Day one of our 33 day holiday is coming to an end, and it’s time to recap and reflect.
Hanoi City – Organized Chaos
We have begun our trip in Hanoi: a bustling and historic Vietnamese city. We’re staying in the Old Quarter of Vietnam’s capital, where coffee shops are on every street corner and motorbikes are the primary means of transportation. There’s an organized chaos here, in every sense of the word.
There are thousands of shops piled atop one another, and everywhere you look, there are people eating bowls of Pho on the sides of the street, and sipping coffee at tiny tables, sitting on tiny plastic stools. What’s interesting, though, is that all those tiny little shops are organized and neatly merchandised. My (extremely neat) sister would be impressed by the level of organization these shop owners manage to have in their little side-of-the-road shops.
A good friend of ours lived in Vietnam for 4 years and she gave us valuable advice before we left for Hanoi. She told us that the roads here are like a river; vehicles weave in and around one another and never really stop moving. She told us to walk boldly but slowly and that vehicles would mostly just part around us. It was terrifying at first, but she was right. There are no crosswalks in the North American sense, but somehow, we got around just fine. In a lot of ways it was less scary than India. Ok…in every way.
French colonialism is easily identifiable all over the city. The streets, buildings and even French language are visible everywhere you go. Cambodia was also colonized by the French, but the impact there wasn’t as obvious as it is in Hanoi.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake – Passive and Pleasant
After a long day of travel yesterday and a long semester of 60-hour weeks, I wasn’t up for much today, so we mostly spent our time down by Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which was a lovely experience. The lake is a beautiful spot for wedding photos, so we saw several happy couples being chased by photographers.
A Monk, enjoying the view
Some interesting trees
A cobblestone bridge. I love cobblestone!!!
A happy pair of newliweds
Some beautiful bonsais
There was a small temple by the lake as well. We paid 30,000 dong each to enter (less than $2 Canadian) and enjoyed the quietness of the place.
There’s plenty to see walking along the lake. The Old Quarter is a lovely place to spend the afternoon!
Different from Delhi / A Change from China
One of my favourite parts of travel is walking around at night, when the shops are lit up and the weather has cooled. Vietnam is so different from India. While there are shops everywhere, just as there is in New Delhi, nobody grabs you by the arms and nobody is too terribly pushy. South East Asia, though hectic and tourist oriented, seems to have more of a dignity about it. People bargain, but don’t try and rip you off. People try and sell their goods, but if you say no, they move on with their days, un-offended and un-worried.
The restaurant where we had dinner. They greeted us when they saw us looking at the menu, but never grabbed me by the arm to try and pull me in, as was the usual experience in New Delhi
Tonight we walked around for a little while and found a restaurant where we enjoyed the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had. Although I love Chinese food, the oil has started to gross me out a bit. Vietnamese food is fresher and crispier…with more raw vegetables and coconut sauces. Dinner was delicious…and the coffee I just finished was an excellent way to end the night!
Tomorrow we set off for HaLong Bay…another UNESCO World Heritage Site to add to our list. We’ll be spending 2 nights and 3 days enjoying one of Vietnam’s greatest treasures.
The Terracotta warriors are easily one of China’s most famous and fascinating pieces of history. This clay army was created more than 2200 years ago for China’s famed emperor, Qin Shi Huang. I mentioned in my Great Wall post that China was originally several small settlements that all had separate walls, but later in history, an emperor united all the territories into 1 country. This emperor, Qin, was the same guy who commissioned the Terracotta Army, so that he’d have ample protection in the afterlife.
It took 700,000 workers roughly 40 years to build this magnificent army. Each soldier (and there – are over 8000 of them) is unique. Torsos, legs and arms were mass-produced with a single mold. The bodies for different types of warriors differed, of course (archers had different bodies than generals, of course), but other than that, the torsos were made in a pretty uniform way. The faces, however, are all different, and it is thought that each one is based on one of the 700,000 workers who built this fascinating army.
Each of these faces was probably the face of a worker who built the warriors or dug the pits.
As I mentioned, there are several different types of soldiers found in the 3 excavation pits. Foot soldiers, archers, generals and cavalry are all present in the pits and you can learn about each of them by reading the many signs put up around the exhibits.
Terracotta is a type of clay, so sadly, many of these soldiers have been damaged by collapsing roofs and enemy armies. Many of the soldiers are missing their heads or other body parts, mostly due to military attacks.
