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Welcome one and all to my musings of life in China! I hope you can gain just a bit of insight into my life while I attempt to survive on what little Chinese I know and adjust to life on the other side of the teachers' desk. Enjoy!

Home Again, Home Again

2010 July 17
Posted by lauren.swindell

I’ve been home about a week now, and have been mulling over everything that has happened over the past year. A lot of people have asked me whether or not I had fun on this trip. Well, I don’t know if I would use the word “fun” – it certainly had it’s fun parts, but there was so much I had to learn and figure out as I went along I’d say it was more a “learning experience” (as my mom would say!) than “fun”. Even more people have asked me if I’m planning on going back. Certainly! Maybe not to Changshu or to teach, but I’d like to think I’d have a job at some point that required the occasional trip over there. I’d really hate to not use everything I’ve learned this past year.

Best of Times

- Hot Pot

- Japanese Place

- Oral English Club

-  Trips to Suzhou

- getting clothes made

- appearing in CCTV show

- cooking for my students

- meeting students at the coffee show just to chit chat

- Getting my students engaged in class discussions and debates

- Culture of English Speaking Countries Class

- Foreign Language Department Halloween Party

- being able to carry on a conversation with someone in Chinese

- Day trips to Shanghai

- exploring the back alley markets in the hutaos

- Having my own office (it made me feel pretty important, I”m not going to lie!)

- being considered tall

 And the Best of the Best of the Best was:

Students telling me they’re going to miss me next year and I made English

 fun and easy for them to learn.

More Trying Times:

- Pedicabs, bikes( traffic in general) trying to run you over all the time

- people shouting “hello!” at you constantly

- No one outside of campus speaking English

- not knowing exactly how classes were expected to be organized and timed

- the food

- the whole Beijing fiasco

- becoming one of “those”  teachers

 And the Most Trying Time was:

Dealing with cheating students and trying to get them to STOP!!!

I will always be glad I went to CIT for a year, and as I look around my room I can’t help but notice all the little knick-knacks and things I acquired while over there – whether gifts from students or the result of my own shopping spree, this year is plastered all over my walls and shelves.

And with that, I bid you all a very fond “Adieu!”

Hither and Thither

2010 July 3
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Posted by lauren.swindell

                    Tuesday Garrison, Stephen and I went to Shanghai. At first we had intended to go to the 2010 Expo, but after talking to some others who had been, we decided it just wasn’t worth it. Apparently, there is a good 2-3 hour long wait to get into each pavilion. Once inside, the exhibits were comprised mainly of photographs and a few token pieces of cultural art work. Even the restaurants in each one are supposedly sub-par. The American pavilion apparently only has a KFC and McDonalds… or maybe it was Pizza Hut, I can’t remember. Point it, nothing to get excited about. Even the Italian Pavilion is supposedly serving little more than glorified Chef Boyardee. The layout of the park is designed so that it will take you two days to tour it, even if you’re just walking around outside looking at the architecture. Anyway, Tuesday when we got to Shanghai it was again raining cats and dogs. After a quick lunch at Burger King, we took the Metro out to the stop before the Bund. Once we got off the metro we walked around a bit in what I assume was the French Concession before emerging on the Bund. For the uninitiated, the Bund is the area that is across the river from the famous Shanghai skyline. It has very European style architecture and most of it dates back to the 20’s and 30’s when Western powers were still laying claim to China. Unfortunately, because of the rain and generally nasty weather, you couldn’t even see the top half of the skyline. It was pretty disappointing, especially for Garrison and Stephen who had never seen it before. But we still walked around a good deal and generally enjoyed the day. We stopped in a mall on the main shopping drag and Garrison and Stephen got name stamps for themselves. These are reminiscent of the name stamps that used to be used by officials and scholars during dynastic times. Basically it’s a wood or stone or jade block with your name carved on the bottom. Although not in use any more, it’s still a popular tourist souvenir. I got one with my Chinese name on in 2007, but I enjoyed watching them get theirs made.

                Wednesday We went to Suzhou to pick up our clothes from the tailor. We had our last meal at TGI Friday’s, a bitter-sweet moment. After lunch the guys got their suits, and they look really good. Stephen got a black, blue, and grey. Garrison got a black, blue, grey, pinstripe, and light brown. They both also got grey pea coats.  They all look spectacular and I’m so glad we got everything done.

