Wednesday, 8/27/14

It’s day two of the beginning instrument classes for the 6th graders at BISS. The class meets at 11:30 today (8:20 am yesterday), so Judy goes to school at her regular time, and I arrive later. The students are enthusiastic and work hard. We have another good day and lots of fun.

After class, I ate at the nearby local Chinese restaurant, adding gunbao chicken to my green bean order. I plan to take advantage of my BISS visits to enjoy this restaurant.

Back at the apartment, Lily is working hard when I arrive. One of the BHSFIC teachers is trying to arrange for Lily to clean his apartment. I help Lily out with her email back to him. Her English is improving, but she still needs help putting together a sentence (however short). I wish I could converse in Chinese as well she does in English.

It’s possible I took a nap after Lily left. When Judy gets home, we eat supper, and watch a “Scandal” episode before heading to bed.


Beginning Band begins, 8/26/14

We both have to get going early today. I’m going with Judy to school to help with a 6th grade instrumental music project. They are beginning a 12-week unit (two classes per week, 90 minutes per class) where they receive instructions on playing a band instrument. Since I’m available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it made sense for me to help Judy out. The school owns some instruments, so Judy made the initial instrument assignments and we split into a brass class (3 trumpets and 2 trombones) and a woodwind class (3 clarinets, four flutes, and 5 saxes). Scott Lindner, the high school music teacher is teaching the brass class, and Judy and I are teaching the woodwind class.

The students worked very hard and made some nice progress by the end of class. The brass joined us for the last 10 minutes, and we performed for each other. This should be a lot of fun. It’s an introductory class, and after this series of classes, the students will move to art for the 2nd trimester, and then PE for the last trimester. It’s not a great way to develop a band program as I know it, but for me, it’s nice to get back to teaching something I know and understand.

After class, I walked over to the nearby State Electric Grid office and paid to “load up” our apartment meter.   The clerk inserts the “electric card” into a computer, we pay whatever amount we want, and when I get home, the meter at the apartment shows the additional amount has been added. This can also be done at a bank near UHN, but this office is close to BISS. Next, I stopped at the nearby local Chinese restaurant for lunch. They have great green beans. After lunch, I taxi to BHSFIC for an afternoon faculty meeting. We finish around 3:00 pm. I’m still trying to find the cabinet where I stored music and some of my teaching supplies. It’s somewhere in the school, but the facilities manager, Edward, assures me he’ll find it.

Back at the apartment, I crash on the couch. I actually had to do some teaching today, and it wore me out. Judy joins some of her friends at Pete’s Tex-Mex after school to unwind a little. When she gets home, we talk over the class plan for tomorrow, and “hit the sack.”

A few water questions solved? 8/25/14

Judy heads out to work, as usual. She’s begun to settle in on her morning walking schedule. She usually gets back to the apartment between 5:30 and 5:45, and finishes getting ready for school, so she can leave around 7:00 am. I’m doing some stretching and pushups every morning. I hope to start up the swimming next month. BISS changed their gym contract for employees from the Marriott to a Sheraton. It’s much closer to the school, but farther from the apartment. I’ve been looking for a swimming pool closer to the apartment. I think I’ve found one, and I’ll join Sept. 1.

When Lily shows up today, she goes with me to the apartment management office. She handles the translation and we try to pay for hot water. We’ve almost got the system figured out. We pay to load hot water on our hot water meters (we have two). Back at the apartment, the “hot water card” has to be pushed into a slot on the meter and held until the “whirring” sound stops, meaning it’s loaded. We also have a card that controls the meters for cold water and “flush” water. It hasn’t moved much in a year?   I paid on both cards in August 2013. So far, we’ve paid $270 total for our water for the apartment, and it could last until next summer.

After we settle the water purchase, I head over to BHSFIC for another rehearsal of the Orchestra Club. Jason, the club president, and Yelena (she wasn’t here yesterday) made it today. The other students didn’t make it. We spent about an hour playing through the arrangement, and talking about the students’ summer activities, as well as which universities they hope to attend next year. It’s interesting to hear their opinions about colleges, and what they’ll be doing this time next year.

After rehearsal, I take the train back home. It’s really hot today, so I make a stop at McDonald’s for an ice cream cone. They cost 4 yuan (65 cents). It’s just too cheap, and tastes too good for me to ignore.

Golf and a rehearsal, 8/24/14

I have a really full day of activities scheduled for today. I’m meeting some of the guys from BISS (James and Mark) at the Chaoyang Golf Club. It’s a 9-hole course. We have a lot of fun. It’s always interesting to play with a caddy, after years of schlepping my own stuff around a course, either on my back, on a pull-cart, or in an electric cart. They mark balls on the green, clean clubs and golf balls after each hole, provide yardage that’s accurate. Unfortunately, even with all that help, you still have to hit your own shots. I wasn’t great today, but I wasn’t awful, either.


