Tuesday/Wednesday, 10/ 28-29 /14

TUESDAY, 10/28/14

I joined Judy early Tuesday at BISS for the beginning band class. The class went well and the students worked hard. They know it’s our last week, and they want to sound good for their video performances.

The big excitement at BISS today is the Sports Day for the Elementary School students. Stations are set-up everywhere and grade levels are lined up “getting their sports on.” The pollution had been so bad lately, there was some question as to whether or not it would actually be held, but the levels stayed down, and it went off with out a hitch.


Sandis, the PE teacher, checking his Sports Day notes. He’s dressed as “Captain Zero”


Shannon, the Elementary School Prinicpal dressed as…….I’m not sure what!

After school, Judy travels with Simon, the BISS “recruiter” for a trip to the Conrad Hotel. It’s the site of one of the BISS Choir holiday performances. Judy wants to check out the actual performance area and make sure she knows exactly how to position her students for their performances. Simon has been the point person for the hotel and Rotary Club contacts. The choir will be performing at the Rotary Club Holiday Festival. They performed for the same festival last year, but it was a different hotel.

WEDNESDAY, 10/29/14

Judy goes to school at her regular time. I travel over later for our final beginning band class day. We warmed up, reviewed the assignment, and then the students begin recording their video assignment. We’re recording right up to the end of class, trying to get good performances for everyone.

It’s been a fun trimester working on this project. The students got a decent taste of what it’s like to begin to learn to play a wind instrument. Several will probably find a way to continue on an individual basis. I’ll miss the chance to work with them, but it will be nice to have two more days a week of freedom.

Bit by a haunted house! 10/27/14

There is a weird schedule at my school this week because of mid-term tests. The surprise APEC holiday coming up next week threw everyone a curve. Our mid-term tests are scheduled for Tues. thru Thur. for grades 10 & 11. Next week, 12th grade mid-term tests will be held. They’re on a different schedule because of “Early Decision” deadlines on Nov. 1.

This affects me because they have declared today (Monday) will be Thursday classes. My first class is early so I get out of the apartment quickly and arrive at school around 7:25, planning to set-up my room, etc. As I arrive on the 4th floor and my classroom, there is a large black curtain hanging over the entrance to the hallway, and also over my classroom door. There is a sign posted (in Chinese) which I’m told says “Stay Out.” I took a quick peek in the door, and parents have been in the classroom decorating for a Haunted House for the Friday night party.

I go looking for someone who can tell me where I need to meet my classes. No one is around who knows, so I just sit down and wait. Finally, five minutes before 8:00, an administrator comes in. She doesn’t know anything about it, but makes a call to the logistics manager. He tells us my stuff has been moved to another classroom. This is one of those times when a short email about the classroom change would have helped.

We move into the new room and students start setting up chairs while I set-up the sound system and projector. We get started about 15 minutes late, and I still can’t get the sound system to work. Everything seems to be turned on and plugged in, lights are flashing, but no sound from the speakers. Oh well!

After classes, I worked a little bit, but with all our instruments and stands in the middle of the Haunted House somewhere, we won’t have our shortened rehearsal this afternoon (we’d planned ahead for a short rehearsal because of tests tomorrow). I eat lunch at the school, and start to head home when Jehanne, French/Yoga/Theater teacher finds me and we decide to work on juggling. She juggles as a hobby, and since I’ve done a little bit, we’re exchanging ideas and practicing on “pairs” exchanges. Don’t I have anything better to do? Nope! Not today!

A weekend of contrasts, 10/ 25-26 / 14

SATURDAY, 10/25/14

It’s a Saturday, and normally a day of rest and relaxation. Not for the BISS faculty. They have a full day of “Professional Development” at school, working on a “Strategic Plan”. How fun! Usually, developing a strategic plan involves spending lots of time discussing (arguing) how to word a phrase. This should be especially fun in an international school.

All of this, so that an administrator doesn’t have to take credit (or blame) for the end product. The blame can be spread out equally between administration, staff, parents, and students. As you can tell, I have a very open mind about this. Lots of man-hours spent, and I’m not sure it is justified.

My day, on the other hand, is exactly what I mentioned earlier, rest and relaxation. I had plans to do a little work, but I totally “vegged out”. Not a productive day, but considerably better than writing a strategic plan.

