O My Seoul 01/28/2011
 
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The view from Kelley's apartment.
And you, O my Soul, where you stand, 
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space...
-Walt Whitman


Yeah, I'm the first person ever to make a pun about Seoul. 

Where to begin? Seoul is like a big amusement park. My friends, Jessica and Winston, live nearby this shopping center/disney land hybrid complete with groceries and an ice skating rink.
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My friend, Kelley, lives right down the street from this:
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In fact, most streets seem to look like that. In a huge city dotted like the pox with metro stops, it seems any one you get off at will hold some incredible slice of city. I spent the last five days stumbling around and ooohing at all the pretty lights.

Seoul is a futuristic city of heated floors and restaurants in any theme imaginable. In this one city I was able to eat traditional Korean food (kimchi!!!!) for lunch, and have my choice of Mediterranean, Indian, or Mexican for dinner. This was a dream come true to my palate, which has experienced a steady stream of Chinese food for 5 months.  I became quite the fan of the traditional Korean alcohol, mackeoili, imbibing almost daily. My swell hosts even found and took me to a mackeoili themed restaurant where you can get a sampler of different kinds for something insane like 2 american dollars.
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Photo by Jessica
Seoul life seems to me to have a lot of personality. Aesthetics and the details are considered in a way I haven't seen in China. The way the dishes in the mackeoli restaurant are served on rustic wooden boards and in woman-shaped decanters. Seoul also has that seemingly contradictory balance of ancient and new that I've grown fond of in China. You can sit quietly in a temple and overlook the skyline, then walk across the street into the biggest mall I've ever seen. 
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My friends were incredible hosts, opening up their one room apartments to me and my oversized luggage, and entertaining me even when they had to go to work the next day. 

We socialized.
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I think Winston always carries that pillow around? Photo by Jessica.
We shopped (Dongdaemoon!!!!).
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My first and only korean phrase: Kaka juseyo-- Give me a discount!
We ate (falafel!!!!!).
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Photo by Jessica.
We publicly bathed (Dragon Hill Spa!!!).
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And it snowed.
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It was a tantalizing little sample of Seoul, of which I am determined to taste more of some day. Hopefully when that happens, it will be in just as good of company as the lovely folks I just left!
 
snow days 01/19/2011
 
It makes me kind of nervous because I'm planning on a big trip starting tomorrow. But gosh it sure is purdy. Sometimes I say I hate snow and I even convince myself.... But then when it gets here, I can't resist it; looking back at my footprints,  touching it with my bare hands to see what it feels like, and even having a taste of a nice clean looking pile. I think I actually giggled out loud when I opened my curtains and beheld a world whitewashed overnight, soft and sparkly. Crunch crunch crunch...
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Conflictingly, I feel both estranged from my homeland and more poignantly aware of my "Americanness" than ever in the wake of tragedy at home. Hearing about the events in Arizona brought about a kind of lonesomeness for my countrymen that I haven't even come close to feeling since my life abroad began. I feel removed from my country, finding out about the weekend's events as one in another room overhears news of a catastrophe via muffled voices through a wall. I imagine back home, awareness of this tragedy would be unavoidable, that people are awash in it in dinner conversations and media over-coverage, sharing in the rage and the finger pointing and just plain frustration. Yeah it may seem like people are dividing over it and taking sides, but from my perspective looking in, I see that it is still "our" thing to feel so emotionally charged over... like I'm looking into a fishbowl where the fish are fighting but I can see they are still in the same bowl....if that makes sense. Here in China, it seems most Chinese people haven't even heard about what happened in Arizona or if they have, don't have much to say. My fellow foreign teachers here know about it, but not much more than a scanning of a Yahoo news page. I have nowhere to channel this need to talk about it, to hear more about it, to share in some mutual sense of horror that can also somehow bring people together. It's not that I blame my fellow foreign teachers for lack of curiosity; it's not like I've taken any interest in Ireland's financial crisis or that I could even tell you one thing about Sweden's current events. But it does make me feel for the first time and with a pang, the existence of my national identity.  

I'm not sure why, maybe for some kind of comfort, I had to download the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I lay in my bed and watched it this afternoon. His speech about the massacre, much to my own surprise, made me cry a little bit, I feel like a cheese ball for admitting it. What he said... it's just so exactly how I feel. I suppose I downloaded the Daily Show because when things are crazy and mixed up, I need help processing it, to make sense of it as Jon Stewart said. I'm a part of a community when I watch his show, a community of Americans who feel comforted in hearing one of our own put our crazy country into perspective, help us deal with that vague sense of what it "is" to be an American because it is something. It's so hard to put my finger on it, but I think Jon Stewart captures that sense for me, that feeling of being on the brink of either crying or laughing at the absurdity of us, us Americans or us humans or whatever it is. 