                Today is the official less-than-one-week-til-we-go-home marker, and I’m having a really difficult time wrapping my mind around it. Tomorrow night we’re taking Summer out to dinner at the Japanese restaurant to thank her for all of her help. Monday I give my final lecture, and apparently some of the students are planning a good-bye dinner for us. The rest of the week is packing and getting ready to head out.

Winding Down

2010 June 26
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Posted by lauren.swindell

     Everyone has officially finished with classes this week, even those classes that started a week or two later than usual. To celebrate the teachers in the Foreign Language Department got together at a hotel resteraunt last night for dinner. It was a buffet style dinner with everything from sashimi to french fries to grilled squid. It was pretty good, but in my opinion a touch over-rated. The hotel is actually a circular building. The seats for the resteraunt were aligned along the outer circumferance and revolved, giving a panaramic view of the city. It was moving slow enough that you could forget about it during the course of dinner and conversation, but fast enough that your sense of equilibrium felt off the entire night.

     Previous to dinner we went to an art show hosted by Geri to showcase the artwork of her Freshmen classes. To get to dinner on time, we had to go early before any one had really showed up, but it was good to see everyone’s work. I’ve included pictures of a few of my favorites.

   Monday we’re hoping to finalize our arrangements regarding pay and transportation to Pudong airport when we leave. We’re also taking Summer out to dinner to thank her for all of her help this year. I’m also starting to pull together all the things I am planning on leaving here. Stephen, Garrison, Geri, and I are having a “yard sale” so to speak a day or two before we head out. Just things like clothes, books, and food that our students can have after we leave. In the meantime we’re finishing our presentations for our end of the year lectures. I’m giving mine to 180 Junior students monday after next. I’m doing it on the development of women’s rights in the USA while taking a parallel look at the development of women’s fashion from 1864-present. I sincerely doubt the students find it interesting, but I guess that’s the benefit of being the  teacher!

 

And the skies opened up and God said, “I hate you, Alfalfa!”

2010 June 22
Posted by lauren.swindell

Yesterday Garrison and I left for Beijing. I’m going to go ahead and kill your suspense and just tell you flat out that we never made it. Our travel agent told us it would take about an hour to get to Nantong, the city where our train was leaving from. So Garrison and I got to the Long Distance Bus Station in Changshu at 3:30 to get a bus to Nantong. Only buses to Nantong only leave on the hour and the 4:00 bus was already filled up. No problem, so we take the 5:00 bus, get there about 6:00 and then have 45 minutes before our train is supposed to leave. Yes, cutting it a bit close, but this shouldn’t be anything detrimental. The problem? It doesn’t take an hour to get to Nantong – it takes closer to an hour and a half. We didn’t get inside the Nantong city limits until 5:20, and once we did, the bus just stopped. No, not at the bus station, but just at a city bus stop off the side of the road. The driver got off and the passengers were getting off so Garrison and I got off. Apparently this was a huge mistake on our part, as the bus made regular stops at all the city bus stops, not just the intercity bus station.

So anyway, we get off the bus and we are on this little 2 lane street smack dab in the middle of nowhere. It takes 15 minutes to catch a cab (for those of you keeping track at home, this takes us up to 5:35). Not only are we clear across town from the train station, but we get caught by no less than EVERY red light at every intersection we go through. We told the cabbie that if he got us to the train station on time we would give him 100RMB. Unfortunately, this was perhaps the one and only driver we’ve ever had who is actually concerned about traffic laws. We got to the train station five minutes late and not only had our train left, the ENTIRE station had shut down. There was no one. It was totally deserted. Locks on the doors, everyone GONE except myself, Garrison, the cabbie, and two or three unlicensed “taxi” drivers trying to get last minute fares. This turned out to be a very good thing because when I got out of the cab and saw everything totally deserted I let loose a very loud and very forceful swear word that I don’t think previously has ever passed through my lips. After a few minutes, furiously calling everyone we could think of, we finally resigned ourselves to the fact that nothing could be done.

