Ever-present PR

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http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-shia-labeouf-art-installation-i-am-sorry-iamsorry-20140211,0,1697752.story#axzz2tGFxVgIt

PR is something I had only ever thought about in respect to organizations (or celebrities like Shia “I am not famous anymore” Lebeouf,) getting themselves out of a sticky situation. I always imagined the PR person as someone you would call in extreme situations, someone who was your last resort to save face. Now, in recognizing that PR is a smaller part of a greater plan and something that organizations are constantly working at, when I began looking at a major news publication, the lines between “news” and “features” became blurred. 

 

There were obvious fruits of press releases like the New York Times’ “Paul Taylor Dance Company to Begin Lincoln Center Run With $6 Tickets,” in which the PEG of the article is the title, almost word-for-word. The dance company is celebrating its 60-year anniversary and so it is selling tickets to its special performance for $6. The article was three paragraphs and looks as if the writer did nothing to change what the Paul Taylor Dance Company sent over in its press release. Based on what we heard from Ramesh in class today, I’m inclined to believe that someone at the Paul Taylor Dance Company has a relationship with the writer and that the writer did NOT want to get stuck with a story about the weather so they just published press release it as it came!

 

That article was my warm-up. Upon some brow furrowing, I seem to have stumbled on a better PR piece, the New York Times’, “A Loan Extends Museums’ Global Reach.” With the Frick’s recent success coming off of exhibiting star artworks, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and “The Goldfinch,” the Frick is, in the spirit of reciprocity, lending some if its Flemish masterpieces to the Mauritshuis in the The Hague, its “sister institution.” 

 

Although the article seemed to have multiple different PEGs, the primary PEG was that this was the first time the Frick’s would exhibit in Europe. A secondary PEG was the fact that the Frick’s first European exhibition would come upon the heels of the Mauritshuis’s “2-year renovation and expansion.” And the final PEG was kind of the “what’s next” for the Frick as it is coming off such a successful exhibition. The article featured quotes from directors of both institutions, the Frick’s organizational history, and provided some information on upcoming exhibitions at the Frick. While the article was more in-depth than the Paul Taylor article, it seemed like an unfocused mishmash of info on the Frick. From this article I got the impression that the writer tried to combine two-separate press releases into one story.

 

Upon reading both articles, some things have been affirmed: develop relationships with writers so that they are publishing your stories, make sure to provide the writers with as much information as you can or the writers want, and PR people are not just helping people who #arentfamousanymore, they’re also helping arts organizations get the word out.

 

Final Semester Finish Line

With the last luxurious 2 month vacation over, it was time to face my final semester. Upon receiving my schedule (a couple days before teaching, true to Chinese form) I noticed I would be spending the homestretch with the same students I had taught for the previous 4 months. This elicited a simultaneous smile and groan. I already have relationships with these students (for the most part) and they are comfortable with my expectations and familiar with my style, but bad because it meant teaching a troublesome group of 20-something students again and not being able to recycle as many lesson plans as I had had the pleasure of doing the following 2 semesters. In all fairness though, it has seemed to me that the positives have outweighed the negatives.

I wanted to take a selfish approach with my students this semester and do things in class that interest me. I spent the first 3 weeks focusing on visual arts, which I thought would bore the students who are so infatuated with pop culture, but instead I believe they took interest in it because I was truly enthusiastic about it. We’ve also spent some time focusing on music, and will finish strong with my already developed movie lesson plans.

I have also asked the students to take more ownership in their roles as students by implementing peer teaching. Not only has this made my life much easier, it has also acted as a way to reflect upon my teaching style and how the students interpret that as many of them have mirrored me. This experience has been great for them because many of them will go on to teach, but it’s also been an opportunity for them to take their education into their own hands by letting them provide the content. I don’t know why I didn’t do this any sooner, but at least I’m experiencing it now with students whom I trust to excel.