Heads were often smashed by enemy soldiers
Archaeologists have been working on restoring some of the damaged soldiers for years, and have discovered some interesting things throughout the process. For example, the warriors were originally painted and very colourlful. Also, there is a whole section of warriors that are based on Chinese minorities and different ethnic groups throughout the country. This was a diverse army!
I stole this picture off the Terracotta Warriors Wikipedia page. It is not mine, unfortunately! (i didn’t want to pay extra to go into that extra little room…there wasn’t much to see)
One of my favourite parts of the visit was seeing the area where warriors are being put back together, piece by piece. When I wasn’t taking Literature or Writing classes in University, I was taking every Classical History class I could. What always amazed me about this field of study, is how much archaeologists are able to learn from a site like the Terracotta Warriors. Just by studying these old pieces of clay, we can learn about ancient military customs, tools, building materials and countless other details. It’s even widely believed that the Terracotta Warriors have Hellenistic roots. Their shape and the way they were created is very similar to Greek artwork.
Being put back together, piece by piece
This army was our main reason for wanting to see Xi’an during the holiday. I must say, the Terracotta Warriors are well-worth seeing, but I wouldn’t recommend seeing them during the October Holiday. The crowds were positively dangerous and more than once, Dave had to grab my hand to get me through the swarms of people. If I hadn’t had photography to keep my mind off the crowds, I would have been in a straight up panic attack.
Crowds in Pit 2. This is when the crowds were still manageable…
Trying to get an up-close look at complete warriors was tough…
The worst of the crowds were in Pit #1. This is the most famous pit, where you can see 6000+ soldiers and 50 Chariots.
I assumed the guards were going to let a certain number of people in at a time, but instead they let everyone in at once…
These were the people behind me, all trying to get that same shot
This was the crowd in front of me, all trying to push to the railing, or trying to get out (like our friend Kevin did)
Unfortunately, the crowds were so intense that I never actually got to see the warriors from the front. I waited for ages, but when people started to panic and push their way through to the front, Dave grabbed me and pulled me out. Neither of us are sure how that railing holds out…
There are people lined up all the way to the wall, all trying to push through to that white railing.
Once we got around the corner, the crowd seemed to thin out. There was an emergency exit that a lot of people took just to get away from the swarms of people. I didn’t want to give up entirely, so we kept on, along with thousands of other people, including little old ladies and small children. One particularly brutish guy (who was twice the size of most of the people around him) ended up getting my elbow to his chest and my finger in his face as I told him to knock it off! He did calm down, so I’m glad I did it…but all I could keep thinking in this crowd was how easy a stampede could happen.
Here are some pictures that I DID manage to get of the warriors.
Some pictures that I DID manage to get from the side of the pit
After pit 1, we headed to a nearby restaurant for lunch and some tea to calm us down. We were also shown Emperor Qin’s tomb sight (a mountain), but we weren’t allowed in, because of the high mercury levels there. Emperor Qin actually believed that Mercury was the key to longevity, so he ate it as much as he could. It’s probably what killed him. At least he left behind quite the legacy!!!
Our Tea Demonstration
Next week we leave for Vietnam and Laos! It should be a memorable trip!!!
I’m planning on blogging throughout the trip, much like I did in India last year, so prepare for lots of posts about all sorts of cool stuff! 33 days in South East Asia is bound to be one heck of an inspiration writing-wise!!
With Christmas coming up, and New Year’s day after that, I’m hoping to have a bit of time to catch up on my blog in the coming weeks. For now, I’ll begin with a post about our Golden Week holiday in Xian.
Every year Dave and I struggle with a difficult choice. One one hand, travelling during golden week is a nightmare of crowds and scams, and neither of us can be bothered to deal with any of it. On the other hand, it’s a chance to travel…our love of travelling always wins out, and this year, we decided to embark on an adventure to see China’s renown Terracotta Warriors, in Xi’an.
Although Dave and I have always taken trips on our own, we decided to switch things up for this holiday and we went to Xi’an with our friend, Kevin. We’ve met so many new people this year, and it’s been great expanding our group of friends. When you only live in a city for a year, it’d difficult to make quality friendships, because you’re mostly limited to only people you work with. In year two, you’ve had a chance to meet people outside of your school as well. It’s so great having a good base of friends to hang out with, who share our values, our interests and our love for KTV!! (except Kevin…he hates KTV :P. This is further proof to my suspicion that he’s not really Chinese at all!)
Because China’s train system is both more convenient and more cost effective than flying, we took the high speed train to Xian. The trip takes 6.5 hours from Suzhou, but with electric plugs and good company, the time flew by. Before we knew it, we were in China’s Shaanxi Province, and the former capital of the nation: Xian.