It was a pretty day on the golf course

We finished at 11:45, and I hurried home. I ate, showered, changed clothes, and left the apartment by 12:45. I have a rehearsal at 1:30 with some of the BHSFIC Orchestra Club students. I take a taxi instead of the train because I’m running a little late, and I’m carrying my clarinet and a folding music stand, along with my full backpack. My plan is to leave them at school, and bring home the flute.

When I arrive, around 1:20, I get the flute out of the cabinet I’ve been using to store my school stuff, and head up to the auditorium for the rehearsal. There are four students today. We have a decent rehearsal on the arrangement I completed. It’s fun to talk to them about their summer experiences. Three of them went to the US for summer academic camps. After rehearsal, they tell me they’ve decided to rehearse Monday, as well. I head downstairs to lock up my clarinet and the music stand, and the entire teacher’s office area (8 desks, 6 cabinets, and all the stuff) has been moved for cleaning. I try to find where the cabinet went (it’s only been two hours), and no one seems to know. I finally give up and head home carrying everything I brought over, plus the flute.

Back home, Judy has stayed busy walking the neighborhood, checking out the two nearest mall areas. She’s looking for baby gifts for upcoming showers for BISS faculty. She had some luck, but is worn out. I’m tired myself, after walking the golf course and traveling over to BHSFIC and back. Dinner is delivery from “Avocado Tree”. It’s a copy of “Chipotle”, and we fully enjoy the evening watching Scandal, and eating our “Chicken Bowl”.


Grocery shopping at BHG in Capita Mall


One of the “kid play areas” in Capita Mall. Up on the 3rd floor there are several places like this where kids can play, for a fee.


Saturday, 8/23/14

Another weekend has arrived. We spend most of the morning trying to decide where to go on our first school break. It stretches from Sept. 27 to Oct. 5. There are lots of choices, but it’s only a month away. I’ve been waiting for our “summer travel” reimbursement to arrive before I book it (and it hasn’t arrived yet). We considered Australia, but it’s too far away (16 hour flight, through Singapore). We’re checking on Taiwan and Malaysia, and both have possibilities.

Judy has some running around to do during the day, and meets friends later in the evening in Sanlitun. The original plan involved husbands joining the group later, but a couple of them changed their mind, so it turned into a “girls night.” I spend the evening perusing travel destinations. We have to get our plans in place for February (Chinese New Year) and Spring Break. One thing we’ve learned is not to vacation in China during a Chinese holiday. Every destination is crowded. Every holiday, new records are set for the number of travelers on trains. As more and more Chinese enter the “middle class”, more are traveling.

One of the families of a BISS faculty member was returning for the start of school a few weeks ago (the husband had arrived earlier). Their flight into Beijing was turned back, landed in Shanghai, took off again and flew back to Singapore, flew back to Beijing, turned back again, etc. They finally made it to Beijing and were allowed to land and unload, but not before they spent 30 hours on the plane (the original flight was scheduled for 6 hours). They never were allowed off the plane, until their final arrival. They never got an explanation. We never heard about it on the news or anyplace else. In the US, it would have been a front-page story, with lawsuits and compensation discussions.

Friday, 8/22/14

I managed to finish up my first arrangement today. It should have been simple, but I’m so slow. I should be quicker on the next one.

Judy has her first big assembly today. Her songs are a big success. Her constant search for music that is interesting and different, has allowed her to build a big digital library of great music for school groups and assemblies for almost any occasion.

There is a reception and meal this evening at BISS for all the faculty and staff of the school, and their families. The meal is catered by “Taj”, an established Indian restaurant here in Beijing. We had it a couple of times last year, and we’ve eaten at the restaurant several times, as well. The food is always great, and tonight is no different. I still don’t know what all of it is, but it sure tastes great.

IMG_1710 IMG_1709

It’s nice to see some of the “old” faces tonight. I haven’t seen many of them since we returned after the summer. It’s also a little strange to realize how many of the faculty we knew last year have left for retirement, or jobs in other cities and countries. It’s just part of the culture of the International Schools. People eventually move on. It’s so different than teaching in districts where there are many 25 to 30 year vets.

Fighting with “Finale”, 8/20-21/14

WEDNESDAY, 8/20/14

The students in the Orchestra Club at BHSFIC, want to rehearse some music to perform for the Club Fair. They’ve decided to rehearse Sunday afternoon, and need some music. My job is to figure out what to play and arrange it. I bought a few ensembles at TBA in San Antonio to chosoe from.

Of course, I can’t remember all the “Finale” tricks when I start arraning. It’s like I’m a beginner again. I spend way too much time trying to figure out how to find the necessary tools for inputting the music. I bought a little midi keyboard in San Antonio, and once I figure it out, it does speed things up a little bit.

