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Xi'an, China


We are meeting a lot of admirable people who are hardy souls.  They are good people to emulate.  Yes, it’s dry and dusty in Xi’an but we just wipe our faces, chug water, and carry on.  We are wearing just a few items of clothing and have a couple of dishes.  We walk many miles, every day, and our legs are growing strong.

We sometimes hang around the girls’ international school, after school, and I am learning from the impressive teachers and administrators.  We even visit teachers’ homes.  Many of them are multilingual and have lived abroad with their families for years.  They definitely downplay life’s minor irritations.  They cherish their friends & family, simple meals, and adequate homes.  Here is a link to a blog by one of our friends in town who is a teacher  

On Saturday, we were treated to a great day at the Terracotta Warriors.  I have included the picture of myself wearing purple because of the color coordination. We had a lot of people snap our photo throughout the day.  While we were sitting down, taking a break, one woman zoomed up and put her precious baby in my lap.  He howled as she back away with her camera then when I spoke to him, he turned around, did a double take, and was shocked into silence.  I imagine he thought, “Wow, who is this funny looking person?”  The baby did beam at us as they walked away so I guess we passed muster.

My girls are horse fans and they particularly liked the horse statues.  We were pressed for time and could only get a shot of Kate by the horses’ rumps. 

Later, we visited the city’s famous Muslim Quarter for shopping.  Bargaining is not my favorite activity, and I would put myself in the “abysmal failure” category.  My stomach knots up just thinking about it.  So please enjoy your souvenirs, friends and family.  And we had better relish our red Christmas lantern for many years to come.


Beside the Muslim Quarter is the Drum Tower.  I like our Drum Tower photo because of the surprising rainbow over the girls’ heads.  The light must be refracting off the lens and the dust particles.  It hasn’t rained in Xi’an for over 5 weeks. 

The subway on Saturday was quite crowded but the people were friendly.  Sophie’s subway ticket didn’t work and she was stuck outside the turnstile.  Is there a theme developing, here? (Savvy mothers would probably send their children through the turnstile ahead of them.  I made a mental note for next time.)  Even a subway monitor failed to make Sophie’s ticket work.  Finally, a man just hoisted my sixty-pound child over the turnstile.



Ping pong is a competitive sport in China.  Here are the ping pong courts on my campus.  You can see the cherry blossoms, which have just started blooming, in the background.  Campus custodians sweep the sidewalks with long brooms made of branches.


On Friday, we tried to celebrate Sophie’s 9th birthday with dinner at a local pizza joint.  I practiced ordering in Mandarin, ahead of time.  Obviously, I didn’t do it properly because they brought us two small pizza boxes tied with a lovely yellow ribbon.  Instead of dining in, we had take-out pizza at home, which was perfectly fine.

Our apartment entrance has an exterior brown door and an inner yellow door with a 10” space in between.  We were told not to use the inner yellow door because it sticks.  Well, the inevitable happened.  Sophie and Kate were playing in the space between the two doors, and Sophie was stuck inside.

(This is partially my fault, as I told them that doorways were a good place to stand during earthquakes.  I hope that we won’t have to test this particular piece of safety advice.)

Sophie managed to escape through the brown door onto the apartment landing.  Now, Kate and I were locked inside the apartment and Sophie was locked out in her bare feet.

I reluctantly called the housing office for help, as I try not to bother them, particularly on Saturdays.  The locksmith came immediately and spent thirty minutes trying to unlock the yellow door.  He drew a crowd on the landing.  Finally, he rammed the door with his shoulder.  He kicked it twice and it burst open with a great crash. 

The locksmith removed the yellow door’s lock so it won’t happen again.  Many Chinese doorways, including ours and the one below, have a high threshold that you have to step over.  

This is cultural, and the custom of adding high thresholds to doorways arose to keep ghosts out of buildings, along with debris.  I regularly forget about the high thresholds and usually make a grand, stumbling entrance into my college classroom.


MARCH 2013

I am very touched by the warm welcome that my colleagues have given me, here in the Shaanxi Normal University School of Education.  They have gone out of their way to make me comfortable by providing a nice office, coffee and honey, a computer, and office supplies.

Twenty boxes of donated children’s books have arrived!  This is a big deal.  The heavy books have come a long way via cargo ship.  I will use them in my children’s literature course then they will be shelved in the library.  Stand by for pictures.

