Monday, June 13, 2016

Wow

Originally posted on July 31, 2015
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Well, my time in China is over.  I am currently sitting in Tokyo for a layover already missing the wonderful Chinese culture.  The past two days were surreal.  We ended our tour in Shanghai…..a city that amazed me in every way possible.  Even though its so often thought of as a futuristic city, which it is in many ways, it also has a rich history made up of many cultures and backgrounds.
Our first day in Shanghai was jam packed full of museum tours and shopping, both of which are always a good time.  The best part of the day, though, was visiting The Bund, the waterfront neighborhood in central Shanghai.  The view here is absolutely spectacular, especially at night.  Some of the other teachers and I spent about an hour just sitting and taking it all in.
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To top off the amazing view that appeared a few blocks from our hotel, I was fortunate enough to have an amazing view from my hotel room, so much so that I almost felt guilty since the view was better than everyone else’s…..
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Shanghai is truly a remarkable city.  It is so completely different from the rest of China, yet still has very Chinese cultural traditions.  I guess having more Western stores doesn’t necessarily mean you will live like a Westerner, evidenced by this public toilet I wandered upon which is set up in Chinese style.  It was a Neighborhood bathroom servicing all of the residents since plumbing was not run to their homes.  Also, keep in mind there are no doors on the stalls…..very Eastern
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I would compare the energy of Shanghai to that of New York City, only on a much larger scale.  At 27 million, Shanghai has the largest population of any city in China.  To be walking the streets in a sea of people is a remarkable experience.  The sidewalks couldn’t even contain everyone.
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Besides the energy of the people, there was also a strong sense of pride both in the locals and tourists.  Shanghai is an ultramodern city and continues to strive to retain that title.
On our second day, I really felt as though I accomplished a lot.  In the morning, we visited the Pearl Tower…the large purple building in the photo at the top of this post.  The views from here were incredible, especially when including the glass floor!
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After the Pearl Tower, we visited Yu Garden, which is an ornate traditional Chinese garden.  The garden was privately owned by a wealthy man who had designed it for his parents.  Unfortunately his parents passed away before they were able to use it.  The garden was absolutely beautiful and everything you would expect a Chinese garden to be.  We even stopped at a teahouse in the garden for a small private tea ceremony demonstration.
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After relaxing in the garden for a while, my former co-teacher, Katie, and I spent the remainder of our day navigating our way around the streets and subway lines, which we did with a lot of ease.  Our journey took us off the beaten path.  It was wonderful being to see what daily life in Shanghai is like for people living in the most expensive city in China.
To be honest the living conditions were mediocre at best.  The cost of living in Shanghai is extremely high.  Our tour guide lived in a 45 sq meter apartment and pays the equivalent of $500 American every month for rent.  A lot considering he only makes $1,000 a month between his two jobs.  The people were all happy, though.  They spent their nights in the streets with their friends and neighbors in order to stay out of the heat of their apartments.  There was a great sense of community throughout the city.  It was quite refreshing.
To finish our time in Shanghai, Katie and I went to one of the most bizarre theme restaurants I had ever experienced in my life.  It was called Modern Toilet….and was themed around everything bathroom!!  It was too bizarre to skip.  Our table, complete with toilets, certainly made me smile.
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The past month of my life has been packed solid with unforgettable experiences.  I was able to share my passion of teaching with professionals and students, eat foods I never thought possible, assimilate into a culture that is so different from life in the US, and even made some friends along the way.  To me, this summer seems to be one of those pivotal turning points in life.  An experience that opened my eyes to something new and exciting that will change my future.  At the end of the teaching program, I was invited back by SABEH and the Greentown School to instruct their teachers again next summer.  I accepted.  I will be returning to China next summer to do it all again and I cannot wait!  Until then, I will be shifting focus to my new teaching position as a second grade teacher, something I have been looking forward to for some time 😀
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Another City Down...

