The end of the year approaches, 5/29/14

I’m back to school today, and a surprise awaits me. I thought I had classes this week and also next week. During my 11th grade class today, as I was giving them a synopsis of our plan for the next two weeks, they start telling me that the 11th grade doesn’t have classes next week. Huh? They are given the week off from school to focus on the SAT test to be given on Saturday, June 7. With finals the next week (no music classes), I’m effectively finished with them after tomorrow. That’s four classes after April 10. I was worried about having enough classroom materials at one point in March. Now I have a ton of stuff I didn’t get to.

After school today, there is a short program welcoming four US schools to BHSFIC. They are visiting as part of an exchange program with our 10th grade students who went to the US during January & February. They’re St. Margaret’s from Southern California, Brophy Prep from Phoenix, St. Andrew from Austin, and Trinity Valley from Fort Worth. The students are staying with Chinese families, and touring Beijing, as well as attending a few classes at our campus.

Our students put on a variety show, with singers, musicians, a skater, and a few other assorted acts. It’s definitely a “variety” show. There is lots of talent at the school.

After the show, there are snacks, and while I’m visiting with another of the part-time teachers (like me), she mentions that today is her last day? No 10th grade electives for the rest of the year? This is new information for me. I’ll need to get clarification tomorrow, but it may be my last day for the year.

On a table tennis sojourn, 5/28/14

Wish I had some interesting stuff to report on Judy and BISS, but it’s just another day at school. School starts, Judy works hard, and school ends. She comes home, gets ready for the next day, and then sits down to eat and watch an episode or two of “House of Cards.”

Today is my official “find some table tennis” day. I leave around 9:30 and go over to the neighborhood park. The regulars are there, but so are some new faces. As usual, I’m a novelty, so everyone has to try me out on the table. One of the new faces speaks a little English. I’m trying to figure out where to buy a net of my own if I ever need it. She helps me arrange with one of the other players a date & time to take me locally to buy a net. They also tell me about another park nearby where there are more tables, and better players. I’ve got plenty of challenge here, but there’s no harm in checking out some other spots to play.

I walk through the hutong (neighborhood), and sure enough, there is a really big park with a much nicer table tennis area (solid wind breaks and better tables). The players are finishing up as I arrive. It’s near lunch, and another really hot day in Beijing. I’ll come by another day.

I’ve been searching online for table tennis clubs for several weeks. Google wasn’t much help, but a map search for table tennis clubs turned up 30 or more and several aren’t too far away. Following the map, I begin the search. As I’m enroute, I walk by another park, and sure enough, more table tennis tables, and players. These are the best players I’ve seen yet. I watch from a distance, and then they begin to take down their nets and leave. It’s really hot, and there’s no shade over the tables.

I keep searching. I’m walking through areas I’ve never ventured into before. Lots of interesting sites, and this isn’t a “tourist” track. It’s the back streets and alleys. I finally arrive at the street where the table tennis club is located (I think). Eventually, I spot the club. It’s an outdoor club with over 20 tables. I walk around, but no one is playing. There is a group playing mahjong, but no table tennis. I find the entrance, and there is a small shop set up selling table tennis equipment. I end up purchasing my net, Hooray!!!!.


The Hepingli Table Tennis Club. There are two rows of table, 10 or more in each row.


Here’s the other row.

An older lady is putting her net on a table, and she motions me over. I spent the next two hours volleying with her. Several people walked over to watch us play, and I had to try and answer a few questions. Most wanted to know how old I was? As I began to finish, an older guy walked up with some papers motioning I needed to pay. It turns out the fee for my two hours of play was 2 RMB ($.32). This is quite a bit cheaper than golf. Just before I left, he found me again, showing me some booklets and asking for 30 RMB ($4.80). I think I joined a table tennis club. If I understand their booklet, I get to play 40 times before I have to ante up again. Cheap!


My “official” club booklet


The rest of the day included, a swim session, a burger & fries at Homeplate BBQ, a trip to Sanyuanli Market for some fruit, and a crazy ride home in a bike/rickshaw. When the traffic is bad, these are actually faster. They just weave in and out of the cars.