With the recognition that this experience has always had an expiration date, things have become much more tangible now that I know my future plans back home and my close-of-service date. On June 20th I will say goodbye to Fuling and to my community. This acknowledgement has made life both harder and easier. There are still things I hope to accomplish in my final semester, but there are also so many things I’ve kind of let fall off. Currently, I am not trying to forge or seek out new relationships, but instead spend time on the ones that have been sustained throughout these (almost) 2 years. Also, if I don’t have a connection with a class (like my troublemakers) I am not trying to win their respect, I am simply teaching the lessons. I am also not afraid to call them out, make them realize their actions affect their classmates, and put a little fear in ’em (which I realize is not wrong and I should have done sooner). These things have been freeing and have given me the chance to focus on personal endeavors.

My personal projects for the semester include; a Foreign Film Festival, a mural of the US which will feature the names and years of all volunteers who have served here on their home states for our drab office/English Resource Center, an international art exchange, and a recycled art project for Earth Day. These are all things that are going to make my final months with the students special and busy! Right now I have reached a point where the finish line is so close that it has become such a challenge to focus on the present. I am excited about my homecoming and my future, but I have been actively trying to remember that once I cross that finish line, that’s it…it’s over.

Vacation < Post Vacation

We have lift-off!

Upon the completion of my business, I was Malaysia bound. Me and the folks I was traveling with hadn’t really done any research on Malaysia other than the cost to fly there. We had a place to stay when we arrived, but beyond that- there were no decisions about the shape our trip would take.

We spent about 3 days in Kuala Lumpur waiting for a friend from the States to join up with us (see her Malaysian blog post here). Upon her arrival, we hightailed it out of KL and on to greener and more scenic spots! We went to a place called Cameron Highlands, then to Georgetown, where our group broke off and S & I headed to Langkawi, and then back to China.

In China we ended up in Hangzhou. We stayed there for about 2 days then took a 300 km/h train to Shanghai, where we spent about 4 days, including Spring Festival.

Vacation was pretty incredible- but getting back to site meant serious realizations. Not only the awareness that vacation was over and work was about to begin again, but the cognizance that this is my last semester teaching and serving in the Peace Corps.

4 months of work = 2 months of vacation

The end of last semester ended up being flooded with events, tasks, and your general flurry of to-do’s before you go on vacation. I had planned on going on an encompassing vacation which would provide me relief from the bone-deep cold of China in January and would also allow me to revel in the biggest holiday in China while in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in China, Shanghai. With recognition that this is possibly the very last time in my entire life that I would be able to have no responsibilities for 2 solid months and just be free to putz around, which meant working vigorously during the semester so that I could take every opportunity to simply vacation.

The Fall semester is always the busiest one. There are so many notable American holidays crammed in that semester that you end up spending tons of time not only teaching your students about these "festivals" but also putting them in action so your students can grasp on to cultural traditions.

My site mate was a big Halloween fan (me, not so much) and so we had a Halloween party- which included bobbing for apples, a costume contest (mostly masks), and generic party games like a mummy wrap and "pin the wart on the witch." On the eve of our Halloween party, which we had been planning for at least a month, we had been notified by our department that there would be a speech competition and we would be the honored judges. Of course. We told our wonderful department secretary- "We’ve kind of got this party planned for 7 and we need to set up and such prior to 7." She replied with widened eyes and said "Oh, ummm, the speech competition should be over at 6." "Well, how many contestants are there?" "I think 17." Yeah, it seemed dinner would not be an option for us.

Upon completion of our honorable position as judges for CCTV’s annual speech competition, we headed home to grab our costumes and rushed back to party central. Upon our arrival at party central, the Ayi (aunt) who is in charge of the building where we had booked the room, scowled and told us she gave our room away to another group. We were quite literally, left out in the cold. Because of this surly Ayi, our party ended up being a free-wheeling event outside, right in front of her building. Sorry Ayi, but you can’t shake a couple of determined American’s and throngs of Chinese students who are ready to have an American style party! It ended up being a success (although we did not get to show our scary movie- thanks again, Ayi) and it seemed the students enjoyed themselves.