Although we mostly traveled to Xian for the Warriors, there was plenty else to see while we were there. Our hostel was located near two of the most famous buildings in the city: The drum tower and The Bell Tower. Both are beautiful during the day, but even more spectacular at night.
Coming up to the Bell Tower
We were also close to another of Xi’an’s main attractions: The Muslim Quarter. Chinese Muslim food is some of the best food in the country, and you can find it in abundance in Xi’an. From street carts, to shops to restaurants, if you enjoy mutton and spicy, high flavoured food, Xi’an will be a treat for your taste buds!
Delicious multigrain bread
Some kind of spongy dessert that was REALLY tasty!
Crushing chilies (we definitely bought some of these!)
Some quail egg dishes. We tried this as well!
Street meat! We didn’t try this…mostly because I saw someone taking those sticks from the garbage cans to reuse them….
The nightlife in Xi’an was most enjoyable for me. I found it to be quite hot there, but at night the temperature would drop a bit, and it became easier to wander around the city and see the sights that many tourists don’t usually see. We ended up in one area where there were dozens of tiny traditional Chinese restaurants. In that same area, we saw a ‘tea cup breaking’ ceremony that’s suppose to give you luck, and, of course, I made a sport of bargaining for gifts in Xi’an’s markets. After 4 years in China, I’ve become pretty good at getting good deals in these funny little places!
The buildings all light up at night
The entrance to the area with all the little restaurants
Smashing Tea Cups
Xi’an has a lot to offer for tourism, which is why 8 million people came to visit the city during Golden week in 2015. 2016 didn’t seem to be much different, because everywhere we went, we were fighting the crowds. If we were less positive of people, I would say that the crowds ruined our holiday, but we did our best to stay positive.
Crowds in the subway…
Crowds in the Muslim Quarter (he’s skinning sheep btw…)
More Muslim Quarter
Coming up to the Bell Tower
All in all, I’ll remember Xi’an for the fantastic meals we ate, and the terracotta warriors. They deserve a post of their own, so I’ll be writing about them next time!!
This roast fish dish has created a new tradition; Fish Fridays are now sometimes the only thing that gets me through my crazy weeks!
We found some fantastic Peking duck in Xi’an as well!
Stay tuned for a history lesson on China’s Qin Dynasty, as well as some fabulous anecdotes and photos from our trip to see one of China’s National Treasures!
With 60+ hour work weeks keeping me busy, it’s been rough keeping up a decent sleep pattern, but recently I’ve had some time free up, so here I am once more…back to the blog! Now that I finally have a spare moment, I thought it’s time that I finish blogging about our summer Holiday in Vancouver. I’ve saved my favourite 2 parts of our stay in BC for last.
But first, take a look at my latest work project:
My big project as of late: Getting portraits of every student in our department
I’m actually very proud of the results. I did my best to try and capture each student’s personality on camera
Some students, like Samuel, are so expressive that it was easy to get a good shot
Other students, I caught off guard.,.
Then there are students, like Roy, who planned out their pose ahead of time. Such a funny kid!!
Canada in summer is a beautiful thing. People always ask me if it ever gets warm where I live, and I always have to laugh. It amazes me how many people abroad think that Canada is a bleak winter wonderland year-round. They don’t realize that we have 4 distinct seasons (some longer than others, I will admit) and that summer is actually quite lovely.
What I love about Canadian summers though, is that it’s just the right amount of heat. Summer in Suzhou (even in May and June) are oppressive, but Canada (especially Vancouver) has the perfect climate. We were lucky during our visit to the West Coast because it hardly rained. We had sunny skies and perfect weather most of the trip. I don’t feel like the weather was any more perfect than when we were at Stanley Park, though.
The sun was shining, there was a light breeze! Just a perfect day!!
Dave and I checking out the Totems
Even in Canada we can’t escape the Chinese and their need for ‘perfect’ pictures….You should have seen her climbing up there!!!
Everyone talks about how Stanley Park is a top destination in Vancouver, but I feel like it’s so much more than that. For me, Stanley Park was a refreshing step into nature and beauty and purity. We walked around the perimeter of the park, took detours down trails, hopped on the tram and sat by the sea side. It was such a gorgeous way to spend the day and I felt sort of like I did at Elephant Nature Park, where when it came time to go, I felt emotional about having to leave that amazing place.
Wild raspberries growing in Stanley Park
There were plenty of people out but it never felt crowded.