We caught a taxi and told him to take us to the Long Distance Bus Station so we could get another bus back to Changshu. Only all the buses had stopped running at this point. But he would be happy to drive us to Changshu for 350RMB. We figured by the time we got a hotel room and then bus tickets back home the next day, it would just be cheaper to take the cab. On the way home, we finally got in touch with Travel David (our travel agent, not to be confused with Regular David, the English teacher on the other campus). Travel David assured us that although we lost our tickets today, we could come to his office tomorrow and exchange our return tickets for a full refund. That, and given that we had not yet paid for our hotel room, there seemed to be at least a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

We got home about 9:00 or 9:30. I couldn’t sleep, and stayed up to about 2:30am watching “Death on the Nile” (an older, and thankfully, a rather long movie based off an Agatha Christie novel). I finally got some sleep when I was awoken at 9:00 this morning by the cell ringing. It was Travel David. In order to get the money back for our return ticket we had to go to the Shanghai Train station. Oh, and there’s a 20% fee for returned tickets. Not being worth both of us spending the money to go, Garrison very gallantly stepped up and is right now on his way to Shanghai to get what he can for our return tickets.

We’re toying with the idea of trying again next week, but I don’t know if that will work out. You have to book train tickets a good week in advance and right now we’re still kinda reeling. On the upside, I would honestly be very shocked if this was our last trip to China. Either through work or just for vacation I feel like we’ll be back, so at least we’d be able to do everything then.

Road Trip

2010 June 20
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Posted by lauren.swindell

                 This past week was Dragon Boat Festival. From what my students told me, it celebrates a man who lived at some point during the dynastic period and did something remarkable when invaders came and took over his land. Somehow he ended up dead with his body thrown in a river. The villagers then threw dumplings into the river to prevent the fish from eating his body. I’m not being lax in my description. That really is how my students explained it to me. There didn’t seem to be any really interesting cultural type celebrations going on. In fact, I think most of my students just stayed on campus rather than going home. Maybe in some of the larger cities like Suzhou or Shanghai had something interesting going on, but around here it was pretty quiet.

                Monday Garrison and I are going to Beijing for a couple of days. Garrison has never been and I don’t mind going back. We’re taking a long distance bus to a city north of us, Nantong. From Nantong we’ll take an overnight train to Beijing. We will leave Nantong Monday night and arrive in Beijing about 7am the next morning.  We’ll spend the first day touring Tian’an Men Square, Temple of Heaven, People’s Hall, Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City. Day two we’ll catch the bus to the Great Wall and spend the day touring it and maybe even hit the Ming Tombs.  We’ll catch another overnight train back to Nantong and hopefully be back in Changshu by lunchtime on Thursday. Yes, it’s a bit of a whirlwind tour, but that really is the great thing about Beijing. There’s a lot to see, but you can hit all the highlights in two days easy.

                We’re finally done with classes, have our talks scheduled, and plane tickets home. I can’t believe we’ll only be here three more weeks! It’s really pretty mind boggling. We spent so much time applying, waiting to be hired, getting at the visa paperwork done, getting packed and ready to go – - and now it’s over.   I guess I’d be a lot happier about going home if I had a job all lined up, but hopefully I can bridge that gap pretty quickly.

Running Here, There and Everywhere

2010 June 14
Posted by lauren.swindell

                            Last Wednesday Garrison and I went to Shanghai with Geri. She had a job interview, and Garrison and I had nothing better to do so we decided to go with her and tour around the city a bit. Unfortunately, the city has been shooting “darts” or something into the atmosphere to prevent it from raining the first few weeks of the Expo. The day we went was marked as a “rain day”, so all the water in the atmosphere that hadn’t been able to fall for the past two weeks or so was pouring down the whole time we were there. And I don’t mean it was just drizzling the whole time, I mean it was hurricane, Noah-esque flooding the whole time. Because the rain was so icky, we didn’t go out to the bund to see the skyline that is so famous. Instead, we just walked around the French Concession. It was a really neat, if very expensive, part of the city. We had lunch in a mall boasting a Tiffany & Co, Dolce and Gabbana, Prada, Bulgari, Armani, and pretty much every other euber high-end designer stores you can think of.  Small, tree-lined streets with European-style buildings and shops lining the road. One interesting tidbit about traveling around Shanghai – when you take the metro, you have to get your ticket in advance, but unlike other major metropolitan metros, you have to decide what your stop will be in advance, and then pay based on how far you travel. It’s not expensive, we traveled 5 stops and it cost us 3RMB. But it just struck me as odd that you didn’t pay a flat fee like you do in, say, New York. Speaking of New York, Garrison made a very keen observation while we were walking around. He said that Shanghai had a very New York-esque feel about it, and I tend to agree with him. It’s such a large, international city that it does have a very New York feel to it. Even most of the architecture is very Western. I didn’t take many pictures, because it was raining so much and we really didn’t see anything, but I have included one I took of a house-turned-business we found in the middle of the French Concession that had some very un-Chinese stylistic qualities to it.