SUNDAY, 10/26/14

We experienced another sudden pollution change this morning. At 4:00 am the pollution was around 350. By 6:00 am it had dropped below 100. It’s hard to believe the sudden change in the clarity of the air.

It’s definitely a day of rest and relaxation for Judy. We decided to use some Marriott Club certificates we have for free food at the JW Marriott buffet. It’s either going to be free or half-price. It turns out to be half-price. We can’t use the “free for two” certificate for their “Brunch”. It has to be used on a regular breakfast, lunch, or supper.

It’s a really great meal, and we both eat beyond of point of enjoyment. As usual, there are so many options (Indian, Japanese, Western, Chinese). On the way home, we stopped at Dragonfly Spa for a “Top & Toe” massage. It’s one hour of a foot massage, and a head/shoulder massage, at the same time. It’s a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Friday, 10/24/14

I end up doing a lot of traveling today, again. I finish my classes at 11:30, and eat lunch at school. I leave at 12:10 for a long train ride to my haircut appointment at 1:00. I walked in right on time. After the “trim” I walked around the corner to the South German Bakery. It was just too close for me to ignore it. I bought 3 loaves this time, one for me, one of Dr. Prettyman (I’ve heard her say several times how much she loves German bread), and the third loaf for Josie. Josie is constantly catching me up on all the school activities with emails and texts, and I owe her.

After my bakery stopover, it’s back to the train and BHSFIC. I get back just in time to deliver the bread to Josie, and meet Dr. Prettyman for a review of my evaluation from yesterday (I passed). I planned on giving her the bread after our discussion, but she could smell it when I walked in. We had a good discussion about life and education in China. She has such a tough job with the balancing act between a bunch of US and Chinese teachers, and a Chinese school administration. There are enough cultural differences to keep her life interesting.

After the review, I dragged my body back to the train. I kept looking for an empty cab, but didn’t spot one before I got to the station. Back at the apartment, I began to prepare for next week’s classes, waiting for Judy to let me know about dinner plans.

Mindy, the athletic coordinator at BISS last year, was back in town today. She had taken a job in Guangzhou (small town of 15 million, just outside of Hong Kong). She was chaperoning some students in town for a tennis tournament. We met her, along with several other “old-timers” from last year, at Bluche. It was fun to hear her comparison of Beijing to Guangshou and the differences between the two international schools. Her personality and spirit have been missed this year.

Judy was “dead tired” before we met Mindy, and even considered not going. She just couldn’t miss the opportunity to see her. We had a great time, but it was late when we got home and finally got to bed. To add to the long day, the pollution was over 350 most of the day. As we went to sleep, I noticed it was over 400. It makes for a really “dreary” day.

Flu shot time! 10/23/14

Today was a long one! I left a little late (6:40am), and decided to take a taxi. My knees were a little “creaky”, and along with my 30 lbs. backpack, I was carrying my clarinet. The drive was really nice and I had a chance to check out all the decorations for the upcoming APEC summit. Tiananmen is really decked out. The nearby major intersections are also filled up with huge floral displays.

I arrived early for class, and set up all the media stuff and plugged in all my devices. The hardest part is resetting all the chairs each week. There is some type of elementary or middle school choir that uses the room on the weekend and everything is moved around. Classes go well, and Dr. Prettyman comes in for my semester evaluation during the second class. After class we talked briefly, and then I began to work on materials for orchestra club this afternoon, and classes tomorrow.

I ate lunch at the school, leaving on the train around 12:30 for BISS and my flu shot. BISS had scheduled flu shots for today, and it never hurts to take a little preventative measures. It took me about 40 minutes to get to BISS. I was finished and walking away 15 minutes later. Judy had a busy day of classes, but was going to get her shot later in the afternoon. I took the train back to BHSFIC. I helped one of the 12th grade students put together a drum accompaniment for a selection he was singing, using Garageband, and then finished prepping for Orchestra Club.

We had a good rehearsal, finishing around 5:45. As usual, it’s hard to get the students to leave when we’re done. Half of them are living on campus, eating downstairs in the cafeteria, and sleeping upstairs in the dorm area. I walk out the door around 6:00, and make my way to the train, loaded to the hilt with my clarinet and backpack. It’s a crowded night on the train, and I eventually get home around 7:00, fully worn out from wrestling the crowds.