Fresh off of Halloween, there was Thanksgiving. I didn’t end up doing anything with mass amounts of students for Thanksgiving, but had dinner with one and headed off to be devoured by English-hungry college students at the Thursday night staple- English Corner.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my site mate and I where whisked away by the Department of Foreign Affairs for a weekend in Wushan. Wushan is an area where there is a mountain with famed red leaves and still yet, the Min-mini 3 Gorges! This was December and we were going to be spending our weekend on a river. I was definitely excited to be going on an all expenses paid trip and to be seeing something that I didn’t even know existed. I crammed my winter-warmies into my small weekend suitcase (which still ended up being exponentially more than any of the Chinese people had brought with them) and waited for the bus. Our weekend was complete with a huge variety of boats, a goddess greeting peak, mah-jiang, an exploration of the ‘world’s best oranges’ in Fengjie, and a Chinese foot massage (not for the weak, or giggly Americans).

Upon our arrival back home, it was Christmas time! The semester was 2 weeks from being over and our Christmas party was on the horizon. Like last year, I opted to make my Listening and Speaking final performances of interpretations of classic traditional Christmas stories. The best performance from each class would be headlining the Christmas party, which they love and helps saves me from facilitating activities with huge numbers of excited, sugar riddled Chinese college students. There were games; a decorate the Christmas tree relay race, pass the apple without using your hands relay race (people give out apples for Christmas in China because the word for apple and Christmas are similar), a Christmas taboo game, and a performance by their 2 foreign teachers. Our Christmas song was the 12 days of Christmas tailored to Yangtze Normal University. It was a big hit.

Meantime, I was furiously working on college applications for grad school.

With the parties over, the grades submitted, and the graduate applications completed, it was finally time for holiday.

An Old Friend

Agreeing to 2 years of life abroad for service with the Peace Corps was definitely a gamble. I knew there were things I’d miss out on while living abroad helping developing communities. I so far have missed out on a friend’s wedding, a birth, a couple of engagements, and your general year to year activities like birthdays and holidays. Leaving behind a healthy 12 year old dog was also a risk, but one I felt confident taking knowing that she would be in the best care with my Mom.

Roxanne was a gift for my 15th birthday. I wanted a dog of my own, and since my Mom had always loved pets, my wish was granted. When we went to pick her up, she was the smallest of her litter and had irritated pink skin with sores induced by the premature flea dip the breeders gave her. Regardless, her scrappy attitude shone through and she came with us to her "forever home."

Roxanne adjusted to her new life with us fast. She felt comfortable, which elicited bad behavior most of the time and she often took liberties, she liked to push the limits. Although stubborn and independent, she was also charismatic and kind. One of Roxanne’s defining characteristics was that she loved babies of any kind, human, dog, cat- whatever the species, she wanted to care for it. Her maternal instincts led to the nickname "Nana" because she was like Nana from Peter Pan, always fretting over the children. Nana raised two litters of puppies and one litter of kittens. She was wholly devoted to both and her mothering of the kittens yielded a cat who believed he was a dog.

Nana came with me to college and beyond, but she wasn’t able to make the trip with me to China. She returned home with my Mom where she could lay in front of the fire and rule the roost as the senior-most dog. I received frequent updates, all of which were that she was healthy, although her old age was taking a toll of her sight and hearing. With an urgent text message from my mom today, I signed on to skype only to hear that Roxanne is no longer with us. She had a couple of strokes, the first of which didn’t stymy her too much, but the second was less kind. After the second stroke she was having complications breathing. My mom stayed with her, half expecting her to go own her own. Of course, Roxanne’s constitution would not cede and so with her breathing getting worse and worse over the course of a day, my mom took her to be euthanized.

This news shouldn’t come as a shock or surprise, she was old and I decided to leave for 2 years with hopes she would remain. It still hurts. Knowing that she won’t be at home when I return is something that I’m having a hard time even beginning to grasp. Not being able to rub her belly again or call out her name with excitement, curiosity, or authority are things not equatable with home. The trouble with pets is that they become such a huge part of your life, but accompany you through so little of it.

To an old friend: your place in my heart will live on.

North by Northeast

After summer project, it was time for vacation. Of course, I had already been free from work obligations from June 10th to July 10th. However, now that I was officially DONE with PC requirements, all of China was my stomping ground. We had quite an ambitious trip itinerary, but it was seemingly doable.