                      We left Shanghai after dinner and got back to school about 9:30 that night. Turns out, the trouble I’ve been having traveling to and from Shanghai on previous trips was due entirely on my own ignorance. Apparently because so many people travel into Shanghai for business, but live outside of the city itself, you have to buy your return ticket as soon as you arrive, otherwise the businessmen will get all buses, etc. leaving the city after rush hour. Oh, and another interesting little tidbit: Because of the Expo, everyone traveling to Shanghai, foreigners and even Chinese Citizens, have to present ID when traveling to the city in the form of a passport or a hukou. They’re keeping really close tabs on how many people travel to the city.

                  Friday night was “Beauty and the Beast”. I was so proud of all the kids! They really did the best job they ever have. They really hammed up their performances and put a lot of character into their lines. You could tell that they had passed the point of just memorizing the words and were ready to put more feeling and emotion into it. Their entrances and exits were right on cue, they didn’t talk while waiting in the wings, they made their costume changes quickly and quietly – they really did outstanding. I didn’t get any pictures because I was on the side manning the door that they had to go in and out of in between scenes, but there was the boyfriend of one of the students in the audience who apparently got some photos, hopefully I’ll get those soon. They also arranged to have it videotaped and are making DVDs for everyone. The Head of the Foreign Language Department was there, as well as one of the school Deans. The Dean actually got up after the play and gave a short speech about how much he enjoyed it and how well they did. Prior to the show I handed out awards to all the students. They were in folders with a  large picture of everyone in costumes and a certificate with their name, who they played, what award they got, and were signed by Garrison, Stephen, and I. There were awards like “most improved English”, “best initiative”, “most in character”, “best costume design”, etc. We tried to stay away silly awards like “best at falling down” or “best at almost being on time”, and I’m glad we did. The Dean and Department Head had snuck in early and saw us give out the awards and I think it just showed a little extra effort on our part.

                 Saturday we went to Suzhou for the next-to-last time. Prior to our Friday’s Fat-Fest we went to a tailor and the guy’s got some suits ordered. I had gone online and gotten pictures from several very high end designers and printed them out so they could have those designs copied. Stephen got 3 suits – black, blue and grey – 3 shirts, and a cashmere long winter jacket. Garrison got 5 suits – black, grey, blue, blue pin-stripe, and a tannish/brown – 5 shirts, and a cashmere coat. I think they will both be very happy they got them. The suits were only 650RMB, the shirts 150RMB, and the cashmere coat 600RMB. I’m so happy that they got them while they were here, that would be a very expensive wardrobe back in the ‘ol US of A. I also got some things made. I got 2 suits, 1 dress w/ jacket, 3 pairs of slacks, 7 business jackets in various colors and styles, and 4 silk blouses. It’s been a lot of fun to getting so many clothes made, but it’s also been a lot of stress. Pick your design, find a tailor with fabric you like, get it made, fix any fitting problems once it’s made – - I’ll admit I’m kinda glad it’s over now. Of course, the hard part is yet to come (fitting everything into my suitcase!).

                             This week is the last week of classes, but it is also the “Dragon Boat Festival”, so there are no classes on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m trying to figure out if there if there is something really cultural that is going on that would be worthwhile to go see, but so far no one has really seemed to know anything. I’m starting to get the impression it’s just another holiday for the sake of having a holiday. Garrison and I are using the time to pull together our end of the year lectures and organize a trip to Beijing for a couple of days. We’re meeting with a travel agent on Wednesday. Right now we’re scheduled to give our talks on July 5 &6 and will be heading home on the 8th. I can’t believe it, but I guess that means we’re at the 24 day countdown. I just wish I was coming home to a good job, but unfortunately things are still really rough for recent grads. I was kinda hoping that I would bypass the worst of it this year in China. But who knows? Maybe I have.  