A Chinese friend once asked me if I felt proud to be an American. I didn't have to think about it much before I answered in the affirmative, but then he asked "Why?". That one was tougher to articulate. I don't know exactly why per se. It's not that I'm proud of everything we've done or are doing, or that I think we have all the answers, or that our political system is necessarily the best one. Where does the sense of pride come from? Maybe it's life-long social programming, a childhood's worth of pledging to a flag. Maybe nationalism is human nature. But I still think it's more than that. I dunno. Forgive me if I'm about to sound conceited but... The rest of the world really looks to us. Often in the capacity of a train wreck, or a crazy drunk aunt at a wedding party (oh my god what is she going to say or do next?), but they're still looking. We have their attention. One thing I've noticed in my experience abroad through multiple countries is that there's something undeniably "cool" about America. The rest of the world devours this covetable coolness which comes in the form of our movies, music, and clothes. We're like the cool kids in school in a lot of ways. The other kids want our cool stuff, sometimes resent us for being conceited and thinking the rest of the world revolves around us... sometimes we're bullies... But the really cool kids are always the ones who stick up for people and do the right thing and constantly try to improve themselves, and I think we have that aspect to our country too. I guess part of my sense of being American is that we give ourselves permission to change, and that we really believe we can fix our flaws and be better than we are. It's why Obama's message spoke so strongly to so many Americans, including me. It's that American ideal.. which by definition is unobtainable since it's, well, idealized. But that has never stopped us for reaching for it anyway. Falling flat on our faces in the reach, but damnit if we don't jump up and keep reaching some more.  I guess that unreachableness is why it's also known as the Dream (you know the one). But to our credit, I gotta say that nobody dreams bigger and better than us! 

Anyway, I feel a little better after writing this. Forgive the unfocused prose and the lack of pretty pictures, I just needed to open my mouth and spew nonsense about stuff that I really know nothing about and don't understand... in that particular way I suspect only an American can. 
 
 
Not that I'm ready to publish any scholarly material on the matter, but I do think some of my ideas in the classroom have led to successful weeks. It really gives me this incredibly cheesy warm feeling to hear my kids singing the songs I make up for them or playing the games I teach them after class is over. Last week I focused on winter clothes, like "scarf" and "hat," and for any other teachers of young children out there, you can try this too.
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My kids already knew the word "snowman" because I taught it with my Christmas unit the week before. I cut out five snowman shapes, then paper-doll style, traced scarves and hats for each one to wear. (For added longevity, I "laminate" them with packaging tape).  I stick the hats and scarves on with wall-putty, the kind you used to hang up super cool posters of The Breakfast Club in your dorm room. 

Then I stick them onto the board, invite the kids to comment on what colors the snowmen are wearing, etc, and I teach them this chant/song with the visual of the snowmen and some accompanying dramatic actions:

Five little snowmen went out one day (march in place)
wearing a scarf and a hat. (grab neck for scarf, pull on a hat for hat)
Out came the sun (fan yourself like it's hot... stick the Sun sticker above one snowman)

and melted one! (hold up one finger)
Blublublublublublu (that's the sound of melting, sway like you're melting of course)
And he was only a scarf and a hat. (remove the snowman, leave the scarf and hat. Look sad).


Four little snowmen......... etc

Once they know it, I let them have a chance to be the snowmen with scarves and hats I bring from home. I just do Two Little Snowmen, and hold my sun cutout over one of their head. They have fun melting and being silly.
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I also show them a card. My kids really like these kinds of cards I make, kind of like a flip book, with something on the front that is changed when you open it up. 
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Then I prepare photocopies for them to color their own. Then they can feel the pride of saying the rhyme themselves and opening up the card to show the surprise of the melted snowman. These are easy to make. I just fold up a piece of paper and draw what needs to be drawn on the front and inside, then unfold it again to make the copies. 
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That's it! Pretty simple and it works. If you're in need of a teaching idea for your young'uns, feel free to steal this one. I'm just sorry if you can't draw because most of my stuff revolves around having a teeny bit of cartooning skills. But it shouldn't be too hard to find the images online!
 