We had been planning on going to the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia (IM) for some time. This was something that my travel cohorts and I had been postering since last October. We went casually to get our tickets along with another volunteer who needed to buy his train ticket to his summer project. There is only one 40 hour train from Chengdu to Hohhot. It suddenly made sense to me why my students with hometowns in Inner Mongolia always, ALWAYS go to Beijing to get to their homes in IM when the lady at the ticket counter said "meidei" (Chongqing’s delightful local dialect for "meiyou"= we don’t have that). Ugh. This was all to familiar to what we encountered last time we tried to put this plan in action. There was no way we would be going to IM on a 40 hour hard seat. No thanks! The friend that we were with suggested trying some different routes, specifically from Chongqing to Xian and then Xian to Hohhot.

We weren’t ready to give up yet, so instead we pushed back our trip dates, went to the train ticketing office 10 days in advance right when they opened, in fact before they opened, at 7:45. As we approached the counter with positive energy and a back up plan, we were instantly denied. Man. Will this ever happen?! We put our back-up plan into action and got tickets from Chongqing to Xian. Of course, the train we got was non-air conditioned, but we had beds. Next step was getting tickets from Xian to Hohhot- guess what…still no beds! Okay, time to regroup across the street over a cup of Mickey-D’s coffee, which would not be the last time over the course of our travels.

At this point we felt defeated and decided we should just suck it up and look for flights into Hohhot. And so the beginning of our transportation calamities began.

We found good deals on flights from Xian to Hohhot and snatched them up ASAP. It looked like our original itinerary from Chongqing to Hohhot would now have a stop over in Xian. This was a fairly positive development since, hey, Xian is a pretty important historical city in China and now I’d be getting to see it too!

We spent a couple of days in Xian eating delicious Muslim food (including one of the best sandwiches I have ever had in my life) and generally milling about the Muslim area. We decided that it was best not to go and see the terracotta warriors since it would be an expensive day trip and lies about 2 hours outside of the city. Instead we took it upon ourselves to walk almost the entire city wall, which we did. Although there was rain, it was a nice little stop over and, hey, look at that, I’ve been to Xian!

City Wall, Xi'An

Some Terracotta Solider's on the Wall, Xi'An.


We got on a shuttle to the airport, boarded an airplane, experienced some turbulence and emerged in dry Hohhot.

We had arranged someone from the hostel to pick us up. He greeted us at the airport and led the procession to the ride to our accommodations. Now, from the looks of things, it seems like the Hohhot International airport doesn’t get a whole lot of coming and going. The parking lot was huge and for the most part, empty. However, the lack of a sea of cars didn’t seem to help our frazzled driver find his ride. We marched around the seemingly empty parking lot for close to 10 minutes before this guy found the car. A prelude to the inability of the hostel owners to be efficient.

Walking into the hostel was a strange scene. There were, no exaggeration, 3 other guests there. They put us in our room, complete with handmade 2×4 bunk beds and walls plastered with calendar pictures of horses. My friend and I felt a little unnerved by the location of our room, the strange crowd, and the lack of any other options in terms of lodging. We dropped our stuff off and went out to the front room. The 2 lackeys running the joint decided that since it was such a small crowd they would take us all with them to go out to a local bar that has live Mongolian music. We all joined because, well, if we hadn’t we would have been left there alone to essentially manage the place, and my friend L thought this a great opportunity for vacation weirdness.

While walking to the bar we chatted with some of the guests who were both really amazing. One was from Hong Kong and the other from California, both were volunteer teachers with one year contracts. They were really interested in what we were doing as Peace Corps volunteers and so we had some common ground. As I was engaging in conversation, I was also keeping track of our path just in case I would want to drag my weary self back to the hostel sooner rather than later. Dao le (we arrived)!