Originally posted on July 28, 2015

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It’s so nice to have some time to sit and write!  The past two days in Nanjing have been non stop.  I’m definitely starting to wear down from all of the travels this week, and the 100°+ heat isn’t helping, but the energy of exploring a new city keeps me going!  Nanjing is an amazing city.  It has the feel of a more modern city when compared to Beijing even though it dates back thousands of years.  It actually used to be the capital of China and has an enormous amount of history.  Parts of the original wall built to surround and protect the town still remain, although the city has expanded far beyond those limits.
For this leg of our travels we had a new tour guide who was knowledgeable, but was clearly not used to American tour groups.  His mastery of English was still a work in progress, luckily he was quite content letting us explore the sites around Nanjing at our own pace.  Also, I can’t say that we didn’t have a little fun at his expense as well….how could we resist! :/
Overall this was an amazing city with breathtaking sites.  Below are photos of some of the things I saw over the past two days….enjoy!
As soon as we arrived in Nanjing, we took a bus immediately to the presidential palace, which is where the president resided and worked when Nanjing was the capital.  This series of buildings were relatively new, designed and built over the last 100 years, but still quite remarkable to see.  They continued traditional Chinese architecture throughout, making for a beautiful and tranquil location.
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After the presidential palace we had a quick stop at the outer wall of the city, but then were loaded back onto the bus to visit the famous shopping district of the city.  It was a quaint series of streets with both stands and established stores.  I found the most wonderful bookends here.  They are a dachshund!  The front half of the dog is on one bookend and the back half is on the other.  Clearly they have nothing to do with China, but how could I pass something like that up!?  As you walk up to the street, you are greeted by the archway below.  We all know the arch in Philly’s Chinatown as a great photo spot, but in China they are not a big deal at all.  You see archways like this all over cities.  I, however, still think they are pretty remarkable and worth photographing :)
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Today was a very memorable day.  We started by visiting a bridge that was built in 1999, which…was exactly as exciting as it sounds.  After this debacle, though, we had some wonderfully memorable experiences.  First, we went to Turtle Lake.  This large lake is known for it’s healthy population of turtles, which are viewed as good luck in China.  This beautiful park had a lot to do, but some other teachers and I opted for an open air boat ride!  We pulled out of that dock, slammed on the gas, and went flying off into the distance at about 3 mph.  The boat could almost move as quickly as we walked!  It was an absolutely beautiful ride, though, and offered us lots of laughs and good photo opportunities.  A wonderful experience!
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After our leisurely boat ride at Turtle Lake, we took the bus over to a National Park.  Not just an park, though, this park contained a very sacred monument.  The mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yet Sen, the George Washington of China.  He was an extremely progressive political who helped establish “New China” by being a part of the revolution to end the Chinese dynasties.  He is greatly respected in Chinese culture and it was an hour to visit his burial site.
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To end our stay in Nanjing, we went out in search of a taste of home….Western food!  After checking out some reviews, we came across Jimmy’s Sports Bar.  What a place!  The second you step inside you forgot you were in China.  The menu was completely American and everything was so good.  I can officially say I have eaten a “Philly Cheesesteak Sub” in China….and it wasn’t bad either!
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Overall this city offered up so many memories and so many fun travel stories for us all to tell in the future.  Tomorrow we are off to Shanghai for the last leg our of tour.  While I am beyond excited to visit and experience one of the worlds greatest cities, I am sad my time in China is coming to an end.  Stay tuned for another post on Friday.  I will have plenty of time to write during my long journey home!

Where To Begin...