 
Well, as a foreigner in China, I guess I'm always "out there" in a way. Whether I want them to or not, people tend to notice me no matter if I'm wearing my wackiest outfit or just trying to buy some groceries in my sweatpants. Just kidding, I never wear sweat pants. But you get the gist. 

So I surprised even myself when I agreed to go on stage and literally take the spot light, intentionally putting myself under the scrutiny of a room full of Chinese people. And I had to do more than buy a bottled water. I sang. With my guitar! I am absolutely NOT a guitar player and never dreamed I would perform accompanying myself on one, but hey. Since when is life predictable? 
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Let's be honest. The main reason I was asked to do this was not because I proved myself a rock goddess on the guitar. It's because I'm a foreigner. I was at a casual English Corner at a local pub/cafe and there was a guitar floating around, so with my two beer confidence, I allowed myself to be pressured into playing a song. A few of the University students attending the English Corner were organizing a kind of End of Year Variety Show and as good as told me the students would get a kick out of seeing a foreigner onstage at their event. 
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So then there I found myself on December 22nd, in my holiday inspired outfit (that I wished I had gotten a better picture of), about to go onstage and perform my mediocre songs after a really surprsingly professional tight-knit, impressive show. It went okay! I did mess up one tiny time, and my friends in the audience (whom I must credit the photos to) said when I spoke I had on my "kindergarten teacher" voice. But I'm just happy I did it!  It made the true challenge to come later that week seem not so horrible: On Friday, I had to prepare 3 special lessons that the parents of my kindergartners and preschoolers would observe. That's a tale of nausea for a whole 'nother nightmare. 
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Let's just say it ended in icing covered faces and overall good cheer.
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Wedneday, December 15th
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9:00am
Put on lots of layers to face a cold cold day.

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10:00am
Made some flashcards. Used magic markers and my classy laminating system: packaging tape.

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11:00am
Got home from preschool and practiced guitar a little bit so as not to make too huge of an embarrassment out of myself at a talent show rehearsal.

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12:00pm
Steamed some veggies for lunch.

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1:00pm
Snowing outside. Bundled up extra warm to take a harrowing bike ride into the University area, where the aforementioned rehearsal was to take place.

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2:00
Finished rehearsal and walked back to the cafe with my friend, Andy (at whose behest I got mixed up in the whole talent show mess in the first place), to enjoy a hot drink before the ride home.

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3:00pm
Got home with just enough time to break into the new hot water heating pad I bought to replace the exploded one. I wasn't lying when I spoke of teddy bear heads in my last post!!

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4:00pm
Left the kindergarten as it began to get dark and saw these snowy flowers.

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5:00pm
Ate leftover vegetables in bed with a good show on the computer. Attempted to regain feeling in fingers and toes. 

The end!
 
 
Pronounced "yo may yo" it literally means "have/no have" and is one of the most useful bits of mandarin to know to find out if something is in a store/nearby/in someone's possession. I could kiss mandarin on the mouth for being so blessedly simple at times. No conjugating "be" verbs or even having to learn different pronouns for masculine and feminine; the language does not distinguish between male and female, everyone is just "ta." From my very very beginner's standpoint, it seems the grammar structures aren't terribly complicated either. Ever hear a Chinese person with broken English say things like "We no have. This no good. You like? You no like?"... well literally translated back into Chinese, that is how the sentence structure is supposed to be. I love it.

As you can probably imagine, there are some things from home that mei you in this lovely new land of mine, things that I missed at first but as time goes by, I don't really notice their absence. The first one would have to be Swiffer products, closely followed by Clorox Wipes. It used to be so easy to just run one of those dust collecting Swiffer papers over any surface in need of attention, or take a Clorox wet wipe to the counters after cooking and call it done. 
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I know it says "Green Works: natural" on the label, but let's be honest about the greenliness of these products. Maybe they're made from more environmentally gentle stuff than their generic counterparts, but at the end of the day they are still used once and thrown away. Pretty much the definition of waste. At first I bemoaned the fact that I had to clean with these prehistoric tools known as a broom and cloth, but really, if China and its 1.whatever billion population converted to the Swiffer religion, think of all the buildup of discarded one-use wipes the planet would see!