We descended (yes, the place was underground) into the essentially empty bar. We sat at a table and felt obliged to order something since all eyes were on us. Our table had a tambourine on it and it was passed around to all the guests. We took turns, some more enthusiastically than others, playing along to not only Mongolian music, but also to renditions of Tom Jones’ "Sex Bomb." Conversation was limited due to the demands of the performers that the audience (us) pay attention. Finally people were tired and the performers decided it was quittin’ time, so we got outta there and headed back to our hostel. Mid-point our responsible hostel-keeps decided they wanted to continue the evening without a motley crew of foreigners following them so they asked us "You know the way back?" Affirmative. They threw us the keys to the place and we were on our way. We let ourselves in and headed to bed.

Our time in IM was pretty good, but let’s just say this place is not a hot-spot. We often had trouble finding food and there just wasn’t a whole lot you could do without the assistance of tour-guides. We thought about leaving for Beijing early, however, when we got to the train station they meiyou-ed us again. We had planned to take an overnight to Beijing, get a sleeper on the train so we wouldn’t have to pay for lodging for a night (poverty-stricken!) and were denied. We took the next best thing which was a 12 hour day train to Beijing on a hard seat. With the end of our time in IM in sight, we did some awesome (and a little pricey) things like going to the grasslands to stay in a yurt, riding Mongolian horses, and seeing the un-cared for Great Wall between IM and Shaanxi province.

Wall between Shaanxi & Inner Mongolia

The Deserted Horse Racing Track, Hohhot

My overall impression of IM was that it is incredibly beautiful, the people are much milder than those who inhabit "spicy" Chongqing, and that it’s being damaged because resources are currently being extracted by the government.

Grassland Accommodations, Inner Mongolia

Yurt Alert! Inner Mongolia

Next stop: Beijing! Since we had spent more money in IM than initially expected, we figured we’d do "Beijing on a budget", which was entirely possible and pretty awesome. But…first we had to get there.

We had been warned, during our initial training that the busiest travel season was during Spring Festival. They failed to mention how insane the month of August also is. Our train arrived at the station and along with droves of other people we made our way to the platform. It didn’t seem so bad on the platform, but this was not the originating destination, it was just a stop along the way. The train was already teeming with people, most of whom were standing. The people at the station did not want to wait for everyone to cram on the train, so they began pushing us on. As the train started moving, me and my friend, M were shoved in the train and they had to push M’s bag in extra hard so they could close the doors.

It took us 20 minutes to make our way to our seats, at which point we found them already occupied by two old people. We told the two that they were in our seats and then received sad, expectant eyes from them. We asked them to move, which they begrudgingly did, and we took our seats. The old man (whom we referred to as Grandpa) began busting out the snacks, complete with baijiu, and a processed hard boiled egg. At one point, he took off his shoes to climb up on the back of the seat to stand. I guess he wanted to stretch his legs? It was bizarre, but the train was so obscenely full that there was no other place to stand.

Later in our journey, we were joined by a belligerent drunk guy. He wanted to sit, so he just took his seat without any regard for the person already sitting in that seat. He smelled something awful of baijiu. Even Grandpa knew this guy was beyond the point of return and promptly stowed his baijiu away when it is commonplace to share one’s spirits on a train. The guy all of the sudden, dropped his head down and began heaving. M and I jumped up on our seats in anticipation of lots of baijiu infused vomit. He ended up just heaving for awhile and emitting lots of spit and snot from his person. Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised, but also hoping he would disembark prior to Beijing. Lucky enough for us, he did end up reaching his stop fairly soon. We encountered some more characters, if you will, on our long journey. In fact, I have never had so many characters on one train prior to that point and since.

When we finally arrived we made our way to our accommodations in one of Beijing’s famous hutongs. With a little confusion and a lot of help from a friendly passerby we got to the place. We settled in and then went out to drink beers on someone’s stoop. Our trip was full of free/price friendly events such as, Tiananmen Square, the Olympic Village, the 798 Art District, and BICYCLES!

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

The Bird's Nest, Beijing

At this point M’s sister joined us and they were going to stay in Beijing for a little while longer than the rest of us while L, B, and myself were going to head over to Qingdao. Our train tickets to Qingdao were purchased in IM and were for an overnight standing ticket. It was all they had and we were determined to make beer festival. We got to the train station in Beijing, purchased collapsible stools and shuffled with the masses to the platform. That train ride was really stressful at first because again, there were so many people crammed on to the train that there was no way to move. I got separated from L and B, began freaking out and texted L. L and B enlisted some friendly train people to literally pull me through the crowds so that I could join them in their cubby. We set up camp by putting our little stools down and the rest of the train ride was fairly uneventful.