It’s week 15, it’s week 14, it’s week 15, it’s week 14…

2010 June 3
Posted by lauren.swindell

             So we got an email today that said it is indeed week 14. This is after the meeting last week with the head of the department that said that this is week 15 and we should be preparing for final exams. So next week Garrison, Stephen, and I are giving our final exams and after that we still have one week left. I’m pretty sure my art students are going to revolt. It’s hard enough getting them to come to class even when we’re on a normal class schedule, can you imagine getting them to come when they’re done with their final exams? Who am I kidding? It’s going to be pretty hard to convince me to come to class. The problem is, this could potentially push our trip home back a few days. I just really wish we could get a straight answer. It’s getting a little frustrating.

                I got my suits back from the tailors today. They turned out really well, even though the pictures don’t show it too well.

The Show Must Go On (More or Less)

2010 May 31
Posted by lauren.swindell

          At the beginning of last week the three heads of the Oral English Club told Garrison, Stephen and I that they had arranged a time for our performance – that Friday afternoon. After we were able to peel ourselves off the ceiling we managed to convince them to push it back to June 7, seeing how costumes weren’t finished, nobody knew their lines yet, and we were yet to have a rehearsal with everyone present. One crisis averted. Then yesterday happened. We show up to rehearsal to find the room filled with people and three students seated in the middle with clipboards. Apparently, we had been chosen to audition to perform at the Senior Celebration the night before graduation on June 9th. The problem? We had to cut our hour long play down to ten minutes. Oh, and we had to do it immediately. With no warning. None. We were all fit to be tied. Another example of things being sprung on us at the last minute with no warning whatsoever.  I grabbed Amanda, one of the students with stronger language skills and went up to the judges. I told them that it was absolutely absurd for them to expect us to be able to readjust an hour long play to fit a ten minute time-slot on the spur of the moment. Furthermore that it was irresponsible and unprofessional. I went on in similar fashion with poor Amanda next to me more or less explaining in rapid Chinese what I was saying. I got the feeling, however, she toned it down a good deal. In the end we did scene one with everyone being transformed, the “Be Our Guest” scene, the dance scene between Beauty and the Beast, and the final fight scene at the end where everyone transforms back into humans. The poor kids were running around trying to figure out what was going on, where they were supposed to be and all that. It was not their best performance by any stretch. I felt so bad for them, after they have worked so hard to have something like this happen to them. With any luck, we didn’t make the cut by the three “judges” and we won’t have to worry about it.

                 Thursday Garrison and I went to meet with the head of the Foreign Language Department. Why did we need to go to the head of the department? To figure out what week we’re in. See, classes don’t all start and end on set dates like in America. Some classes start later and end later, some earlier. Because of this, each semester is divided into 20 weeks. A class usually lasts 16 weeks. They sent us a schedule at the beginning of last semester, but for some reason that was never made clear, classes this semester started in week 2, not week 1. Oh, and once again, no one bothered to mention this. Even the students and most of the faculty didn’t know. To get a straight answer we had to go to the head of the department.

                Additionally, no one has been able to tell us when we are free to go back home. Technically our contracts aren’t up until July 15, but with classes over June 11, there’s no need to wait around twiddling our thumbs for no reason. Turns out, our end of the year talks can go as late as July 9. Sometime during that month Garrison and I are going to Beijing for a couple of days to see all the great attractions (Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc). Then we’re going with Stephen to Shanghai for the Expo. Even though it sounds like we’ll be spending a lot of time wandering the streets of Changshu, we should be able to get some sight-seeing and traveling in.

         I’ve included some pictures of the best costumes we’ve finished so far. There are others, of course, but they are more plain. We’re actually going out this afternoon to rent a wedding gown for Belle to wear, but I obviously don’t have a picture of it yet. That raises an interesting point – many brides here rent their gowns from a jewelry store or a photography studio instead of buying them. Just an interesting tidbit.

Move Over TGI Friday’s

2010 May 17
Posted by lauren.swindell

         Friday night all the foreign professors got together for dinner at a Japanese restaurant in town. It was a fantastic meal. First of all, you could order one or two things off the menu, or you could pay 108RMB to get as much of anything off the menu you wanted. Guess which one we did. In the center of the table was a small charcoal fire with a grate over it. We ordered thick slices of pork smothered in a barbeque sauce and slices of beef to cook on it. When the meat was done you wrapped it in a piece of lettuce and added some different sauces. It was exactly like the Thai Chicken wraps you get at The Cheesecake Factory. Honestly, I don’t think there was any difference in them. We got country ham wrapped around mushrooms, sushi, sashimi, tempura shrimp, fried rice, mashed potatoes, pork wrapped around asparagus and skewered veggies. I can’t believe we never knew this place existed. Although, to be fair, it’s out past Wal-Mart in an area of town that is nothing but residential, so we’ve never really had cause to out there before. The restaurant itself is real interesting. You take your shoes off at the door and sit on the floor around a table. Very traditional, I guess you’d say.