For a very reasonable fee, we were able to hop on and off of the tram that drives all around the park.
Lion’s Gate Bridge
When I die, I do NOT want a tomb stone…I want a bench. Where people can sit and enjoy a nice, shaded view of a lake or the ocean.
Maybe it’s been my time in one of the world’s most polluted countries, but my love for trees has deepened over the past few years. I’ve always loved a forest trail, but now, I feel like I could just get lost in them and stay there happily forever. To be honest, that’s how I felt about Vancouver in general, but Stanley Park definitely was a high point in an already awesome week.
The other highlight of our week in Vancouver was our trip to see wild orcas off the west coast of British Columbia. As someone who is morally opposed to companies like SeaWorld (see Blackfish or The Cove if you’re interested in knowing why), I was thrilled at the opportunity to see orcas in the wild, in their element, doing what orcas do.
There really aren’t any words that can describe how cool it was to watch the big male hunting for salmon right under our boat, or the juvenile spy-hopping with his aunt right near our boat. I couldn’t help but feel like these killer whales were putting on a show for us. At one point, after a successful hunt, they all started slapping their back fins on the water. Our ‘naturalist’ said that they don’t really know why whales do that, but they think it’s usually to do with celebration. How cool is that??
My only regret is how choppy the water was when we were out on our tour. We were all getting soaked in the boat, so it was impossible for me to get my good camera out and get any closeup shots. Luckily, we also own a waterproof camera, so we had that one out the whole time, but of course, choppy waters = a splashed lens, so the shots weren’t always as clear as I’d have liked.
Captivated by the wild orcas
Dave and I chilling out in the back of the boat with the sea-sick people. We started off back there because we’d made the mistake of sitting up front in Thailand. We knew better for this trip…
Our naturalist. I can’t for the life of me remember his name, but he knew his stuff and he was so passionate about the orcas. He was even able to tell us the names and histories of the ones we were seeing. It was so cool!
I promise though, that the memories we made that day will be imprinted in my memory forever…and those memories are sans salt water smudges 😉
Here’s a video….I tried to keep it short so that you don’t feel sea sick watching it! (I definitely felt nauseous a few times when editing it down haha!!)
It’s hard to believe that Dave and I have nearly been back in China for a month already! The past 3+ weeks have flown by possibly even faster than our time in Canada did! I sat down today with the intention of writing about Vancouver and realized that until I updated all the things that have been going on out here, I couldn’t focus on another topic. So here we go!!
I’ve Been Performing as a Lead Vocalist!
Until recently, I was working back up or in duets with The Chairmen. It’s been great fun playing with those guys, but when Kit (our fearless leader) approached me and asked if I’d do a duet show with our guitarist, Mark, I jumped on the opportunity. We’ve only done one show so far, but it was pretty cool singing all 3 sets by myself. Best of all, Mark is super flexible about what play, so I’ve been able to do a bunch of new stuff. It was a nice switch up after all the Adele and Stevie Nicks I’ve been doing since May!!
Mark and I at our first show
Mark, Kit and I at the Expat Talent Show
I’m Competing in the Suzhou Expat Talent Show!
This one came about in a bit of a crazy way…Back in July, one of the HR staff at my school contacted me about representing the school at some kind of school district party. I agreed because I knew I’d already be back in Suzhou by that point and all was good. They knew I cover Adele, so they recommended I do “Rolling in the Deep”. I was cool with it.
Fast forward to the day of the ‘government party’…it turns out that this was less of a school district party and more of a ‘government beer party’. There was a full band there waiting for me along with about 100 government officials and 200 teachers (etc) from schools in the area.
The real kicker was when HR Frank told me…about an hour before I went on…that if it went well, I would be representing Suzhou Foreign Language School in this year’s Expat Talent Show. Notice that he didn’t ask…
It went well. Fast forward to 4 DAYS LATER (!!!!) and it was talent show time! There was a mix up with the band (mainly, there wasn’t one) but I lucked out when I learned that The Chairmen (my band) were also going to be performing (the rest of them all work for the same school). They ended up backing me for my song too, and the performance went pretty well! Here, you can see it yourself!!!
To my credit, I don’t feel like I looked as unprepared as I felt! I was very relieved to have Kit and Mark there! I also had a student come to see me perform, which was pretty awesome. I have awesome students. Have I mentioned that?
Rolling in the deeeeeeep
A beautiful stage!
The hosts for the evening
My friend, Tom, rocking it out with a 5 song mashup!!
