Archive for April, 2012

The Tourist Bubble

Monday, April 30th, 2012

The picture you see to your right is a representation of what one would encounter if they decided to visit the most

popular sights in the city on a holiday. You would inevitably run into hordes and hordes of people on the street, on the train, on the bus, in the bathroom, virtually any place in the city would be swarmed with tourists and locals who have the day off. Today and tomorrow are bank holidays here, in celebration of Labor Day. If I’m not mistaken this is the equivalent of a federal holiday in the states, which means unless you are one of the unlucky few who happens to work at a place that sells things you have two days off.

I was sitting in my room today, bored out of my mind and I decided I might as well step out and venture into the city and visit the major sites, all of which I have so far neglected to visit. First, I underestimated how hot it is outside today as soon as I stepped out into the sun I thought to myself, “I wonder how long I’ll be able to force myself to amble aimlessly in this unbearable weather”, my answer would come 45 minutes later, but I’m getting ahead of the story. I took the metro towards Staromestska, which is close to the Old Town Square, I’ve been there before but hadn’t participated in the whole “touristy” thing. In the end, I decided that maybe it would be better to go across the river and explore completely uncharted territory. I got off instead at the Malostranska stop and took a tram to Namesti Malostranska (Malostranska Square). Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the amount of tourists I saw and heard all around me. I noticed a lot more Czech school kids who were out and about (how could I forget that they get the day off of school, too?) families with babies and huge awkward strollers abounded all over. I looked around and thought, “I’m not feeling this”. I settled for grabbing some goulash soup in a bread bowl at a nearby cafe and promptly headed home, the Charles Bridge could wait for me to conquer it some other time. Besides, I saw some pictures my friend took of when she went to the bridge at dawn and it looked so beautiful and serene. I think I would enjoy having it all to myself and watching the sunrise, than sharing it at three in the afternoon with a bunch of hot, sweaty tourists.

Tomorrow, one of my professors at school is taking us on a “field trip”, we’re meeting at the Old Town Square and walking around Prague to see if we can find any protests or demonstrations…not that we’re not warned about staying away from political demonstrations while abroad or anything, right?

In any case, at the bottom of this post are a few photos I took today…enjoy. Please note the crowds and babies, I am not exaggerating!

IMAG2508 IMAG2500 IMAG2502 IMAG2503 IMAG2505 IMAG2507 IMAG2511

Em in Asia! 2012-04-30 00:09:35

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Today at lunch we ate churros. I asked the teachers next to me what they call them in Korean, and apparently they’re called “churros.”

Today is an exceptionally boring day.


Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Midterms are next week. I just walked past a 3rd grade homeroom and all of the boys were standing up in columns, with their hands on each other’s backs, doing a giant group back massage.

By the way, I went ahead and removed the names of my current and previous school from all aspects of this blog. While I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve written, I would like a little more free reign and thus that means being a little more careful.

Have a good week!

 ALL IS Well.

Expect the Unexpected

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

This weekend I was supposed to travel to the beautiful city of Venice, Italy and spend a long weekend traveling across the region and maybe even visit the beach. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control (ok, well partly out of my control) I was forced to forfeit my trip and any visions of me eating gelato on a water taxi. I would have been more upset by the way these events unfolded if it had not been for the fact that I had a final the morning my flight was set to take off. While, I welcome the opportunity to travel, skipping a final is completely unacceptable (stay in school kids!) and so on Thursday morning I took my final exam and brainstormed what to do with all the extra time I would have doing nothing in Prague. I’m lucky because at UMW I never find myself troubled with TOO much extra time, it just does not happen, something else that does not happen is pleasant 80° F weather in Prague.  So in essence, if there was one weekend to stay in Prague this one would be it. It seemed like out of nowhere the flowers bloomed, the trees sprouted leaves and the world was filled with color, I think I even saw the native Czechs walk around……smiling?! Even though I was forced to give up one of my most coveted trips at least all my accumilated good karma resulted in incredible weather for exploring a city that I learn to love (or cope with, same thing right?) more everyday.

We don’t have a party

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Today with twenty minutes left in class I gave 2.10 some independent study time because they have their midterms next week. As they silently studied, the minutes ticked away, and I worked on my Korean journal. With ten minutes left to go, I hear a whisper from the middle of the room.