                It was nice being able to catch up with everyone. We had one guy leave at the end of last semester because he just couldn’t deal with his students and the administration anymore. For example, he was asked to give an hour long lecture on something dealing with computer science and come to find out, no one who went could speak a word of English. They just sat there quietly while he was lecturing and applauded at the end. The only reason they went is because they were told they had to, it didn’t seem to matter they didn’t understand what was going on. Also, apparently his students didn’t believe that he spoke “real” English, because he’s Indian, so they didn’t put forth any effort in his classes and pretty much ignored him when he was telling them about what different things were called. Apparently on his midterm he asked them what the “home key” was and he kept getting answers like “the key that opens the door to your house”. For whatever reason, they just refused to believe that “home key” could refer to something on a computer. Anyway, he’s working in Wuxi now and another guy has taken his place.

                Everyone is getting ready for the year to wind down and make plans for next year. Geri is toying with the idea of getting a job and moving to Shanghai, or she might just go back to Europe. I don’t think she’s really decided yet. She’s definitely not coming back to CIT, though. Actually, I don’t think Ginger or David are coming back, either. And of course Stephen, Garrison, and I are heading home – I don’t know what the school is going to do next year. Or maybe they just want to use Chinese professors from now on. I think what we expect from students and a university and what they expect are very, very different.

                Tuesday night Garrison and I are going to Suzhou to meet some Furman people who will be in town for dinner. I’m really excited about it. Just to see some familiar faces and meet some other Furman people. I’m so lucky to have gone to a school where you feel like you really belong and are appreciated. This is actually the second time we will have met Dr. Kaup while she was in Suzhou. The first time was when she was with the study abroad students, back in November, I think. In June or July another Furman professor, the Dean of Students, is coming with the Summer China Experience Freshmen. It’s the same trip I went on prior to my Freshman year, and it’s so exciting to see how’s it grown and how the Asian Studies Department has grown since then.

                Play rehearsals are still trudging on. This week we’re doing script-less run throughs and working on costumes. Honestly, I think they’re more excited about getting up in costumes than actually putting on the play. Geri very thoughtfully donated some leftover paints, fabric, and other odds’n’ends from the Art Department to the cause. At least now we have something to work with.   

This and That

2010 May 9
Posted by lauren.swindell

                 Rehearsals for “Beauty and the Beast” have been going on every Wednesday afternoon (and most Sunday afternoon’s, too) for the past two weeks now. We’ve finally gotten through what Stephen calls “blocking”, which is essentially telling everyone where to go and when. Never having been involved in theatre, I always thought you worked through the script one scene at a time, perfecting one before moving on to the next. Apparently you just do run throughs from top to bottom over and over and over again. Rehearsals would be going a lot better if people could actually come to rehearsals on time, or not have to leave in the middle. It seems like every week 3 or 4 people have to go take a test or babysit or do something of the sort. This has given Garrison and I the roles of filling in for whoever isn’t there at any given moment and writing down for them where they’re supposed to go and when. Last week I was Belle, Mrs. Potts, the Dresser, and a village person all in one scene. Yea, that didn’t get confusing.

There were three boys who, at the beginning of all this, asked for lesser roles, so we assigned them “villagers 1,2, and 3” mixed in with random furniture/servants in the Beast’s castle. Unfortunately for us, these rolls require to be filled in with men because of various conversations or setups in the play. One of them has since dropped out and one never comes to rehearsals so has subsequently been let go. This leaves us with one boy and no one else to fill in for the other two. We keep playing around with the script, trying to rewrite their parts so they could be filled in by girls, but right now it’s looking like the simplest thing to do would just get Garrison and Stephen to do it.

There’s one guy who’s in the role of Lefeu, Gaston’s side kick. We could not have cast him better. He’s so happy and enthusiastic about the whole process. When he’s not on stage, he’s practicing his lines and working on hamming up his acting. Because of him Garrison and I have decided to make awards to give everyone at the end of all this. You know, “Perfect Attendance”, or “Best Dancer”, etc, etc. Hands down he wins “Most Enthusiastic/Wonderful/Awesome Person Ever”. Of course, that might be a little long, so we may have to shorten it a little bit.