Biking around, 10/ 20-22 / 14

MONDAY, 10/20/14

Mondays are becoming my day to take care of all the loose ends around the apartment. It’s grocery buying, utilities paying, drinking water ordering, etc. Lilly comes in around noon, and I spend the morning writing and catching up on paperwork until she arrives. When she walks in, I try to clear out and run my errands so she can work without me sitting in the middle of everything she’s trying to clean.

TUESDAY, 10/21/14

It’s BISS day for me. The beginning band class only gets to meet once this week because of some meetings taking up classroom space on Wednesday. They’re making good progress and we have a productive day.

After class, I grabbed lunch at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, and then back to the apartment. It’s such a pretty day, I decide to ride the bike over to the table tennis club and try my luck. Each time I show up, more and more people recognize me. I can’t even set my stuff down before someone offers to play. I actually played one guy today I think I could beat. The other three I played were several steps ahead. I haven’t played an actual game, keeping score, with anyone here yet. My guess is no one wants to “lose face” if they were to get beat by the foreigner (fat chance).

We just spend the time hitting back and forth, working on forehands and backhands. I’m getting instruction from all sides. I was busy for the entire 2 hours today, and beginning to wonder if I was going to have enough energy for the bike ride home. By the time I finally got into bed tonight, I could hardly move. I was so sore!

WEDNESDAY, 10/22/14

My singular project today is to get a food item for Judy to take to a “Birthday Breakfast” at BISS Friday morning. I won’t have any time tomorrow, so today’s the day to get it done. I haven’t been to the South German Bakery since we returned to Beijing in July. They have really tasty croissants and breads.

I rode the bike, and had a blast, riding through an area where I used to walk all the time. I’m getting better at reading all the “traffic” (bike, scooter, car, truck, pedestrian) as I ride. I picked up some great cinnamon rolls for the school, and several loaves of bread for ourselves. I even brought back a loaf to Lilly. She’s worked for some German families in the past, and knew the breads from the bakery.

Foodie Weekend, 10/ 18-19 / 14

SATURDAY, 10/18/14

As with most Saturdays, we started slowly. One of the expat monthly magazines is sponsoring a “Best Beijing Pizza” contest. They’ve selected 64 pizza joints from throughout Beijing and placed them in brackets, and just like March Madness, there will be elimination rounds until a winner is selected. They’re having a “contest kickoff” today, and I convinced Judy to go with me.


The “Galaxy SOHO” is a crazy looking building.

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It’s a gorgeous day and we taxi over to the Galaxy Soho area where the pizza fest is taking place. We’ve never visited this part of town before, but we’ve driven by the crazy looking building several times. There are about 16 different pizza vendors with booths, selling pizza by the slice and promoting their product for the contest. There are a couple of pretty good pizzas we tried, but there was no way we could get around to all of them. We did manage to eat enough to be miserable when we get home.

SUNDAY, 10/19/14

As if we didn’t get enough food yesterday at the pizza fest, we’re meeting some of the BISS group at NOLA for brunch. The menu contains lots of Southern style foods with New Orleans leanings. The beignets and skillet dishes are really good. This restaurant is a new one for us, and in a section of town we haven’t visited before. It’s in the middle of lots of embassies.

Back home later, we try to nail down our travel plans for the newly announced APEC holiday. It’s 3 weeks away, and since only Beijing is taking the holiday, it’s a great time to travel to sites in China. We’ve decided to go to Shanghai. The HSBC World Golf Championship is in Shanghai that weekend. There is lots of history related to Shanghai, so there will be many places to visit. We just need to decide where we’re going to stay, and how we’re going to travel.

The week winds down, 10/ 16-17 / 14

THURSDAY, 10/16/14

Early morning departure and train ride for me. The weather is nice and I’m ready for a long day. My classes are early, and then I have to wait until 4:00 pm to meet with the Orchestra Club. It’s been a long time since our last rehearsal (3 weeks), and we need to get going again.

Students are bringing in their instruments to the classroom intermittently all day. After school, I’m waiting, and no one ever comes in. After 20 minutes, I walked downstairs and found the entire student body seated in the multi-purpose room listening to one of the school administrators. Eventually, four students stood up and read from prepared statements. It turns out that one of the students downloaded a porn picture and sent it to another student, who sent it out to a small group. One of the students in that group sent it out to a larger group, etc., etc.   They were apologizing to everyone. They’ve been suspended for a week.