On my way home from Sanyuanli Market.

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A/C is finally fixed (I think), 5/27/14

For Judy, BISS is business as usual. She’s beginning to count down the days to the end of school. For me, I start off the day, stuck at the apartment, waiting on the UHN guy to finish the A/C fix. He actually shows up around 9:00 am. He replaces the wall electrical outlet (not sure what was wrong with the one that was in place, they looked the same?). He plugs in the new unit, and it begins cooling. Ahhhhh! Comfort! Judy will be so happy.

He leaves and I begin finishing up some of my home chores, before leaving to buy groceries. Just before I leave, I decide to enjoy the new coolness of the bedroom, and realize that the A/C is beginning to drain water onto the bed. ARRGGGGHHHH!

I call and text Lisa (she doesn’t pick up), hoping for a quick return visit from the UHN tech. She calls me an hour later, to let me know she was not getting a signal wherever she was. She assures me she’ll get the guy back to the apartment. An hour later, he knocks on the door. He assesses the situation and begins climbing out the window. He doesn’t have his usual cord that he ties himself up with. He has some wire that looks like “baling wire”, ties himself up, and heads out on the ledge. He fiddles with something on the A/C unit, and climbs back in.

Now the two of us begin trying to communicate about what was happening. The UHN tech demonstrates the condensation drain was twisted and blocked, and the water was backing up into the indoor unit. He shows me how he straightened it out, and it should drain now. He leaves and I hang around waiting to see if he’s correct. An hour later, and it seems fixed.


Now I can finally head over to Metro for grocery shopping. Back home later, I put away the purchases, but can’t get enthused about leaving again. It’s hot in Beijing this week. We’re talking 100+ temps. Last year, Beijing had only two days all year this warm. There are three days in the weather forecast for this week alone that are supposed to go over 100.

New air-conditioner – out on a ledge, 5/26/14

It’s another “Spiderman” day.  I received a call yesterday from Lisa, our real estate liason/agent.  She told me our landlord had completed the purchase of a new air-conditioner for our bedroom, and wanted to have it installed today.  The “sooner the better” I said, so they’re coming sometime later today.  We’ve had problems with that particular air-conditioner since we moved in, and we’re finally going to get it fixed.

The installation crew, a manager, and the unit all arrive at the same time, around 11:30am.  They start looking around for the access panel to take the old one out, and Lilly and I get to explain there is no access panel.  They start looking out the window, and we can see this is not a crew that will work out on a ledge.  Eventually, Lilly, Lisa, the manager guy, and I work out that the UHN “spiderman” will take a look at it.  He’s the guy who’s charged it with coolant a couple of times before.  He shows up, and let’s us all know that he can install it.  He’ll come back around 4:00 with a helper, and get it done (it’s 1:00 pm when this all gets solved.)  The manager leaves, Lilly goes back to work, and I head over for a swim.

The installer and the manager show up shortly after 4:00 and the work starts.  My curiosity is pretty high, since I wouldn’t even crawl out on that ledge, much less try to maneuver a heavy air-conditioner.  He’s got it figured out, though.  He manages to get it pulled out, and slides it along the ledge with help from his helper.  They lift it up through the window.  Then he spends time prepping the new unit, and moves back to window, reversing the process.  They lift it out the window after tying ropes on it, then slide it over to it’s destination.  I don’t know how he lifted it up while hanging on that ledge.  It was too crowded around the window for me to get a view.

Here’s a link to a video.  Notice that “spiderman isn’t tied to anything but the air-conditioner.  If it goes, he goes!

He eventually completed the outside work, and came inside to finish up the indoor part of the installation.  After some drilling, hammering, measuring, and all the other things that go along with replacements like this, I get the message that he’ll be back in an hour with a part he needs to finish.  It’s six o’clock, so we’ll look for him around 7:00.  You can guess!  No one shows up.  Finally, Judy and I give up around 9:00pm.  We put our bedroom back together so we can sleep, and shut it down for the day.  I guess I’m going to be tied to the apartment for another day, or at least until he gets back.  If I don’t stay on this, it could take a week before we get it finished.  I hope he hasn’t forgotten about us.