Originally posted on:  July 26, 2015
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My short stay in Beijing is unfortunately coming to an end. I have been in the city for the past three days and cannot believe the amazing things I have seen in that short time.  Our small group has been taken around by a professional tour guide during our stay.  Her depth of knowledge is impressive.  She knows the tourist spots in and out and took us to the best locations.  It has been a remarkable experience.  Enjoy the photos below!
We arrived in the city around 7pm.  We took the bullet train, which travelled about 303km/hr most of the way.  When we got to the hotel, we were all quite hungry, as our food consumption for the day consisted only of McDonald’s at the train station before we left.  After settling into our rooms we decided to search the neighborhood for a good looking restaurant.  Being in Beijing, Peking Duck was at the top of our list.  We were fortunate enough to find a restaurant that served the duck in a traditional style.  The presentation was fantastic.  The chef brought the duck out and carved our slices right in front of us.  After slicing, he modeled how to properly wrap the duck with assorted veggies in what appeared to be a spring roll type wrap.  The meal was amazing and a great welcome to Beijing!
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Our first full day in the city was quite busy.  We started the day at Tiananmen Square.  The historical significance of this location is more than words can express.  It was almost overwhelming standing in the same space where college students helped to revolutionize the country.  By the way, the anniversary of that event is May 4th and is now recognized as National Youth Day.
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After spending some time in the Square, we ventured into the Forbidden City, home to the Chinese Emperors during two different dynasties for nearly 500 years.
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It was a massively designed complex of just under 10,000 rooms with the most advanced security of the time.  Besides having the large moat, impenetrable wall, and guard towers, they also layered 15 levels of bricks beneath the entire city to prevent enemies from tunneling up from beneath. The emperor lived in luxury.  He, and once she, viewed the country as his personal possessions.  Everything belonged to him, including the people.  It was an honor to serve in the Forbidden City with the emperor nearby.  Unfortunately it always came at a steep cost.  Females working in the city had a very specific role.  If they were in the city, they were one of 72 concubines for whom were competing in jealous rages to carry on the dynasty name by having the emperor’s son.  The men in the city….were required to become unics.  Either way, it was a tough life.  Below are some of the buildings from inside the city.
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After the Forbidden City, we took a ride to the nearby Temple of Heaven.  This temple, unlike the one I visited earlier in the month, has been out of commission for nearly a hundred years.  It is merely a tourist destination now.  The reason it is so popular though, besides the beautiful buildings, is because this was the temple the emperor visited several times each year.  The main building is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in China.  This temple was also the location of the animal sacrifices, which were offered to the gods once a year by the emperor.
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Today was the big event, though……The Great Wall.  We boarded our bus early this morning and took a scenic two hour bus ride to northern Beijing.  Finally, way out beyond the buzz of the city, we stopped near a chain of mountains.  Way at the tippy top, you could see what all the fuss is about.  We hopped on a cable car and rode to the top.  It was everything you expect and more.  We were fortunate enough to go to a less visited section of the wall, so we could truly enjoy the experience.  If I had to recommend anything I have seen so far in China, this section of the wall would be number 1.
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As if seeing The Wall wasn’t enough….we were able to luge down the mountain!!!  It made the experience all the more memorable.  The emotions I experienced at The Great Will will not be forgotten.
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Finally, to end our time in Beijing, we visited the Olympic Park from the 2008 summer Olympics.  While it wasn’t The Great Wall, it was still amazing see the impressive architecture of those games.  They are still using nearly all of the buildings for various things.  Many of the office buildings and hotels were converted into apartments.  The water cube became a public pool, and the Bird’s Nest is still being used for sporting and concert events in the summer and is turned into an indoor ski resort in the winter!
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I have greatly enjoyed my time in Beijing.  Tomorrow morning we are off to an old capital city, Nanjing, made famous from it’s bloody battle with Japan.  I am incredibly excited to see more of China!!  Stay tuned for another blog post in the next few days!