This week it has fallen on me to choreograph a dance scene to “Be Our Guest”, so roughly ten people dancing around stage while the actual song is piped through the sound system. There’s no way I’m going to try to get them to learn to sing that song. They have enough trouble pronouncing “Gaston”.  I see a lot of Macarena style line dancing and “Jazz hands” in their futures – because that’s about the extent of my knowledge on the subject.

Anyway, this week has been midterms. Unlike last semester, my classes this semester don’t have written finals, so I’m saved the agony of writing out all those exams again.  I figured I needed some way to test them before the final, though, so they had written midterms. It was a lot easier, though, because there is no set organizational structure to follow for midterms, I only had to make one per class, and I could organize and structure it however I wanted. My Freshmen classes all averaged out in the “B” range, which I feel like is really good. You don’t want everyone to do bad, because that means they haven’t learned anything. But you don’t want everyone to make A’s, because that means the exam was too easy. At least, that’s the way I figure it. My sophomores’ exam is tomorrow. I’m hoping they do well, they are by far my best students and I’d like for them to go out with a bang. My Art students, however – - hehe. Well, let me preface this by saying that before I handed out the exams, I had everyone bring bags, purses, books, papers, cell phones, translators, MP3 players, everything to the front of the classroom. I then told everyone where to sit, separating friends and trying to keep some of the trouble makers up front of the classroom so I could keep a closer eye on them. I also told everyone that if I saw you with papers, cell phones, anything that could be used for cheating, I take your exam and you get a zero. No second chances. Sound harsh? Well, if there is one thing I learned last semester, it’s to expect cheating at the highest level. So long story short, I caught two guys texting during the exam. True to word, I took their exams and gave them each a zero. I don’t know why, but after I caught them my hands were shaking pretty bad. I don’t know why it upset me to do it, I had been more than clear on my policy, but for whatever reason it really threw me for a loop. But so far they have been the only one’s dumb enough to cheat – or at least get caught.

So now we’re in the home stretch of classes. There are only 5 or 6 weeks of classes left. For my Freshmen and Sophomores this isn’t an issue. Just go through the book every week as normal. But the book for the Art students only has 10 units in it, and I’ve already covered nine of them. Think I’m moving too fast? Well, on their midterms, the people that actually participate and pay attention in class all got in the B+/A- range. Of course, those who hunkered down in the back of the classroom, skipped class, didn’t do their work, etc all got in the F/D- range, but that’s their own fault. So now I’m grasping at straws with what to do with these kids. That one lesson that’s left will take me a week to cover. Then I’m finished. The worst part is that their class, for whatever reason, meets twice a week for two hours at a time. That’s a lot of time to fill when you’ve finished everything. So now I’m showing them “The Fellowship of the Ring”, the first movie in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Before, when I showed “Indiana Jones”, I agonized over what movie to show them, choosing it for its engaging plot and simple English. So why did I choose “Fellowship of the Ring”? Simple. It’s the longest movie I have with me. It already took up the class after the midterm (I don’t like just jumping back into things after a major exam), and it should take up most of next class, too. I’m debating the advisability of showing them the whole trilogy, all 12 hours worth. Maybe I can work it into their final somehow? If not, I’m flat out of ideas what to do with them from here on out. As much as I hate just showing movies in class – I think it’s a major lazy-butt cop out way to teach – I can’t have them staring at the wall for the next month. Ideas?

Yesterday was our monthly TGI Friday’s fat fest. We mixed it up this time, getting the chicken fingers platter as an appetizer, too. It was glorious. (Except for feeling like you want to die afterwards.)Technically next weekend was our weekend to go, but we decided to treat ourselves early, primarily because one more fried rice, noodle, or dumpling meal would make us all go absolutely stark raving mad. In other news, Nibbles is doing fine. I’ve started putting spent toilet paper rolls in her cage and she’s gotten so she’ll climb inside of them and sleep width-wise curled up on her back with her legs stuck up in the air. It’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life. I’m looking into the possibility of bringing her home with me. I don’t know what hamster importation laws are or how much it would cost, but it’s worth a phone call, right? Mom suggested that I leave her here and just Skype on occasion. That’s a bit too pragmatic for me, though.  I can’t believe she’d even suggest treating her grand-hamster like that.