We arrived in Qingdao, beautiful, beautiful Qingdao to find out that beer festival does not start on Friday, but instead on Saturday. We were bummed, but managed to catch up on some rest, some personal hygiene and check out the infamous beer street where we enjoyed what L dubbed "sippy cups" of Qingdao’s dark beer.

Tsing Tsao Brewery, Qingdao

The next day we got off to an early start as B had to leave later that afternoon to go back to Chengdu. We arrived at Qingdao’s International Beer Festival and began our marathon. The beer was pretty pricey and what was surprising was that Tsing Tao was the most expensive beer at the festival. We went from tent to tent (another strange thing was that you cannot take the beer out of the tents) drinking whatever was the cheapest brew available, which at points was an awesome Belgium or German beer. B had to leave to catch her 2:30 pm train, so L and I were left to continue on in her spirit!

Let us drink from the cup, Qingdao

This is where things really began to take a downhill turn. We were having a wonderful time and had met some expats from the likes of Hong Kong and Beijing and settled in the Tiger tent drinking with them. I stepped away for a moment and when I returned, I was met with a wide-eyed and upset L. Her purse, which had been sitting right next to her the entire time, was taken. Okay, that’s bad, but what’s worse is that her passport was in the purse. Fortunately, the people we were with were incredible and so helpful. One of the guys had an international calling plan so L was able to cancel her bank cards immediately. The more amazing thing was that we were with a girl and her boyfriend who was both fluent in Chinese and English and they both accompanied us to the police station. She was with us for at least an hour helping L file a police report. When we finished, we bid them farewell and decided it best to head back to the hostel. We got a taxi and the cab ride was 40 RMB, I paid, the guy gave me the wrong change back, I called him out on it, he gave me some more back. It was dark and so I walked over to a more well-lit area only to realize he STILL had not given me the right change back. I then proceeded to chase after his cab trying to get him to stop. It seemed like a good idea at the time, L’s purse had just been stolen and now this crummy cabby was also ripping us off. Of course, he didn’t stop.

L had spoken to our Safety and Security Officer at the Peace Corps and he told her that we would need to go to the police headquarters on Monday so that L could get some official form she would need to get another passport from the consulate. We had a day to spare so we went to the beach and had two of the most delicious meals I have ever had in China, the first consisting of huge baozi filled with mushrooms, leeks and vermicelli and the second meal consisting of seafood barbeque.

Qingdao

On Monday, we had planned to go to Dalian by boat, but now we had this much more important task to take care of. We got up early, headed to the police station where we were met by the most surly, unhelpful officers ever. They kept us there for 3 hours. At one point they told L she had to stay in Qingdao for 3 days so they could do a background check on her. Obviously unacceptable, so we called up our amazing Safety and Security Officer, he set things straight after a whole lot of yelling and "Ni ting, wo shou"s (you listen, I speak). We were finally out of this place and on to the next one. It was really terrible that our time in Qingdao was so stressful because it is an incredibly beautiful city with so much delicious food and we weren’t able to enjoy it to the fullest.

Upon pre-trip research we found that the bus from Qingdao to Yantai (where you board the ferry to Dalian) was only a 2.5 hour ride long. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong! We got on the bus, harried from our time at the police station and settled for what was to be a quick jaunt to Yantai. 5 hours later we arrived in Yantai. We had hoped to get on one of the early ferries from Yantai to Dalian, but due to our substantial bus ride, had to board a ferry at 9 pm.