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Originally posted on:  July 23, 2015
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What an amazing two weeks.  Today was our final class with the Chinese students and my final day as a high school ELL teacher.  My coteacher Katie and I were both amazed at how well our lessons went.  The two weeks seemed to flow so smoothly and everything came full circle in the end.
As I said in a previous post, we were teaching the many biomes of the United States.  Introducing new learning strategies to the students was quite interesting.  They seemed perplexed by the idea of compiling online research on computers during class time.  Technology is not typically used for student learning in China.  In fact one of the days I watched a Chinese teacher rip a cell phone out of a student’s hand during break time.  They take their education very seriously and, because of that, do not want the distractions of the internet to cloud the minds of the students during school hours.  During our day of research, though, they did a wonderful job and were able to fill in the entire organizer we had provided.
The research wasn’t the fun part, though.  After they had their information, I introduced to them the concept of claymation, which was more difficult than I thought because they had no idea who Gumby or Wallace and Grommet are!  They were immediately intrigued, even more so once they found out they would be creating their own claymation video to explain four different biomes in the US.  After consulting with some of our Chinese teacher hosts, Katie and I learned that this type of project would be completely new to the students.  They are used to projects, but they typically include posters and not much more, so the idea of creating a film in class was novel and exotic to the kids.
After carrying home five buckets of play doh from Wal Mart and downloading the Stop Motion Studio app on everyones iPad, our project was ready to begin.  For the backgrounds I had the students use their 3D biome tents from a previous lesson since they had already colored and designed them to match each of the four biomes.
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After forming groups and handing out materials, the creativity immediately began to flow.  I was absolutely amazed at the way students designed each of their animals.  One group even found a way to have a bird fly by sticking pencil lead in it and holding it up in the air.  It was very inspiring.  Obviously not all students are able to learn by strict lecture.  It was clear that this project was reaching out to many students who needed a creative outlet.
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I was also astonished by the level of teamwork that I observed as they worked.  In China, school is usually very independent.  The work you do is to better yourself, not others.  During the project I assigned roles. I was truly inspired watching some of the more apathetic students becoming engrossed in their learning.
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We exposed these students to a whole new side of education, showing them how exciting and creative it can be.  I think I can honestly say this was the best project I have ever done with students.  I will be finding a way to incorporate claymation into my second grade classroom next year!  Check out a couple of the finished products below!

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Overall, it was a bitter sweet day.  I am sad to leave the kids and the school, but tomorrow we are off to Beijing to begin our week of travel 😀

A New View Of Eastern Medicine

Originally posted on July 21, 2015
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What would be a trip to China without some first hand experience with Chinese medicine?!  This past week four of the seven SABEH members in Hangzhou caught a cold…..one of those four was me.  Being in China, this worried me a little a first, but within a few hours I immediately started to recognize my symptoms.  They mirrored exactly the symptoms I get from colds back in the States…..sore throat….cough….muscle aches…..I knew this was something I could handle!  I loaded myself on my usual cold meds, which I brought with me from back home.  The problem with these meds, though, is that they were designed to mask symptoms, not help heal.  I love DayQuil, probably more than most people, but it really does not help me get better!  Lucky for me, our Chinese hosts were intent on helping me regain health.  I was taken to the campus clinic to see the doctor.  She was a very confident older woman wearing a white doctor coat, just as doctors back home wear.  Her methodology, however, was drastically different.  Her diagnosis was formed by simply looking at my tongue and throat.  She was able to pinpoint the exact meds I needed from that short exercise.  By the way the meds are not at all what we are used to.  Everything was herbal and rooted in a thousand years of history.  I was given two items.
The first was the most delicious cough syrup I have ever taken.  It is honey based and contains many different types of roots, flowers, and seeds.
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Besides tasting delicious, I really believe the syrup helped me contain my cough.  I felt the cough going into my chest, which was obviously not ideal.  As soon as I started taking the syrup the cough seemed to stop moving….but was still present.
The other med I received was a ground up root.  It is what many Chinese people take at the first sign of a cold.  You empty a packet of the root into a cup, mix in hot water, and drink it as a tea.  It has a sweet taste and immediately soothed my throat and cough.  I have been drinking this tea 3 times a day and my cough has been very much contained.
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Typically it takes me about a week to get back to a functional state after a cold.  With this Chinese medicine, though, I was up an running two days after my first signs!  You can bet I will be scouring Chinatown when I get home to keep a supply of these all natural meds on hand!