If you have ever wondered whether or not you can master chopsticks, let me assure you that you can master them very quickly, if necessary.  I had planned to practice using them before I came to China but didn’t have time.  Needless to say, I embarrassed myself by fumbling with chopsticks at some early formal dinners but now I am a semi-pro.  I prefer chopsticks at home rather than a fork.  Most fork users can probably master chopsticks within two weeks.

Speaking of meals, one of our favorite things at Shaanxi Normal University (SNNU) is the vast dining hall.  It is huge.  As a mother, I absolutely love walking uphill for wholesome, reasonably- priced meals that someone else has cooked.  I’m happy with the rice and spicy cabbage, a local specialty.  The girls enjoy meat-filled buns.  The cafeteria is spotlessly clean, and the workers are friendly.  I’m not surprised to hear that it’s one of the best university cafeterias in all of Xi’an, a city with over 120 universities. 


A charming nearby building serves as the campus hot water station.  Students leave their colorful thermoses outside to be filled then carry them back to their dorm rooms, at night.  It is nice to live on campus and be part of a walking culture.  There are plenty of trees and parks, and we are shaping up quickly. 

The girls and I live in an apartment building among retired teachers, who have nice apartments.  They have earned them.  I’m trying to keep Sophie and Kate quiet at night and hope that we’re not being too loud for the senior citizens.  The seniors play mahjong, outside at card tables, but so far I’ve been too shy to go over and watch.  Loudspeakers play soothing music at dusk and although I didn’t recognize last night’s tune, it was really lovely.

In my undergraduate educational psychology class, we discussed attributes of good teachers.  We agreed that patience, persistence, and cooperation are particularly important for early childhood educators.  Here are some of my Chinese college students doing a hands-on activity with Jenga blocks that definitely requires the above attributes.     



                                                            - Shutterstock Image
After a long wait and much anticipation, we finally left Atlanta for China with a lot of purple luggage, six checked bags to be exact. 



We had a one night layover in Shanghai, during which we rode the Maglev.  At 275 miles per hour, it is one of the world’s fastest trains.  Of the many things to do in Shanghai, this was at the top of my list.  The Maglev was clean and whisper quiet, and we rode round trip just for the thrill of it.

The following day, we traveled west, all the way to Lijiang, China (altitude 7800 feet).  Thanks to the U.S. Embassy-Beijing and the Consulate in Chengdu for a fantastic Fulbright Scholar Spring Orientation!  The orientation sessions with Chinese professors and students were very informative, and the hotel had a truly spectacular view of snowcapped Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

We did have to take Kate to the hospital on Day 2 in Lijiang.  She was sick, confused, and dehydrated, probably from something she ate, and past experience has taught me that a child’s dehydration must be addressed immediately.  I berated myself for not bringing oral rehydration packets, although another mother gave us some later.  We were fortunate to have both a cultural affairs specialist and a translator accompany us to the hospital, and Kate was prescribed oxygen and medicine.  I was very touched by the kindness of the translator, who held my daughter’s hand and patted her back, and I will never forget him. 

Later, we had a traditional Chinese dinner in a hillside restaurant in Lijiang’s Ancient Town.  We entered the Ancient Town through a back gate of the hotel.  Moving from Lijiang City Center into the vast hotel lobby then into the Ancient Town, through a back gate, made me think of C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle and Aslan’s directions to Narnians to move “further up” and “further in.”  Our experience was better and better as we moved further uphill and further in.  The Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is a replica of a Chinese town from the 13th century with cobblestone streets, stone bridges over bubbling brooks, roving musicians and folk dancers wearing bright blue hats, and many shops.


Ancient Town Lijiang, at night, is lit by lanterns and filled with happy tourists.  The girls decided against the after-dinner concert, which was past their bedtime, and we quickly became lost in a maze of alleys on our way home.  I used every bit of my limited Mandarin asking for directions.  Finally, we exited onto a main street in Lijiang’s City Center.  We hailed a taxi and arrived back at our own hotel, tired and relieved.  It was a small adventure, and I hope that these types of experiences will make my daughters more courageous and confident people. 

       photo credit: Nathan Keltner, U.S. Embassy Beijing        


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