We purchased the tickets, seats (we didn’t get sleepers most likely due to the sub-par travel accommodations, which at this point we had become accustomed to, and I think we were just so jazzed to even get a seat with the way our luck had been with previous tickets. This is one of my biggest regrets from the trip, those little cabins were super kitsch) and waited to board. We headed down to steerage with all of the other thrifty travelers and were quite pleased with our surroundings. The seats were big, we were right by a porthole, and there was an on board movie which kept our presence as the only foreigners on the boat fairly under wraps. As the night progressed the excitement of this new form of transportation wore off and we began to get cold and sleepy. We went up to the deck, both L and I, and in a state of exhaustion laid down head to head and went to sleep on the floor of the boat. I think it’s safe to say that for L and I, it was rock bottom. At one point L woke up to wish me a happy birthday. Yes, I spent my 28th birthday sleeping on the deck of the Bo Hai Jin Zhu while sailing the South China Sea.

Sailing across the South China Sea, Yantai

We finally docked around 4 am in Dalian as zombie versions of ourselves.

Prior in the day, while on the bus, I received a text from M, who had arrived in Dalian with her sister and was going to meet us there. Our approach for lodging on this multi-legged trip had been for each person cover a leg. I was responsible for the Dalian leg and chose the hostel that was closest to the beach, made reservations via email at least a month in advance and gotten a confirmation-toned email reply from them. Well, apparently it was not a confirmation because the message from M was that they were out of beds and the ill-equipped folks at the hostel settled on charging us the dormitory rate while housing us in the employee dormitory. This room, without a door, only a beaded entry way was stocked full of stuff, hoarders style including things such as; a box of carrots under one of the beds, drying sheets, tons of papers taped to the wall; and also featured some things like a sleeping ayi sans pants and random cats. Well, L and I arrived there only to wake up the sleeping ayi and misplace her from one of our beds. I know 50 RMB isn’t a lot, but shouldn’t it only be 25 if I have to share my bed with someone?

In an agitated, Lesley Gore type state I went to deal with the hostel people. At this point I was maybe not the most culturally sensitive and took the American approach by telling them they could either charge us less for our current accommodations, find us an equally priced room elsewhere, or give us the room that they promised us. They found some really wonderful Chinese guests who agreed to stay in the employee dormitory and we moved into a room with a proper door.

The whole reason we had gone to Dalian was because its supposed to be a really nice beach city and its supposed to be one of the most livable cities in China. Well, it was raining all day. There was some big storm which was blasting the entire east coast of China, Dalian included. Since it was definitely not going to be a beach day, L and I decided to brave the train station to see about getting back to Chongqing. Having been chewed up and spit out over the course of the trip, we went into ticket buying with trepidation and some alternate routes. We got up to the counter (there was a surprisingly short line) and were denied all of our requests. Swear to god, if I never have to hear meiyou in a train station again it will be a day too soon. We decided our best option was to take the day train back to Beijing on a hard seat and once we got to Beijing we’d work it out.

The next day in Dalian ended up being a really terrific beach day and we took full advantage of that. At this point, S had joined us (who was delayed in Beijing at the airport for 2 days and one night because of this same storm). He is an excellent Chinese speaker and reader of Chinese, so courtesy of S’s Chinese level, we had another delicious meal and called it a night. Our time in Dalian was up and so L and I headed back to the train station.

Dalian to Beijing was uneventful, so to speak. We got in super late, made last minute reservations at a hostel that was cool with L’s whole no passport thing. Our game plan was to wake up early and get to a bus station that we knew had a bus running from Beijing to somewhere in Sichuan. We got there at 7 am and upon talking to the ticket lady she told us the bus went to a place in Sichuan that we had never before heard of. Since Sichuan is a large province we declined that ticket to heaven-knows-where, China and opted to go back to the train station for some more rejection.

We got in line, got up to the counter and the woman at the counter (who spoke English!) told us there were no immediate tickets to Chongqing and the soonest tickets available were for a standing ticket in 3 days. Beijing round 2! We snatched up the tickets and then it was round 2 of centering ourselves at Mickey-D’s! We went across the street to Mickey-D’s to get some coffee and work out the whole "place to stay" thing. We found a place to stay and to our surprise it was in the same hutong we were in the first go ’round.

We rested, gorged ourselves, met some interesting people, and generally physically and mentally prepared ourselves for our 26 hour standing ticket back to CQ. I don’t think we left the hutong once while we were there. It was just what we needed.