The other product I miss from home I can't forgive China so easily for lacking: Avocados!!! Avocados, glorious avocados, they invade my dreams while i sleep, my thoughts when I'm awake... I would do many immoral acts for a ripe avocado right now. Nicotine is easier to quit.
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Of course there are things we have here in China that America should really get on board with! Maybe we do have some of these things, but I've never seen them, and certainly not being sold on every corner like they are here!


Super genius invention number 1: 
The insect murdering racket. You plug it into the wall, then use it to electrocute all those elusive pests. 
The bugs sizzle up with a satisfying zap of light. 
So much easier and deadlier than your average fly swatter.
This thing is incredible. 
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2. Plug-in hot water bag. 
These bags of water come in cute shapes and colors and are sold in EVERY SINGLE STORE, I kid you not. Basically, you plug it in to the outlet, wait for it to boil up and get all warm, then sit with it in your lap or hands, or put it under your blankets by your feet. Toes go from ice cubes to bugs in a rug in no time. Make sure not to go for the cheapest one, though... The one pictured here kind of blew up on me shortly after this photograph so I may have to upgrade to an adorable teddy bear head.
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3. The sleeve protectors.
I admit, I was a bit confused when I saw these at first, thinking they looked kind of silly, but really they are one of the simplest most useful inventions! I've seen my kids wearing them to do painting projects, and butchers wearing them in the food markets, and cleaners using them to scrub. I've seen people wearing them when they ride their bikes, and they make excellent wind breakers and add a little extra protection from the elements. I like them because I don't have to worry about rolling up my sleeves and keeping them rolled up while I cook and get gunk on my hands and try to pull them up with my teeth.... what a mess. 
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In short, part of moving to a new culture has been to accept the you mei you's that come along with it. Sure, I'd probably stand naked in the snow for the promise of an avocado right about now, but for the most part, the things they have far outweigh the things they no have. Score for China!
 
 
I find it so hard to write when I don't feel like things are going my way. I'd like to blame the weather and culture shock, but are these excuses becoming worn down? I feel worn down. I think I complain about my health a lot on this blog, but really, I haven't had a full week of good health since arriving in China. Maybe it's the air quality. I've adopted the chic look of the surgical mask for when I'm on scooter rides, and they sell them all over the place in all kinds of cute patterns. It could be the fact that I work in a germ factory, where I often find myself looking into a pair of crusty nostrils as I repeat a pronunciation. And it could also have something to do with my diet. 

I don't exactly miss Western food... I'm not sitting here drooling over memories of some favorite dish or wishing the local super market would magically start stocking any particular thing. But I miss the whole tradition of Western dining as a whole. The attitude of being able to "have it your way" (is that Subway or Burger King?) is literally foreign in China. You don't go messing with the set menu in an establishment, not without pushing against considerable friction and bafflement on the  part of the cooks and servers. Even if you do have the energy to take on explaining how you want your meal prepared, you're likely to be served the food the way the chef thinks it ought to be made regardless what you asked. This gets tiring when I often find myself eating with people who don't want spicy food, because it seems like the cooks see "no spicy" as the same as "a little spicy".... to them, it's hard to imagine the food with no spicy, it's just wrong, I'm sure! 


It's hard to get a fresh salad here, almost impossible. I think it has to do with the idea that cold foods are bad for digestion? But this results in every meal being heavily oiled. Also, as I said, it's hard to control what goes into your food, it's not as simple as saying "hold the mustard" so I know for a fact I am consuming all kinds of MSG and artificial flavoring when I used to enjoy the taste and health benefits of raw or barely-seasoned food. Also, Chinese eat complex carbs for almost every meel. Don't get me wrong, fresh noodles are about the most delicious thing known to man, but they aren't good for the waistline or nutrition when enjoyed in excess. 
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This is one of my favorite noodle dishes to order, especially on a cold cold day. The soup it's in tastes kind of cilantro and cinnamony. I also consider it somewhat nutritional because it's got a lot of green veggies and an egg. Yes, doused in oil and seasoning, but relatively speaking, it's better than a lot of options.

I should probably cook more but all I have to cook with is a hot plate, so I'm limited to boiling and frying. And I just don't have the energy to go out and barter for the vegetables, clean them, cook, clean the dishes...

I know I sound like a terrible complainer today. It's easy to be a complainer on days like this. It's so cold, I'm too chicken to go outside to find lunch. I'm sitting here, munching on peanuts, wishing I could just spread some hummus on some whole wheat bread and be done with it. But I need to lighten up! I mean, oh, poooor meee, I'm in another country shopping my heart out having adventures but there are no sandwiches! Boo hoo! 