I managed to break up the monotony of fighting with “Finale” with a visit to wet market. I found some great looking green peppers that I added to some chicken in the wok. Tabasco and hot chili pepper sauce really “spiced it up.” I managed to cook it without getting it all over the kitchen, which is an improvement over my earlier encounters with the wok. I’m not quite ready for “Iron Chef Beijing” just yet.

THURSDAY, 8/21/14

More “Finale” fighting for me today. It begins to come a little faster, but it’s still tedious. When I get buried in a project, the time goes pretty fast. I just wish I could retain some of this for when I have to do it again. I think I’ll try to do all the arrangements right now before I forget all the little tricks. I’ll see how motivated I am in a few days.

I also had some “back home” financial stuff to work through. There’s nothing like trying complete paperwork with financial institutions in the US, relying on the really slow and intermittent internet we have some days. I finally got through it all. I’m almost looking forward to getting back in the classroom in two weeks.

Tuesday, 8/19/14

Another early morning and another hot, crowded train. We each present a lesson in our session this morning demonstrating how we might develop better “critical thinking skills.” There are a lot of good ideas, and the faculty seems serious, talented, and committed to the year ahead.

Lunch is Subway. We get it “to go”, and eat in the teacher’s lounge back at school. There’s a lot of interesting talk about travel destinations, and I’m listening and taking notes. Our afternoon session is a discussion about how to establish a school-wide system of stressing “critical thinking” that goes beyond a discussion and becomes the school mantra.

After dismissal, several of the group head over to the Sanlitun area for a chance to relax and visit. I had quite an afternoon and evening of fries and burgers. There are some really interesting individuals from varied backgrounds. Several of the newbies were heavily involved in HS band back in the US, so we get to talk that up for while.   Tonight is the first time in a long time that Judy gets home before me.

A Monday back on task, 8/18/14

I head out early for school. It’s an hour commute via train, and the sessions start at 9:00. I haven’t been on a train during rush hour since we arrived back in Beijing, and I received a full dose of “crowded” today. I don’t know how the short people handle it. I’m tall enough to look over the top of most of the passengers. We’re really jammed together, and on several of the trains, the air-conditioning isn’t up to the crowd. When I finally get to school, my shirt is mostly sweat-soaked (and I was looking so good when I left the apartment.

It’s fun to see everyone again, as well as meet the newcomers. The new US teachers are from California, Connecticut, Florida, and Georgia. There’s also a new teacher coming from Bolivia. The morning session consists of introductions, followed by some serious discussions about how the students did on their tests last spring. Apparently the math, science, and economics scores were really high. There was disappointment that no one scored a 5 on the AP English Test, but there were lots of 4’s. It was a struggle for the top Martin students to get 5’s on the English AP, so I’m thinking the students did pretty well.

The discussion shifts to how to better teach “critical thinking” skills. The Chinese faculty members all agree this is an area where generally Chinese students are weak. They learn facts and figures really well, but struggle when attempting to apply the information to an abstract issue. How to address the problem keeps us talking the rest of the morning.

I joined a group for lunch that was traveling to the nearby Xidan area for lunch. There are 8 in the group and we take the bus. This is my first time on a bus in Beijing. The cost is the equivalent of 7 cents. I haven’t deciphered the routes that I could use yet. It not as “English friendly” as the trains.

After lunch, we have a short session and dismiss around 2:00. I head over to my dental appointment near our apartment. I set it for 4:00 knowing I had meetings scheduled until 3:00. Since we dismissed early, I just went on to the office to see if they’ll take me early. I arrived around 3:10. I chipped a tooth on our cruise this summer, and wanted a dentist’s opinion about my options. I walked out at 3:45 with a new cap that looks and feels great. The cost was $90 without insurance. I’m back home preparing for the next day by 4:10.

Weekend Chillin’, 8/16-17/14

SATURDAY, 8/16/14

Today turned into a “camp out at home” day. We both spent time working school and home stuff. Later in the afternoon, Judy went over to Capita Mall for a break. She made a “nail” stop, and found a couple of things at ”Gap”. For dinner, we ordered delivery from Moka Café. Judy was craving a chicken breast and vegetables, and I ordered a chicken wrap. The food was great, and a nice change of pace.

We’ve been watching Scandal, Season 2, and will crank up Season 3 when it’s time. It beats the heck out of watching all the “Ferguson” stuff on CNN “all day, everyday”. I can’t help but wonder how much trouble they would be having if the media army wasn’t there. It’s difficult to spot the “protesters” some times for all the cameras crowded around. It looks like some in the crowd are hoping to provoke a negative response and gain a big lawsuit payday.

SUNDAY, 8/17/14

We get to spend another day getting ahead (or catching up) on school and home chores. We finished up Season 2 “Scandal”, and began Season 3. Later, we ordered delivery from the Blue Frog. We ordered a salad, a chicken breast with vegetables, and some chicken skewers. When we hed to bed, Judy is looking forward to her first full week of school. I’m anticipating my first day of professional development at my school for our new year.