“Teacher. In America, do students study like this? Do they have a party?” He paused, shook his head, and sadly whispered “We don’t have a party…”

At this point the entire class bursts out laughing.

I then closed my journal, and explained my general high school life, that I went to school from 7:25 until 2:15 (cue sighs of envy) but then after school I did band, and I had a part-time job. I mentioned that while I studied significantly less, I also had a lot of other activities I was doing, and I was in the higher-level classes. I also explained how in college I would study a lot, and had a study schedule similar to theirs and a part-time job. Surprisingly at this point, I had the entire attention of the class - more so than during the review game we had played earlier.

“Teacher, in high school… boyfriend? Did you have?”

I explained that I had had two boyfriends and gave their names (by the way if either of you are reading this, then they think that your names are cool – especially my first boyfriend’s last name).

“Teacher, in college did you have a boyfriend?”

I explained that in college I had had two more boyfriends (no names given this time).

“Teacher, now, do you have a boyfriend?”
“You liar.”
“Look at my fingers, guys, no boyfriend.”
“That is bad.”
“WHAT? Why is it bad?”
“You should get married. If you are married, then your parents will not worry.”
“Hah, no, I’m too young to marry.”


“TEACHERRRRRR – How old are you?”
“… That’s still a secret.”

Things I’ve been up to lately (instead of writing on this blog)

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

I’ve been teaching! I tried out a couple of different schools and ended up with a part time job at a program I really love. It’s a training center, so kids come on weekends and in the evenings to supplement their English classes in school. (This is really typical for Chinese children to take many additional classes and lessons in their free time.) The classes are a lot of fun. I’ll have a regular class on Saturday of 6 kids around 10 years old, and then a one-on-one tutoring session for a 13 year old girl. The girl is so sweet and really smart, so the tutoring session is more of a conversation, and then we read Babysitters Club books. No joke. It’s so much fun. The kids have crazy amounts of energy, and they’re so clever! I’m always amazed how quickly they absorb information. But the other day, I realized that while they were reading the examples in the textbook flawlessly and with correct grammer, they didn’t understand the content! For example, the lesson was on the sentence structure “wasn’t able to/weren’t able to.” The prompt was “go camping” and “windy.” All the kids could correctly make a sentence “No, they weren’t able to go camping because it was too windy!” But then I realized… they didn’t know what camping was! And only about half of them knew “windy!” So we spent a while drawing camping on the board and all the things that can go wrong when you go camping, and so on. My other big hit with them is a game I found while researching ESL tips online. One student stands in the front of the class and all the other students ask him/her questions. The student can only reply with one word: banana. To win, you can’t laugh. I wasn’t sure they’d like it, but the kids started shouting out really silly questions and dying with laughter! It was a great way to break the ice on my first class and get them shouting things in English. Their favorite question to ask me? “What’s your boyfriend’s name?” Banana.

Also, I’ve been studying! Last week was midterms. I didn’t have it too badly… my classes are so much more relaxed than actual Tsinghua students’. I found out the other day, that in the Chinese student dorms (different from the international student dorms, and way different than my awesome off-campus apartment), they actually have kind of strict regulations. The electricity shuts off at 11pm. (Can you imagine that in an American dorm?!) There are limited hours for hot water, and communal showers. There are also way more people in a room than you would think possible (sometimes I wonder if this country has fire codes and then I wonder why I bother wondering). The word that I hear a lot regarding student life is “pressure.” When I tell people I study at Tsinghua they ask me, “do you feel pressure?” And that’s also how my Chinese friend described studying over breaks… he says it’s not mandated by the teacher, but he knows all the other students will do it, so he feels the pressure to keep up with his classmates. It’s incredibly motivating, but also so stressful…. I can imagine. As I said, not feeling a ton of pressure. But I did have a writing and speaking midterm. The speaking one went pretty well… basically a conversation with my teacher. The writing one was absolutely terrible, but I feel like I was well on-par with the rest of the class. The teacher had been showing us a typical Chinese poem at the start of every class, which we thought was just a nice way to open class, learn a little culture, etc.  Um, guess he actually expected us to learn them!? On the test, he wrote excerpts from the poems (using the characters! when the words in them are usually uncommon!) and asked us to explain the meaning in Chinese! Gah! I could write it in English, no problem (representin’ that English degree!) but my Chinese is pretty limited to more concrete phrases, for example, “one beer please” and “where am I?” and not really abstract things about the meaning of sorrow or the importance of perseverance. It was a rough test.