I have no idea what the results were for this show. From what I understand, they are going to be watching video auditions for the next month, and choosing people to go onto the second round from there. I just hope I find out with more than 4 days to prepare this time!!!
I Am Writing for a News APP and a Newspaper!!
The night of the talent show, I received a text message from an editor at Nihao Suzhou, an APP designed to help foreigners in China (it’s actually a branch of Nihao China…every city has their own, I believe). They had been for writers earlier in the week, and I’d inquired along with a link to my blog. The editor liked my work and asked me to write an 800 word piece about anything I wanted. A week later, I was published!
The article was pretty successful and received over 2000 views in the first day. Carrie, my editor, told me to go ahead and write another article if I wanted, and I submitted that one today! Also, she was so happy with the article that she recommended it for publication in the Suzhou Daily Newspaper! So there’s that, too!
I Lost the Olympics
Dave and I decided that we wanted to be more social this year, so we’ve been busy trying ot get involved in the expat community. Dave’s joined a gaelic football team, I’ve been doing gigs (and everything else above)…and we subscribed to this really cool website called InterNations.
InterNations plans all sorts of events across the city. The one we attended last weekend was held at the Kempinski Hotel, where there is a Paulaner Brewery. We got to learn about the ancient German art of beer making and we spent the afternoon playing games with a few friends we’d dragged along, and a LOT of new friends that we met at the event.
The Ladies of our team
Our friend Kevin, and his team
Lizz and I, designing our team flag
Dave and Jeff with their gold medals
I did not win. Not by a long shot. But it WAS a blast! And I feel like we met some really cool people. It was definitely a good time and we’ll be attending another InterNations event next Friday.
Musical Beers. It ended…messy…
Me..Desperately trying to get my cup to flip over and STAY UPRIGHT!!!
Mia, killing it at Beer Pong (just kidding…our team only managed to get 1 in, the whole game!!!)
Our team mate, Miguel, playing the 1 game I sat out. I can sip beer…I am not a chugger. I cheered from the sidelines!!
September 1st was our first day of classes. I am transitioned into a full-time English teacher (no more cooking classes) and am getting to know my 2 new grade 7 classes! So far, my new coworkers are upbeat and awesome, and I’m having a great time!
Our reward system for the year. Those are all the core teachers in my department
One of my new Grade 7 writing classes
So that’s been our last 3 and a half weeks! Pretty wild! Now I need to catch up on some sleep…
It’s hard to believe how quickly 6 weeks can fly by! After 5 weeks in Manitoba and then 1 week in Vancouver, it’s an understatement to say that I was happy to sleep in my own bed again! Our cats were well cared for over the holiday and are happy as clams to have us home, back in our little routine. Poe continues to act as my alarm clock and Hugo seems to be even more cuddly than ever! Life is good here back in Suzhou!
Manitoba was a grand time. We were able to catch up with friends, spend time with family and I even got to meet my nephew, Zachary, for the first time. It’s funny because adults change so little from year to year, but the kids….WOW do they grow! I’m convinced that at least 1 of my nephews is going to be taller than me next year! My niece, Ellie, learned how to read over the past year and her little sister began talking…things change so much in their little lives while we’re away!
Addyson is growing up into such a goofy kid!! And Ellie continues to be all sweetness and intellect
My nephew Dmitri! He didn’t know I was taking a picture haha! We spent an evening help him build a wooden model we brought him home from China
Getting to know my little Zachary
Our 5 weeks in Winnipeg were spent well. We were able to see a Fringe Show, visit the Forks and even visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights! Last year had been too rushed to stop by this architectural marvel, but I really enjoyed our afternoon there, learning new things and being reminded of things that shouldn’t be forgotten.
I really love this building
We visited the museum with one my favourite people in the world: Dianne!
Beautiful ramps going up the museum
Why is Fair Trade helpful? Because it allows people….
My views on reconcilliation
Loved in interior architecture!
I organized a Paint Night with some of my favourite gals and that turned out to be a tonne of fun! I’d recommend it as a fun night out to anyone who wishes they can paint or actually can paint! I have artistic skills in that way and mine still turned out pretty well! See!!!
A good portion of my summer was spent outside. I was able to play at the pool with my nieces and nephew, sit around bonfires and spend LOTS of time outside! The air is so fresh and clean in Canada and the temperature is perfect for being outside. Currently, it’s sitting at about 40 degrees Celsius in Suzhou, so I definitely miss the Prairie temperatures already!
