Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Promise Land (Otherwise known as Thailand)

We spent all of yesterday, from 5am to 9pm, gradually migrating from China to Thailand, shedding layers as we went. Every year I start thinking about Thailand and build it up in my mind for weeks or months. And the amazing thing is that when I get there, it's just as good as I expect! I think the sharp contrast helps. One day you are wearing long underwear and a down coat, the next day it's flip-flops.

The weather is perfect - not too hot, a cool breeze in the evenings, sunshine. It takes days to experience all the wonderful food options available. Thai, Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean, burgers, great milkshakes and fruit smoothies, donuts, ice cream, soft pretzels. This wouldn't seem nearly as exciting if we hadn't seen these things for months. There are multiple bookstores full of English books. And everything is so inexpensive. We are staying in a place for $6/night, and it's not bad at all. You can eat Thai food for $1. Western food is more expensive, but still more reasonable than China or America.

And people are so friendly whether they know you or not. They just smile at you and don't stare at all, like it's perfectly natural for you to exist. It's really wonderful. And especially great to be here NOT taking classes. Well, if you are sufficiently jealous by now, I have done my job. Off to get a cheap massage.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

For Yay!

by Ruth
(The picture is me as a child. When we finished our dinner, an apparently monumental event, we would put our hands in the air and yell “for yay!”)

I can't believe we finished with finals close to two weeks ago. Initially, I was a little afraid of getting bored during the three weeks before we left for Thailand, so I made a long list of things I wanted to accomplish. So far I have marked off, let's see, one thing? How is that possible? I believe there are two problems involved. 1) A couple of the items I have been working on are multiple day endeavors. I am a to-do list kind of person. I should know better than to put them all under one item, with nothing to check off. 2) I keep remembering things not on the list. And yes, I would write them down to check off, but I'm running out of room on my paper. Looking back, I realize I should always laugh at myself whenever I think I will actually get bored.

One of the items on my to-do list is planning our trip, because after Thailand, we're going to Europe!! After two weeks in sunny Thailand, wearing sandals, eating yummy food from around the world, browsing through bookstores and (oh yeah) going to our conference, we are heading off to Europe.

First, we will spend a couple of days in Rome, then head up to Prague to visit my friend Jessie, who is teaching there. If you have a friend in Europe, it's really a travesty NOT to take the opportunity to go visit them, don't you think? That's what started us thinking about this whole trip. Added to that is the fact that we have an extra long holiday this year (because the last lunar year had an extra month, so the Spring Festival is later than normal. Therefore, we don't start back to school until March 6th!).

After spending a few days in Prague, we are going on a Mediterranean cruise! How many people want to have our lives right now, huh? Kevin found some surprisingly good deals on cruises (he's good at finding that kind of stuff online). We will leave from Barcelona, go back to Rome for one day, then on to Athens, Ephesus, Alexandria, and Malta. I think it's absolutely great that we'll get to see all those places without consciously traveling. I don't even have to figure out where we are going to stay and what we are going to eat and how to get around. It will be my first time on a cruise, as well as the first time for both of us to go to Europe. I think we're going to love it. For yay for us!

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Head-Banging Good Time

by Ruth

Kevin came home from an afternoon of giving finals and started banging his head against the door. I could understand the feeling: hours of sitting there trying to concentrate as 70 students parade past can be pretty tiring. It's so mind-numbing that the a good head-banging doesn't seem like it will do much more damage than has already occurred.

We debated over whether listening to oral English or phonetics finals were worse. In oral finals it's easy to drift off and not realize you aren't paying attention until their dialogue is over suddenly. It doesn't make for the most objective grading. And I know I am subconsciously affected by if I've hung out with the students, if they smile at me when they are talking, or if they look cute. It's really terrible.

Oral finals have the advantage of a little more variety, however. Sometimes students will even say something interesting in response to a question. For example, in my last class, the two students who I happened to ask, “Would you ever date someone you met on the internet?” both said, “Well actually...” and told me their not so good experiences. Another student told me about lighting her hair on fire as a child (she liked to play with candles). Multiple students, when asked something interesting they learned about Georgia from our “Southern Day,” said that Georgia is a beautiful city. Many students said they liked wearing “carol” clothes. It took me a little bit to figure out they were trying to say “casual” clothes, but of course I should have known they can't pronounce that middle sound. After all, I have been listening to dozens of phonetics students mispronounce it over and over again.

In phonetics finals there is no variation. Just student after student pronouncing and mispronouncing the same words over and over. The only difference is that some students fly through the words so fast you can't understand any of it, while others have a 10 second pause between each one, “baaaay..................buuuy......................boooy.” It's enough to make you want to, well, bang your head against the door. And in my first class, one girl had loud, annoying hiccups for an hour!! I really thought I was going to go crazy.

In Kevin's class the students kept asking to leave early, then somehow got locked into the room. So they started banging on the door and yelling to students outside. Finally Kevin had to stop his exams to call the office to let them out. Not the first locked in the classroom experience, I might add.

Anyway, I don't know why I keep going on about something so painfully boring. I guess I subconsciously want you to suffer too. But now – we are finished! New Years Eve we finished giving our last finals and were so tired we went to bed before midnight. Midnight is not so special anymore, now that we see it almost every night anyway. And without the ball dropping, the new year seems awfully unofficial.

2010 is the year of the tiger. We learned it is also an unlucky year to get married (although actually just the lunar year, which doesn't start until February 14th). Something about you becoming a widow. Maybe it has to do with the 1 and 0, since 2011 will be a very lucky year to get married (because of the 1 and 1 being like two people coming together, of course). I am always amazed at how many superstitions there are related to numbers. Dates, ages, your phone number – I am always learning about new things.

People might not always follow the superstitions (surely there are some people who will get married this year), but they know about all of them. Even though they would never call themselves superstitious, they are still going to be sure to pick an auspicious day for their wedding and make sure their mobile number doesn't have any 4's (sounds like the Chinese word for death) or 7's (also related to death). People pay extra to have 8's in their phone number, because 8 is very lucky. That's why the Olympics started on 8/8/08 at 8:08pm. I got a discount on my phone number because it has three 7's and a 14 – which means guaranteed death! I guess I'm pretty much doomed. And apparently my punishment was listening to those final exams. I did kind of feel myself dying inside, so maybe that counts.