Temple of Soul's Retreat

Originally posted on:  July 19, 2015
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Living in China the past few weeks has allowed me to see how very similar people around the world are.  It has also allowed me to greatly respect the differences we share.  Buddhism is the central religion in China and the devotion that is shown is inspiring.  This past week some colleagues and I were fortunate enough to visit one of the largest Buddhist temples in China, the Linjing Temple – which translates to the Temple of Soul’s Retreat.  It has been around since 300AD and is still going strong as an active monastery.  There is a wonderful story that dates back to the Eastern Jin Dynasty where a man, traveling through the forests of China came upon this area and was amazed by the natural beauty he saw.   He felt it must be the location of the immortals and began construction of the temple immediately.
Leading up to the temple was the most intricate and beautiful carvings in and around a small grotto. They date back to the 10th century, during the Song Dynasty.

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The Happy Buddha below is one of the more famous sculptures in this particular grotto.  His relaxed pose and beaming smile evoke happiness in everyone who sees him.
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Upon entering the temple the smell of incense wafted through the air.  Each person who enters  is given three sticks of incense to burn as an offering during their visit.  We deposited our sticks in three different locations.
The first building we entered was the Hall of Medicine.  This is the hall where the monks gather to study traditional Buddhist medical practices.
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My breath was absolutely taken away as I entered the building.  As you enter your eyes are drawn to the large, two story high statue in the center.  This particular Buddha is known as the Medicine Buddha as he has vowed to help the sick obtain enlightenment.  Check out the photo below, which really does not do the experience justice.
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Our next stop was the main hall of the temple.  In this temple resides the largest wooden indoor statue in the country.  The grand Buddha is easily 4-5 stories high and is surrounded by 20 large heavenly guardian statues for protection.  It was a remarkable work of art and religion and something I will never forget.
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Our final stop in the temple was to see yet another happy Buddha, this one golden.  He was placed at the main entrance to the temple, which was currently closed to do renovations.  His face showed pure happiness and was nothing short of inspiring.
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Visiting the Lingyin Temple was yet another bucket list check off.  I really need to create an actual bucket list with everything I am accomplishing on this trip!
Perhaps the most bizarre moment of this day, however, came later as we sought shelter in a nearby KFC (yes, KFC…) to wait out a rainstorm.  We entered the fully packed restaurant and began ordering.  Before we knew it, we were being bombarded by Chinese tourists who wanted their photo taken with us, particularly our friend Katie, who was wearing a cowboy hat.  It was the most surreal experience of my life.  I felt like a movie star being bombarded by paparazzi.  About 20 photos later, we were left to enjoy our Western fast food in peace.  What a day…