Sitting out on the deck with our dear neighbor Yvonne and her fabulous puppy, Brodey!
Playing with the girls at the park
Geese at the Forks
Oddly enough, it was a game that took up most of our time in Manitoba! Pokemon Go was all the rage back home and Dave and I spent countless hours walking around Steinbach and The Winnipeg Forks trying to catch a Pikachu or hatch a Snorlax. I was never lucky on either of those counts, but my sister managed to catch 3 of the little yellow Pokemon! I will forever be jealous, because Pokeman Go is banned in China. It runs through Google Maps, which is blocked by the Great Fire Wall, so there is no Pokeman here for us to play.
Finding Weedles at Tim Hortons! Such a Canadian Picture!
My gorgeous sisters 🙂
We often paired up our Pokeman hunting with Geo caching! We were able to find a few in Steinbach!
We also had our yearly BBQ at St. Malo Provincial Park! It was such a blast last year that we planned it out again this year. We had loads of people come down and spent the day out in the sun with ys, playing in the water and enjoying WAYY Y too much food!
The yearly update picture. None of us felt like taking it seriously this year!
My dad takes any opportunity he can to spoil the grandkids!
My sister, keeping a sleeping Zach company (hahaha! Such a sport for coming out, even though she was ‘under the weather’!!!
My sister knits the cutest hats!!!!
I mentioned the food…
My oldest friend, Veronique, make her way down to the beach even though she only had 30 minutes to spare! My summer would not have been complete without her!!
It’s hard to point to a ‘favourite’ memory of our 2016 trip home, but the most inspiring event was definitely Steinbach’s 1st Pride Parade. Dave and I attended, expecting there to be a small crowd of maybe 100 or 200 people…little did we know that over 3500 people came in from all over the province for the event! There were actually people who flew in all the way from Orlando for Steinbach’s first pride. It was a pretty huge deal!
The number of attendees was inspiring in of itself, but Steinbach’s reaction to the event was also good. The Automobile City has caught a lot of flack over the last few years for their stance on LGBT rights and a variety of other subjects. There have been issues within the school division over these matters and protests regarding bullying bills aimed at protecting LGBT students. But instead of holding a protest or causing a fuss over the parade, Steinbach let it happen.
Some Mennonite Humour!!!
By standers brought signs too!
Although some companies in Steinbach refused to support the event, far more came with signs and showed their belief in equality! It was fantastic!
There were plenty of spectators there who were watching the parade and there was a tonne of support. Many people in Steinbach have softened their views on homosexuality as they’ve grown to know people in the LGBT community or have learned that people in their own families are gay. I saw many signs that said things like ‘proud parent’ or ‘supportive parent’. It was really beautiful to see such acceptance in a city that has previously been branded intolerant. It was a huge step for Steinbach and although I know not everyone in the city agreed with the event…that’s not the point! It’s ok not to agree with it…I’m just happy no one showed up with eggs or protest signs. That’s what tolerance is, after all…accepting that people might thing differently than you. You don’t have to agree with them, but you should give them the freedom to have their own beliefs.
It isn’t pride without some crazy costumes! These guys were my favourite!
Even the animals showed up!!!
People came from all around the province!
3500 people showed up!
Dave and I…happy to see so much acceptance in our city!
So that is a very brief summary of our stay in Manitoba! Our final week in Canada was spent in Vancouver, which I will be writing about soon! I have 1 or 2 posts planned before I can get to our time on the West Coast, but I’m still off work until September 1st, so I should be able to get a fair amount of blogging in between now and then!
So, stay tuned for entertaining posts such as:
Beginning a new Semester in China…things teachers should know
Tips for new Expats living in Suzhou
Vivacious Vancouver: From Kits Beach to Stanley Park
Another day, another blog post! We decided to change things up and go to a Starbucks out in Suzhou New District (where SFLS is located) because I have a farewell IGCSE dinner to attend later tonight. It’s so crazy that another term is finished! Most of the department is returning next year, but we are losing a teacher or two that I wish we were keeping.
Personally, I’m happy to be staying in the department. I really like the administration in IGCSE and next year I’ll be taking over as the grade 7 and 8 English teacher. Right now I only teach 1 writing class but next year I’ll be teaching 3, plus 3 oral and listening classes. I think it’ll be better for me than teaching Food and Nutrition and I know I’m more qualified for my new role. Plus, I still get to keep 2 of my drama classes and I’ll be starting a new Publishing and Editing elective next year (my class will be in charge of the school yearbook, the school calendar and our departmental blog!). Exciting things are in store for me in September!