P.S. For a taste of how the Chinese media is covering the Bo scandal…. Such an interesting perspective.


Another thing I hate about rain

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

is that all the bugs come out of the woodwork. Literally. I just watched a bug trundle across the floor of the office heading straight for my desk. A pretty big bug. I swallowed a scream, and kicked it, and it turned around and headed for another desk. The teacher’s office is practically empty, so no one saw me do it, and we’re going to pretend this never happened.


Also I looked up “like the dickens” and found out that it is not at all related to Charles (though that is a very common question) and it’s actually a euphemism for the Devil. This makes more sense now.

Em in Asia! 2012-04-24 22:00:30

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

It is raining like the dickens outside (… what does that even mean? Charles Dickens? Why are intense things associated with Dickens? Did the person who coined this even READ Great Expectations?) and students have midterms next week. It’s a weird mix of crazy and exhausted, and damp. This morning I woke up at 5 am because the shutters in my apartment building’s hallway kept banging open and shut. It’s only 10:50 and I can already tell it’s going to be a strange day.

I pointed out the window and asked my advanced 1st grade students how they would describe this weather in Korean. Interestingly enough, this seemed to stump them. After class a student came up to me with a post-it note:


- 폭풍우: 폭풍 (violent wind) + 폭우 (violent rain). * 폭: (Chinese) violent; 풍: (Chinese) wind; 우: (Chinese) wind*
- 비바람: rain (비) + wind (바람)
- 거친 (adjective) 날씨: turbulent weather. (거칠다: V, Be rough)


While students are self-studying I’ve been writing in my Korean language diary, but unfortunately when it rains that is all I can really think about, so my entry today is only about rain. I’m tempted to go up to students that are goofing off instead of studying and asking them grammar questions and making them correct my entry, but then they might see some of my weirder entries (or the ones where I talk about them), so I’ll probably just leave it be.

Anyway, onward to third period, where I’ll be teaching teenage boys right after they’ve finished an English listening test who’ve been cooped up inside during their breaks because of the rain. Let the games begin.

Em in Asia! 2012-04-24 02:59:39

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

One last post for today, to balance out the negative one earlier.

Today I met with my lunchtime conversation girls. They had chosen “Democratic Uprisings” as the topic of conversation, which is pretty hefty for a fifteen minute lunchtime conversation. I asked for clarification, as Korea’s fight for democracy has been a very very long one, and they’ve had various uprisings.

“Do you mean when Korea fought for independence against Japan, or the demonstrations against the military dictatorship in the 1980s?”
“uh, 1945 지금까지… I think we are always in the middle of a democratic uprising.”

We then talked about how they dislike president Lee Myeong Bak because he doesn’t listen to the voice of the people and keeps pushing the Four Rivers project, and how Serena’s village is on the banks of one of those rivers and the bank is slowly eroding.

In case I haven’t said it before, let me say it now – these aren’t my highest level students. In fact, they’re right about average in terms of vocabulary and grammar. However, they choose a topic, look up vocabulary ahead of time, and really put forth a lot of effort. It’s quite incredible, really, and talking to them always inspires me as a teacher and as a foreign language learner.

Today MW (the girl who sweeps under my desk and who I exchange letters with) after cleaning came up to tell me that at the end of the month she was being reassigned. Students rotate cleaning duties each month so that no one gets stuck doing the same activity for too long, so I should have been anticipating it, but I didn’t realize it and I’m sad to see her go. She told me that most likely she’d be cleaning the science classroom, and that she was sad to change. She said that talking to me was one of the best parts of her day, and because of our conversations and our letter exchange she now had TWO favorite subjects instead of previously just math – math and English. She also assured me that she’d keep writing letters.

Other people that Andrew Jackson is not…

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

He is not…

Isaac Newton
or Mozart.

(Me: Guys, this guy is an American, we only have Americans on our bills. These people you are stating are not Americans! Students: Teacher – Isaac Newton was American! Me: Noooo he was British. Students: Oh.)

Nor is he Bill Clinton.
or Obama.

Also Ulysses S. Grant is not Taft (But Teacher, Grant and Taft same! Both fat American presidents!) and Benjamin Franklin is not Gandhi.

Brought to you by class 2.4.