Outside My Comfort Zone

Originally posted on: July 17, 2015

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What a week.  I am now 5 days into my stint as a high school ELL science teacher!  It has been such a learning experience.  Our classes are designed using the team teaching model, which made my transition to the unfamiliar much easier as the teacher I am co-teaching with is a middle school science teacher back in the states.  We were able to adapt her previously designed lessons fairly easily for use with our students here.  We decided to focus on the specific biomes of the United States, a topic that the students had a background with, however their knowledge was mostly limited to China.  Also, I apologize up front for the lack of photos in this post.  All of my instructional photos have students in them, so I thought it would be best to leave them out.  I did include their responses to the question “What do you find most difficult about learning English?”  There was a common theme in their answers…
Our students are grouped into three different periods with 20-25 students in each.  The periods are one hour long and each group receives the same content, give or take what was changed for differentiation.  I have been absolutely amazed by the natural respect students have for teachers in this country.  The first day, when I called on a student and he stood in order to answer his question, I knew behavior would not be an issue.  The students want so badly to be recognized as a top student that they intrinsically motivate themselves to learn whatever is put in front of them.
The idea of competition among peers is also strongly encouraged in Chinese schools.  Each class has what is known as a ‘monitor’.  Each monitor is a student in the class who has shown an advanced level of responsibility and trustworthiness.  These students then are given tasks both in and out of class.  They are to take attendance, collect papers, communicate and collect homework, and keep materials organized.  What is especially unique though, is that the monitor has the authority to report other students to the teacher and/or principal.  It is expected and encouraged that they follow through with this.  To me this seemed like a terrible way for these students to be ousted from their peer group, but it is really quite the opposite.  The monitors are seen as a center of knowledge and information and all of their peers want to have a relationship with them.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the teenage culture is also VERY different here.  Our students are 15 and 16, yet appear to be terrified of the opposite gender.  I find this both comical and a little uneasy.  The students are so focused on their studies that time is not allotted for relationships.  It could also be related to the fact that marriage ages are older in China.  Women must be 20 and men must be 22 before they can marry.  Perhaps they simply are not invested in wasting time in their young teen years.   While all of this may sound ideal for parents, a social life is one of the few ways teens are able to alleviate stress.
Anyway the instruction of the students went very well this week.  We played lots of hands on games and I had the students create a 3D cube with each side representing a different US biome.  The most difficult piece, by far, was the vocabulary.  I found myself constantly scaling back the vocab to simplistic words they would understand.  For all of the animals we discussed, pictures were eventually incorporated.  When we started, it was hard to gauge the level of English of the students, but I feel like I really have a good grasp on their abilities now.
Sadly, one of the most invested students in our class told us today is his last day because he will be visiting the UK next week.  This was sad to hear since he is our monitor.  My co teacher, Katie, and I stayed after class for a good 20 minutes talking with him.  He was so very appreciative of our time together.  It really made me feel like I am having some sort of impact with all the crazy stuff I am doing here!
Oh, and then a student came up to me and said I remind of her Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory and “I like Sheldon, so now I like Mr. B.”  It was hilarious.
In writing this blog post, I really began to reflect on my time teaching abroad vs. simply traveling abroad.  It is surreal to know that I am here creating friendships with locals and having an impact on the kids.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything!

True Beauty

Originally posted on: July 15, 2015
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This week has been extraordinarily busy.  We have started working with the students and have both morning classes and evening activities.  A few colleagues and I, though, were able to take an afternoon to navigate the Chinese bus system and explore West Lake.  While, in America, we know very little of this lake, it is of the utmost importance in China.  For over a thousand years artists, poets, and other creative minded people have sat upon the banks of the lake to be inspired in the most unique way.  West Lake is of great cultural significance here, so much so that it is even featured on the back of some of their money.  Standing on the banks of this lake, watching the dragon boats float by and willow trees blow in the breeze, it was quite clear why this lake is so special.
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Visiting this site was a remarkable experience.  The beauty of the lake against the distant mountains allowed me to stop and reflect on the specific moment in time.  As Charlie says in Perks of Being a Wallflower, “I felt infinite”, which is cheesy, but I truly did as I took in the natural beauty of the lake.  It allowed me to step back and appreciate my unusual life, which brought me to this small city in China.  Below are some photos from my journey around the lake.
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The pagoda was our goal, but unfortunately was too far of a walk.  We decided to save it for another day
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On our walk, we opted for a break at a teahouse right on the lake.  The tea was extremely pricy, but with a view like this it was worth every penny.  There is a close up of the small pagoda below.  The walkway out to the structure appeared to just float on top of the lake.  It was simplistic, yet beautifully designed.
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West Lake at sunset is a must see experience.  If I had a bucket list, I would be checking that off as we speak.  The sun slowly retracted behind the mountains, casting an amazing pinkish hue onto the lake and across the horizon.  It was incredibly peaceful and an experience I will never forget.
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I am planning on returning to the West Lake area later this week to visit more of the sites, and also to visit the nearby Apple Store….that glowing logo in the window was calling my name!  Hangzhou is an amazing city full of Chinese tradition and the modern amenities I am used to (like Starbucks…although iced coffee is easily lost in translation).
For now, I am continuing my planning and instruction with the students, which, has been an extraordinary experience.  I have been teaching 15 and 16 year olds, who have minimal English, about the biomes of the United States, which was an unfamiliar topic for me from an instruction perspective.  This experience has taken me far out of my comfort zone in many ways, but that is what life is all about!  I will be posting soon about my unique experience as a high school ELL science teacher, so stay tuned!