Although teaching Food and Nutrition wasn’t my cup of tea, the end of the year was a lot of fun!
Neat and Tidy!
The Grade 7 IGCSE boys
My grade 7 writing class is one of my favourites to teach, and I know I’m going to miss them over the summer. These kids are very bright for their age so I decided to teach them how to write simple thesis statements in an effort to better organize their writing. Michael is a student who tends to be a bit of a downer…always complaining about how tough life is. I taught him the word ‘optimistic’ earlier this year and he’s used it every chance he could. This was my favourite use of this word:
This year I see them twice a week, but next year I get them 6 times a week, so I’m pretty excited about that! These kids never stop making me laugh! They are truly a joy!!
Tom from IG1…he may not be the most studious student of the bunch, but he’s hilarious
The IG1 kids standing outside the teacher’s locked office while Nathan and I were practicing our song for the IG2 Charity Show
IGCSE is a really cool department to be part of. Although I mostly taught in the Elite Department this past year, I took part in several IGCSE projects and I ran the school yearbook as well. All of the staff try to provide a well rounded school life for the students and I try to help out whenever I can. But my favourite thing about IG is the way they help out with a migrant school in Suzhou.
Migrant schools are for children whose parents are from other provinces but who have come to Suzhou for work. They are highly underfunded and the students don’t as good of an education. Each class in our department gets a chance to visit a migrant school each team. This means that nearly every month, my department takes an afternoon to spend time teaching students English. It’s a learning experience for everyone involved because the migrant kids get some English lessons and the IG kids get to see how lucky they are to be going to a school with the resources that SFLS has. We have Nathan (my boss) to thank for this added activity for the students. He’s been working with the migrant school for years and has won awards for the help he’s given them.
Nathan and I performing at the Grade 8 Charity Fundraiser last week
The students sold tickets to the show and prepared snacks and all proceeds went to help the Migrant School
Similarly, they had a food sale at Halloween which helped raise funds for the Migrant School
So all these little projects have really filled up my year, but none of them took as much of my focus and hard work than the Drama Festival. It took months of work, hours of writing, days of rehearsal…but in the end, it was all so worth it!!!
Because of my background in writing, I decided early on that my focus was going to be on writing the plays and (of course) having them act them out with comprehend-able English. Nathan ran the Drama festival last year, and with his art background there was a lot more focus on sets and props, so it was kind of cool to mix it up this year. I’m especially proud of the way each of my classes came up with their plays:
Step 1: I began the term in February by teaching my students how to write a story. First, we focused on writing good characters and making sure that their characters had depth. Then, I taught them about plot and what a good plot line looks like.
Step 2: Each class was separated into 4 groups and I gave them 2 weeks to write the outline for a play. I gave them free reign on the topics and they came up with very different stories.
The winning Elite 2 Boys group. Vasyli was intense about their play right from the start!
Tracy and Victoria from Elite 1 Girls. This class had the most difficulty choosing their play. In the end, it came down to a few votes….but even the losing teams did a fabulous job presenting their ideas to the rest of the class
Step 3: Each group presented their outline to the class and then the class voted on which play they would do for the drama festival.
Step 4: I took the winning outline and turned it into a play. I met with the students and got a better idea of what they wanted to see in their play and discussed ways that we could add characters so everyone who wanted to act could. Then I wrote the dialogue and presented it to them. Other than a few small details, the students were thrilled to see their ideas come to life on page in proper English.
One of the small performances between plays. This is a grade 8 boy from the Elite Department. He plays the piano beautifully and entertained the crowd while I organized the next play to go up
The sound guys from Elite 1 Boys. This was these guys’ first Drama festival and they were a little less organized than I’d hoped. Samuel is the kid covering his face…He’s in Grade 8 and was losing his patience with the excited boys! lol
Because of the way we did this, there was HUGE buy in from the students at the Drama Festival. Each class was so proud of their play and they all worked very hard to impress all the other students. Here’s the breakdown of each play:
Elite 1 Girls Class (Grade 7)
Their play had all the usual school characters: A good teacher, a Bad teacher, rich students, poor students, hard working students, lazy students…
Julia played the teacher-villain of the play (back row on the left). She did SUCH a wonderful job. When she finished her first scene the whole audience went nuts. She memorized her lines within 2 weeks of receiving the script and she had more lines than anyone else in the play
These girls wanted to write a story with a moral, so that’s what we did. They worked the hardest out of any of my classes on their emphasis and pronunciation and the other students noticed. Although their play wasn’t as exciting as a lot of the other plays, they really shone because their speech was so clear. I am very proud of these ladies and I’m super bummed I won’t be teaching them again next year!
