachers so memorable to me. Reflecting on my teaching experience, I think I was just trying to replicate what I saw those teachers do well; how they could get me excited about learning, how they could make me curious about new things, how they wanted more than just the right answers.

On Sunday I awoke to another blizzard, but had resolved to go to church at one of the Christian churches before I left Yantai, so I trudged out and slid all over the place in the falling snow and ice. Afterward, I spent the rest of the day walking around in the snow, getting some gifts for teachers before I left, visiting some of my favorite streets, and getting some hundun tang (wonton soup) and shaobing (roasted bread) at a favorite café. When I returned, someone at school had shoveled a single path around and upstairs to my door, through the inches of snow. It made it feel so much like home, and made me sentimental about leaving this place that now has great meaning for me.

On Monday, I had four great classes to say goodbye to the 2nd graders, and then the 4th grade teachers took me out to a lunch feast (including delicacies like jellied pig skin slices and pig ears) to celebrate my time there. After lunch we walked back up to school, and Xie Cai Xia and I proceeded to a different area so I could get my haircut; quite the bargain at 15 yuan or less than US $2 before I head to European prices. When I returned to school we worked on finalizing the Amazon.com order that the teachers wanted to get, as they have great plans to improve the English curriculum and have explained to me so many times that they can’t get the kind of books that I brought with me. Their dedication and excitement about it is genuinely inspiring.

Class today was good with a great deal of goodbyes, and tonight I’m getting ready to go to Ali Baba’s for my last night with the other foreign teachers. It’s strange for me to think about leaving all of this soon.

I’ll get back to a normal schedule of showering, not wearing the same clothes repeatedly, etc., but I won’t have the pink glow outside my window at night, or the smell of snow that reminds me of Colorado, and I won’t have the voices of all the little ones here at school. This place has been so many different things to me during my time here.