Category Archives: China

Photo book: The Beauty of Beijing

There are cities where you go to spend a few days eating like the locals, visiting the sites, people watching, and soaking in the culture and then leave feeling satisfied that you’ve checked it off your list and don’t need to return.

Beijing is not one of those cities. It’s big, bustling, beautiful and utterly bizarre. Even after two trips there, I still don’t feel like I’ve had my fill of the capital city. I’ve maybe had a drink and an appetizer, but I’m in no way ready to lay down my napkin, push my chair back and pat my stomach contentedly. Continue reading Photo book: The Beauty of Beijing


Thoughts on second visits


It was my first taste of China, so many months ago. It was there that I struggled to slurp up soupy noodles (and ended up spraying Sam with broth and spices in the process). It was where I realized the words I’d learned on Rosetta Stone – “cat,” “sister,” “flower” – weren’t going to be much help ordering food, getting housing or interacting with people on a personal level. And, it was were a few other Drake teachers and I started to piece together an understanding of this beautiful and bizarre country.

Continue reading Thoughts on second visits

Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge

I had no intentions of going to Tiger Leaping Gorge.

My original plan was to go to Lijiang and spend a few lazy days eating yak cheese and exploring the nearby villages.

But thanks to a chance meeting on a train and the certain swagger that comes with youth, I instead jumped on a bus and hiked 16 plus incredibly strenuous miles over mountains and around bends with someone I’d just met.

It wasn’t the first spontaneous decision of the weekend. After deciding at the last possible moment that I had no interest in spending the long holiday weekend in Guilin, I threw some clothes and my camera in a bag, went to the train station with a scrap of paper listing three far-flung destinations around China, and said I wanted to go to whichever one had the next train out. Continue reading Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge

Finding the teacher groove

My life seems to be divided into chunks of time and people. Growing up in Wisconsin, where I was ferried from one sports practice or school activity to another; Des Moines and Drake, in which I lived and breathed newsprint and rowing; a spell in Australia, with long ago memories of Vegemite and my host families goose farms; a semester in Italy, a blur of gelato and cinema studies; Texas, a summer of road trips, romance, and magazine internships; and Madison, a brief taste of a quasi-adult life. Now there’s China. So stark in how it stands out.

No move is easy, but no move has challenged me like China has. Part of it was the (many) cultural differences. But another part was the difficulties of adjusting to a new gig.

I’ve been working or interning for newspapers and magazines for over seven years — writing is something I get. Like a bartender who constructs cocktails without measuring, or even really looking, I was self-assured. I was confident that I could ask the questions that were needed to get good responses; could weave nouns and verbs together well to create a mosaic of evocative quotes and facts.
Continue reading Finding the teacher groove

Mornings by the Li

Nobody is ever going to write about the Li River with the same reverence as the Seine in Paris or the Arno in Florence. There’s nothing sexy about it. It’s not like Woody Allen could look at the polluted stretch of water running through Guilin and think to himself, “Yes, right here. Right next to that dilapidated boat is where the characters will conduct their tête-à-tête. Ah, I can imagine it now: a scene full of rat-a-tat dialogue and floating debris.”


Regardless of its lackluster appearance, I love the Li. It has been the backdrop for many nights of shaokao and black “beer” – a particularly potent potable that tastes more like grape soda than beer and has a proclivity for extending a hand of friendship, which proves to be incredibly short-lived when you wake up with the hangover to beat all hangovers the next day – and is a prominent character in every photo I take from atop an one of the many karst mountains in Guilin. Continue reading Mornings by the Li

Creating Christmas cheer in China

It’s no secret that I love Christmas. As soon as it becomes socially acceptable to start putting up Christmas decorations – we’re talking ASAP on the day after Thanksgiving – it looks like a Pinterest board exploded in my house. Last year I turned our fridge into a snowman and hung origami mistletoe from our ceiling fan. My roommates and I called it “extreme mistletoe.”

I might have gone overboard on the Christmas cheer this year to get my festive fix. It could probably be likened to the scene from “Elf” where Buddy prepares the department store for the arrival of Santa. I didn’t turn an etch-a-sketch into an ornament bearing the likeness of Mona Lisa, but I did festoon my ceilings with blinking lights and paper chains and assembled a massive artificial evergreen tree that dominated my tiny living room.


And while I didn’t dump syrup on all my food a-la Buddy the Elf (“we elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy corn, candy canes and syrup”), I did marry one of his main food groups with one of mine: coffee. Put enough candy canes in your morning java and eventually you’ll get a mutter of ‘Christmas’ and ‘peppermint mocha’ from far, far away. Continue reading Creating Christmas cheer in China

Things my students (re)wrote: The 12 Days of Christmas

By this point, our students pretty much expect that if a major Western holiday falls on a day they have class with any of their foreign teachers, the focal point of the lesson will pertain to that holiday. For instance, on Halloween I had my students write ghost stories.

Christmas was no exception. One teacher had this students create plays spawning from tacky holiday songs like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.” An art teacher taught her students Christmas vocab by using random art supplies to turn her students into living Christmas trees. For part of my Christmas lesson, I had my students rewrite the lyrics to the holiday jingle, “The 12 Days of Christmas.”   Continue reading Things my students (re)wrote: The 12 Days of Christmas