After the “shame” session, there was a college tour visit. It had been advertised as the “Linden College Tour”. I thought it was one school. It turns out that 24 colleges were part of the tour, organized by the Linden Company. Needless to say we didn’t have an Orchestra Club rehearsal.

FRIDAY, 10/17/14

BISS has a “Principals’ Pancake Breakfast” this morning. Judy had the Grade 5 students performing today. They did a great job. The “Pancake Breakfast” was a new activity for parents and a huge success. Lots of parents attended and everyone had a good time.

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Judy’s working hard! Shannon, her principal, is standing against the wall in the background


My classes went well. At lunch, the principal came through and told us there was a meeting after school for all the foreign teachers. I probably could have gone on home, but decided to get ahead on lesson planning and stayed around. At the meeting, the foreign teachers (as opposed to the Chinese teachers) were given the info about the “shame” session and then there was discussion about some possible schedule changes related to the APEC Holiday. It’s going to be an interesting 2 weeks until the holiday. The schedule is adjusting daily, and will probably continue to shift.

Ping Pong & Demo lesson, 10/ 14-15 / 14

TUESDAY, 10/14/14

Today was a really beautiful day. The pollution level was really low. The temperature was cool early, and warmed up later. The beginning band class went well. The students are gradually improving and seem to be enjoying it. After class, I ate lunch at the local Chinese restaurant, and headed home.

It’s such a beautiful day, I decided to ride the bike over to the table tennis club. I arrived around 2:15 and never sat down until after 4:30. My face is becoming more familiar to the players, and they’re less concerned about spending time with me. I was “beat” when I finally decided I had learned enough for one day. One of the guys had decided to fix my forehand, and we drilled and drilled. When we finished, my knees and back were both aching. My game was improved, but I was worn out.

The bike ride back was relaxing. I enjoy watching the neighborhoods and the people as I ride by. Sure enough, when I got back to the apartment and relaxed, everything tightened up, and I could hardly move. It’s hurts, but it’s a “fun” hurt.

WEDNESDAY, 10/15/14

Judy has a big day today. She’s teaching another demonstration music class at “BISS at Olympic Park”, the Chinese tennis academy that’s merging with BISS. They’re going through some kind of accreditation and needed a lesson from a teacher at BISS. Judy’s last “demonstration” went really well, and she was the logical choice for this opportunity.

The lesson goes really well, again. Of course, the accreditation team only walked through the room while she was in the middle of her lesson. They didn’t stop, but literally just walked through. So much for several days of preparation.

Back at BISS, we had another good day with the beginning band class. We pulled out books for the first time. They were ready to try something different. We don’t have many classes left as the end of the trimester winds down.

New electrical information, darn! 10/13/14

There are always surprises here! I went to the bank where I’ve been paying for our electricity. It’s not far from the apartment complex. I’ve usually gone in, picked up a “queuing” number and waited my turn. On average, it takes at least half an hour. My part doesn’t take long, but there’s always someone in front of me that takes forever to complete their errand.

I was calmly waiting, and it looked like it was going to take forever. One of the Chinese bank employees asked if I was paying my electricity. She asked if I had a bank card. I told her, “yes, but from another bank”. No problem! They had machines (looks like an ATM) where I could pay for the electricity. They helped me through the procedure and it was simple. Insert my bank card, post how much I wanted to pay for electricity, insert my “electric card”, and “voila”, it’s done!!!! So easy! This is going to make life much simpler.

Back at the apartment, later, when I returned from buying groceries, I checked the electric meter. Before I went to pay for more electricity, the meter showed 79rmb. When I returned from buying more electricity at the bank, the meter showed 479rmb. The only problem was that I had paid 1000rmb (I was trying to save myself a few trips.). What happened to the 600 rmb not showing up on the meter?

Lillie, our ayi, called the “Beijing State Grid” phone number, and spoke to someone who told her we had “overused” our electricity allotment this year (2014), and were now paying the “premium price” for electricity. I’m not exactly sure what all that means, except that until January 1, 2015, the price for my electricity is almost triple what I’ve been paying? I had no idea there was any kind of limits placed on usage. Live and learn!