Elite 1 Boys Class (Grade 7)
Jagger…the evil robot
Adam, Poker and Jagger arguing
Adam and his assistant, Alfred, bringing to life the good robot, Potter
One of the fight scenes took place in a restaurant. It was probably my favourite scene in the play. It was VERY well done by the boys!
This was one of the funniest plays at the festival. Adam, the student wearing the big glasses, is a Drama King! He wrote the outline to a fabulous “Robots and Mad Scientist” type play that the class voted in. There were several fighting scenes (with correlating sound effects) that had the audience in stitches and everyone loved how the Narrator was killed by the villain in the end. I was worried about this play before the festival because it seemed like the students weren’t listening to anything I was saying during rehearsals, but someone was obviously paying attention (probably Adam lol!) and they pulled it together in the final hour! It was an AWESOME play and I’m very excited to be teaching them again next year!
Elite 2 Boys Class (Grade 8)
Peter (the boy with the mic) struggles with pronunciation and hates English class. Drama has given him a creative outlet where he’s learning English in a new way. He loves acting and has become quite good! Best of all…his English has improved a tonne!
Vasyli is my star. He was so dedicated to the play that he was spending all his free time practicing, to the point where he didn’t know know HIS lines…but everyone else’s too! One day we were waiting for the auditorium to be unlocked, and he spent the time entertaining the whole class by doing the entire first scene…he played all 4 characters and had us all laughing up a storm.
These were easily the most hardworking students at the Drama Festival. Not only did they participate more than any other class with the writing of the actual play, but they were practicing in their free time and they added so many things to the play that weren’t in the script. They OWNED this play and it was a huge success at the festival.
A brilliant calling card
These boys spent the entire scene like this. They did pretty well to not move, but when they inevitably did, it just added to the fun!
Detective Echo being interviewed by a reporter. William (on the left) is such a humble kid. When I asked him to play one of the leads he looked at me shocked….this kid is a brilliant actor! I don’t know how he didn’t think the class would want him in a lead!
Mike is another one of my favourites in this class (I laugh as I write this because they’re honestly all my favourites). He’s so careful about his pronunciation and vocabulary. He cares such a great deal about everything he does. Such a cool 14 year old.
The Drama Festival was SUCH a success!!!
The story line was very funny and although it wasn’t originally suppose to be a comedy, we were all glad it became one. It was a detective story about a murderer who’s calling card was to leave high-end underwear on his victim’s heads (the underwear wasn’t part of the original script but when I told them they needed to have something memorable in the play, that’s what they thought up….middle school boys are hilarious!!).
IGCSE (grades 7-9 co-ed classes)
The plays’ protagonists: Heisenburger and PJ. Tiffany played Heisenburger and did SUCH an incredible job with her lines!
Suzy as PJ…a student in love with socks
Discovering the perfect recipe for candy
The IGCSE play is the one I’m personally most proud of, because I wrote it all myself. The students were in the middle of their IGCSE exams during the festival so they didn’t have time to help as much as I would have liked. Still, they worked hard at remembering their lines and bringing their best actor-selves to the stage.
The end-of-play fight scene)
The heroes of the play: The janitor and Chef
The Blue Candy inspired by Breaking Bad (I used dyed coconut shavings!)
The play was called ‘Breaking Bad: Candy Crush Edition’ and it was based on the television show, only instead of crystal meth, the students were selling a special type of candy that was addictive and high in sugar content. Because the play was set in IGCSE, the kids LOVED the issues brought up (the candy starts as a distraction to break ‘the homework system’ that’s keeping them all prisoner). Best of all, 3 teachers (myself included) made guest appearances in the play. Isaac, the Economics teacher. does body building on the side, so he came out and raged at the students for misbehaving, even breaking a meter stick in the process. Adam’s socks were stolen for candy and I was found crying in a hallway because of all the ants that the candy had attracted into the Food and Nutrition kitchens. Students and teachers alike loved the play and I think it was the perfect way to end the festival. Even Mr. Rehan, who prides himself in being quite serious, sent me a message after the Drama Festival was over saying: “Thank you. In my 2 years at this school, this is the first time I found something so entertaining”. Win for Marie!!!!
So that’s been my spring term! Lots of projects and lots of hard work…but all worth it!
(I am truly looking forward to next year’s Drama Festival already!!)