A beautiful day for golf, 5/25/14

I have a golf date today with several of the male faculty at BISS. We’re playing at Chaoyang Golf Club in the middle of Beijing. It’s a 9-hole course with 6 par 3’s and 3 par 4’s. We have a morning tee-time, and I arrive an hour early, in plenty of time to “warm-up” a little. As usual, I’m stiff, but the swimming I’ve been doing seems to have helped my flexibility.

We have a fun morning. Everybody plays pretty well. I shoot 2 over par, and hit the ball really well. I seem to play better when I haven’t played recently. I’m still not used to having a caddy carrying my clubs.

Back at the apartment, Judy has been working away at school stuff. She always enjoys a chance to knock items off her to-do list. We keep threatening to go somewhere and do something, but we never quite get it in gear. Eventually I leave for a swim session, and she joins me over at the Marriott later for dinner (using our 50% discount card). To finish off the day, we begin to watch Season 1, “House of Cards.” We finished “Lost” last Thursday night. One of Judy’s friends at school loaned her the DVD set for HOC It’s only 10 episodes. It may not last the week.

Chillin’ on a Saturday, 5/24/14

Lazy day! Judy had lots of schoolwork to do, and I had several things of my own I needed to do. We both work on our computers. The only time either of us left was for me to go downstairs and pickup the dry-cleaning. I left again, around suppertime, to get some dinner from one of the neighborhood restaurants. I’ve developed a taste for the stir-fried green beans. We also tried the dumplings at the new spot. They were equally good.

I’ve attached a link for the latest “BISS Broadcast”, the weekly school newsletter. There are some really good pictures of International Day.

Here’s a link to a news broadcast on CCTV about International Day. It played on the national broadcast of the evening news:

Wedding Anniversary #39, 5/23/14

Today is our 39th wedding anniversary. I go in for a short day of work (morning classes). I meet with Dr. Prettyman about my “observation” yesterday. Everything is as they need it. I eat lunch and then head home to prepare for the evening activities. Judy has a regular full day. Traffic is terrible on the way home for her and a 10-minute trip turns into 45 minutes.

We’ve made reservations at Capital M, a well-known restaurant in Beijing. They have a rooftop terrace that overlooks Tiananmen Square. The food is supposed to be really good, as well. We’re a little late arriving for our 6:00 pm reservation. Traffic is thick, everywhere. We’re ushered out to our table on the terrace. It’s a gorgeous night, still, and comfortable. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate 39 years together. There is no way we ever thought we’d be experiencing an anniversary in Beijing. Unbelievable!

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We’re nearing 10 months in China, and the experience has been all encompassing. Judy has been challenged by the IB curriculum in grades 6-8. Many nights she’s come home, tired from a full day working with students, needing to complete more plans, and write more “reflections”. Her biggest challenge, though, has been having enough energy to teach Pre-K and Kindergarten. Some days, it’s like “herding cats” (to steal a phrase). She has to keep them occupied for 45 minutes, and there’s no chance to sit down and discuss anything. High energy is all that works!

My teaching issues relate more to determining the expectations for my position. How hard do they want me to push? I’ve finally settled on the fact that they don’t want me to push at all. The administration wants my class to be a place for the students to unwind and relax from all the academic pressures they face. That’s a far cry from trying to prepare a group for contest. I spend lots of time at home, working on ideas to create an interesting classroom experience, as well as expose them to some musical fundamentals and concepts. I’m also looking for ways to expand their knowledge of what to expect in the US relative to their university experience. Not only will they be transitioning from high school to college. They’ll be doing it in a foreign country with traditions and celebrations far different than anything they’ve experienced before. I would be lot more comfortable most days if they had an instrument in their hand.

Thursday, 5/22/14

Judy heads to school at her regular time. I’m out the door, not too far behind her. I have to make a lot of copies and there are always complications, since the copier “prompts” are all in Chinese. I also have to print the originals first, which means finding a computer not in use, attached to a printer. It’s been a long time since I’ve boarded the trains this early (7:45 am). They’re crowded but no more than usual. I’m able to find a seat for the longest stretch of the ride, which is 8 stations.