And I totally forgot to mention that there is some amazing sushi around here. There is a kind of restaurant where you pay 100 rmb per person and it's all you can eat and all you can drink!!!!! It's amazing!!! But only on rare occasions because a meal normally costs more like 10 rmb. We ate at one such place over the weekend and it was deeeeelightful. Now I guess I'm gonna suck it up and go eat some rice.
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I received a request for more info about my daily life. I decided to do one of my picture every hour projects yesterday, which was unfortunately a rather dull day. But dull or not, here it is in photographic form!
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8:30 Got to my first class of the day and found the midst of a three-legged race! They're always doing some kind of fun physical activity when I show up in the mornings.

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9:30 Returned to the dorms where I usually run into this or a different pair of grandmas and babies. This time she was giving him a little ride on my scooter! Cuteness documented.

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11:00 Got back from my second class and REALLY needed a nap after that ordeal. 

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1:30 I slept through the next few hours, and woke up to Sushi. My lovely friends went to our favorite Japanese restaurant and brought me back food, so I ate it in bed while watching Southpark, mentally preparing for my 2nd graders.

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3:00 Rode my bike home from the Primary school after a relatively successful 2nd grade class.

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4:00 Walked home after a disastrous preschool class. Got a pep talk from the teacher about being more stern and ALMOST got a little choked up but didn't cry.


MISSING SCENES: Collapsed into  bed and slept for the next 3 hours.

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8:00 Put on my fancy new shoes and went out to dinner with Liam, Erik, and Melon near the University we frequent.

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9:00 Walked through here on our way to our scooters and home.

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10:00 Snapped a quick self portrait for my 365 Days project and then went to bed.


Pretty broring, right? I promise next time I do this picture every hour feature I will choose a slightly more interesting day! Yesterday just happened to be one of those gray quiet sleepy days without a lot going on. They happen everywhere in the world.
 
 
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What makes me say this?

Well, I received my first gift of an apple! 

And I've lost my voice, probably due to talking, singing, and reprimanding. 

I think my successes are finally starting to sliiiightly outweigh my failures. For this I must acknowledge and pay homage to the guidance of the mighty wise ones around me. Of course there is my mother, who was an educator for like 30 years, who is always there with some seasoned advice whenever I come to her with my novice teaching woes. I can't measure the amount of clever ideas and moral support this woman has doled out! Then there's my friend and fellow foreign teacher, Liam, who completely blew me away when he was kind enough to come to one of my hellish 3rd grade lessons last week. His experience really showed, they were like a different class with him! I'd go as far as to suggest he may be a child-whisperer. Anyway, I learned a ton of useful tricks from him, and in fact, this was the same class that gifted me the apple yesterday. I was also presented with a sticker featuring the portrait of a flirtatious anime girl, which I displayed proudly on the back of my hand (the kids really prize these things so it was a sweet gift). Maybe I'm too easily swayed with a sticker, but honestly, they're not bad kids... just too rowdy and a nightmare to teach! Sometimes I wish I could just play with the children all day instead of having to pretend to be some kind of disciplinarian....  

Probably not so real-teacherly, I was given the day off today after my first class when my pr-k teacher friend, Ruby, heard my raspy voice. It was really a wonderful thing, though, because I got to sit and watch her do the lesson, and I must say I learned quite a bit about teaching small children and my class in particular from this demonstration. I am amazed over and over again at how magical the simplest techniques can be with this age group! She has real skill, though, too, knowing how to have them moving around but not going wild, and getting them to perform the meaningful repetition I constantly strive for. She has told me before to have "competitions" which I scratched my head at, but I saw from her lesson how simple it can be! Hers was just having girls versus boys perform the song she taught (monkeys on the bed), and judge which group did better. As easy as that, and the children were entertained and picked up the song. On the other hand of the simplicity though, I witnessed that the children can comprehend far more complex instructions and questions than I had realized. 

Anyway, it got me pumped to do better with them. I feel sheepish about the fact that I think my salary is more than the average Chinese teacher because I don't think I deserve it. I have nothing on them beyond the coincidental fortune of having been born a native English speaker. I want to do better than that!! I want to become an awesome teacher who can problem solve any classroom management issue like my mom, wrangle hyper children like cowboy Liam, and entertain a bunch of 3 year olds while simultaneously teaching them English. In other words, I want to be able to call myself a "teacher" and feel like I live up to the title!