All too soon we were back on the train to Chongqing. We had a nice little spot next to the boarding doors. The only problem with that spot was that when we would pull into a station we would occasionally have to get up so more people could get on. Our travel cohorts were friendly, had our backs, and were so miserable that they didn’t even notice we were foreigners with standing tickets (which can be a real shock for most Chinese train travelers). In fact, on this train, around hour 22 someone took my collapsible stool while I stepped outside for a moment to get some fresh air and one of our train buddies gave me his stool to replace mine! Good people.

We finally arrived back in Chongqing. Needless to say, I rested for a couple of days at L’s house then made way back home via bus.

To summarize, our transportation consisted of; 1 non air-conditioned sleeper, one flight, 2 day time hard seats, Mongolian horses, bicycles, 2 overnight trains with no seats, a unexpectedly long bus ride, a ferry across the South China Sea, and a reasonable bus ride back to Fuling. A transportation sampler is what I like to call it.

The trip was actually really wonderful and so ambitious. We got to see such a different side of China then what we’re used to at our little Peace Corps sites. Even still, 4 months later I can’t say that I’d do it again, but can’t help feeling that I’ve earned my travel badge. And, sometimes I still dream about one meal I had in each of those cities.

Pleasure, Business, Pleasure

The semester ended after a short 16 week stint. It was the perfect time too because my Mom came to see for herself that I wasn’t making this stuff up. She got to come to my last week of classes with me where she amazed & entertained my students with photographs, q&a time, and her signature laugh. It was great having her here to see what life has been like for the past year. We didn’t do too much, she kind of just wanted to be a fly on the wall. I felt that it was necessary for her to meet a shifu, take a train, and have hotpot (oh yeah, and she also wanted to see the pandas): the true Chinese experience.

Upon her sad and surprisingly unexpected departure ("Really, Mom? You’re sure you don’t want to stay?"), I came back to a stifling and empty apartment only to wait for my next assignment.

Every summer in between the first year and the last year, China PCVs have something called "summer project." This is a mandatory part of our service that we must fulfill. It entails us going to a small city within our respective provinces and teaching teachers about methodologies we use in our classrooms. The Chinese education system focuses on teacher-centric techniques, so although these people have been teaching for a lot longer than us, we employ student-centric teaching styles in our summer project classrooms to hopefully illicit some new educational approaches they can take home. This year it was going to be different for all of us Chongqingers, we were all going to the same location and the teachers were coming to us. We had chosen levels of teachers and teaching partners we wanted to work with during this 2 week hiatus from vacation.

While sitting alone in my apartment, I received a phone call from my Program Manager. She told me that my teaching partner’s school would be beginning a teacher’s training program and that her school wanted to begin this pilot program this summer. My teaching partner of course agreed to this & now I was being asked to join her. Details were slim, but I happily accepted and returned to staring at the wall.

When things were more flushed out, we found that we would not be teaching techniques, but instead teaching Oral English, American Culture, and later Listening. The goal of this summer project was to help to improve the teachers English, so we would be doing what we always do. This news was well received, it meant- no lesson planning!! Or so we thought.

Classes of teachers were divided into 2: those who could speak English at a pretty high level, and those who had almost entirely NO grasp of English. Yikes! Looks like lesson modification is in order! Our schedules were far from intense, we taught about 4 hours each day and had 3 scheduled days off. It was a 10 day haul, but we preferred that. We were still in the city center and had hoped that in those leisure days we could go into the city.

As always, things are never as expected and we ended up taking on an additional class which meant no days off at all. At this point in summer project, we had really bonded with our classes (especially our non-English speakers who had so much enthusiasm for learning English and were such good sports about participating, helping each other out, and really pushing themselves), so it was no problem. It also helped that we saw such great improvement in their skills and in the meantime, they had been taking our teaching styles and thinking about ways they could integrate them into their own classrooms (with subjects like nutrition, math, art, computer science, etc.).

At the end of our stint at this vocational school I was tired but really energized by those teachers that were so receptive to us, English, and new tactics for the classroom. Energized, but nonetheless ready for vacation.