After getting the originals printed, and the copies finished, I head up to the music room (4th floor). We have schools from the US beginning to visit this week. These are schools where our 10th graders stayed in the US during the semester break in January/February. We’re returning the favor, and they’re beginning to arrive. Apparently, my classroom is the “hangout” area for St. Margaret’s from California. After verifying I’m still having class in the room, I begin to shift all the tables and chairs, setting up for my combined class of 38 students.

My classes go well. The 11th grade class where I was being observed went especially well. We worked on memorizing the first verse of the school song. It took several attempts at “convincing” the students to sing louder, but after the 8th restart, they began to believe I was serious about achieving a higher level of enthusiasm. We also touched on the “Happy” arrangement I’ve been working on, but it’s going to be more difficult to put together.

After class, I eat lunch, and then make sure the classroom and materials are ready for the 10th grade music elective, the last two periods. After school, there is a faculty meeting. Normally I have orchestra club, but the students haven’t organized themselves yet for rehearsals with all the weird schedules they’ve had the last month. Most of the faculty meeting is a discussion led by our counselor, David, about college recommendation letters for students. The information is good and well delivered. A problem I never considered relates to translation of letters from the Chinese teachers into English, and how that’s going to be handled. I can remember several times trying to read assembly instructions from something built in China that had been “translated.”   There was always a high level of confusion. It’s important for the students’ futures these letters are correctly translated, with solid English grammar. How that’s going to happen is a serious discussion.

Back to the park, 5/21/14

With most of my work for school tomorrow finished, I head over to the park for a morning of table tennis. I ended up playing with a new group today. I played with seven different players. They keep testing me for weaknesses in my shots. There are too many holes in my game for them to figure it out. Afterwards, I walk down the alley to the local noodle shop for lunch. After lunch, it’s back to the apartment, and short nap.

Later in the afternoon, I walk over for a swim session. I spend time talking to a guy I’ve met before. He’s Chinese, and lives in New Jersey. He travels to Beijing for work. His daughter plays clarinet, and he told me today, she was in the All-State Wind Ensemble in New Jersey. He has lots of questions about comparisons between the American and Chinese education systems, when he realizes where I teach.

After swimming, I’m feeling like finding a UHN neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I went to the spot where we had some street BBQ one night, but they weren’t open this evening. As I’m walking back to the apt., I notice some guys eating at a table on the street, and the food looked pretty good. I sat at a nearby table, and eventually got a menu (with pictures.) I ordered my favorites, stir-fried green beans, and gunbao chicken, and they’re both really good. Hooray! I won’t have to travel so far to eat some good local Chinese food next time. This place is about 100 yards from our apartment front gate.


A neighborhood eatery.


Gun Bao Chicken


Stir-fried green beans, and yes, the peppers are spicy!

Monday & Tuesday, 5/19-20/14


I managed to get to the pool today for a swim session. Afterwards, I walked over to Homeplate BBQ. They have two locations, a new one in Sanlitun, and the original, not far from the Marriott. The original has been closed since October, but recently reopened. I tried the half-chicken, and it was really good. Afterward, I walked several blocks to Sanyuanli Market. It’s a great place to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and even meats. I found some great stuff, and caught a taxi home.


I intended to post this on the Exhibition Day post, but missed it. It was just too cute. It’s two of the daughters of the Latvian teachers, and a Indian girl.


I dedicated today to finishing all the details on my schoolwork, and prepping for my classes this week. I almost finished everything. I just need to finish transposing two parts for the orchestra club. I did manage to get over to a swim session, but it was really late in the afternoon. There were no empty taxis, and I had to walk home. My knees disagreed with decision.

Judy had a “girls night”, at Pete’s Tex Mex. Mindy, the athletic director set it up. She’s headed to a school in Southern China next year. There aren’t many weeks before the end of school, and everyone goes their separate ways. This will probably be the last “girls night” with this group.