BISS Choir at the Conrad, 11/24/14

The BISS Choir has a big performance today. The Beijing Rotary is holding a holiday bazaar in the Conrad Hotel, with lots of booths, etc. The students’ parents are delivering them to the hotel, and taking them home when they’re done.

Judy has to get 8 large IKEA bags full of sacks. Every sack is individually labeled for each kid (around 45 students). The sacks contain a student’s vest, reindeer ears, jingle bells, etc. On stage, the kids have their own sack, pulling out whatever they need for the piece they’re about to sing, and then placing it back in the sack when they’re through. At the end of the performance, they replace their sack into the IKEA bag for their grade level, and they’ll be prepared for the next performance.

The trick is getting all the bags to the hotel. Shannon meets Judy and me at the apartment gate, and we taxi over to BISS. We get the 8 bags and load them into a van (with a driver) chartered by the school for the day. We travel to the hotel, arriving around 12:45 for the 3:00 pm program. The students start showing up around 2:00. Judy gets them organized and they hit the stage right on time. My singular job is to make sure the music is cued up, and then start and stop each piece as needed.

The program is great (of course)! The kids look cute, and perform really well. Judy’s experience putting together programs like this pays off. The transitions from one piece to another are quick and problem-free. There is lots of variety in the music and the props the students are using (sunglasses, jingle bells, antlers, flashlights, etc.) The individual sacks really helped “the flow”, and at the end of the program, back stage, it is all put away into the IKEA bags very easily, ready for the next program.

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Judy and Shannon, backstage after the program with the students, bragging on them!

After all the students are picked up by their parents (just like the US, it takes longer than one would expect) we load up the van and head back to BISS. Back home, we decompress. It was a great day with few problems and many happy parents and Rotary members.

A Georgia visitor, 11/22/14

Hey!  I have a visitor from the US today.  Brad Barnes helped us out at Martin HS with the marching band for several years.  His “real” job is working for DeMoulin Uniforms.  He transferred to Georgia (his hometown area) several years back, and I hadn’t seen him since.  I was scanning Facebook a couple of days ago, and he was talking about packing for a trip to China.  Someone asked him where he was going and he said “Beijing”.  I messaged him, giving him some contact info.  He messaged back and we’re meeting this morning to see the city.

While I’m getting ready to leave, I saw some Facebook posts from Martin HS folks about being enroute to Wichita Falls for a football playoff game with Amarillo High.  I sent a message to Dave Carbone, the MHS director, telling him to give a shout out to Bruce Collins and the other AHS directors.  I’ve known Bruce for years, and he’s a great friend.  Dave sends back a picture with he and Bruce.  Technology is crazy!  Also, Dave was the guy who knew Brad Barnes and convinced him to help us.  They’re friends from way back!  No contact with either of them for a long time, and now I’m trading messages with one, and hanging out with the other one, IN BEIJING, CHINA.  Freaky!

Before we meet, Judy and I travel to the Conrad Hotel to meet the sound guy for the program tomorrow.  We need to make sure there are no surprises when the BISS choir shows up tomorrow to sing.  Gotta make sure our cords will plug in, etc.  It all works great!  Judy heads over to Sanlitun to meet some people, and I head out to my appointment.

I meet Brad at his hotel on the opposite side of Beijing.  It takes an hour and a half with a combination of walking, subway, and taxis.  He decided to take a vacation and wanted to see Beijing, so here he is.  He wants to visit “Eyeglass City”.  It’s one of those areas in Beijing with buildings lined up, full of shops (hundreds) of whatever you’re looking for.  Sure enough, there are hundreds of glasses shops.  We select a shop, walk in, and after a lot of bickering and bargaining, Brad settles on 2 pairs of frames and prescription lenses to go in them.  He also purchased a pair of prescription sunglasses.  He ended up with 3 pair of prescription glasses for a little of $200. 


This is one hallway on one floor of four. They’re all full of eyeglass shops. There are probably seven or eight buildings in the vicinity just like this one.


Which shop do we pick?


Our next stop was the Silk Street Market.  It’s notorious for “knock-offs”, and Brad is looking for some Tag Heuer watches.  He finds what he wants and the bargaining process begins.  The problem with this is that you know these guys are experts at this, and do it everyday, all-day.  If you make a deal with them, I always have that thought in the back of my mind that they would have gone lower if I had been tougher.

After we finish Brad’s buying spree, we take the train to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City for some pictures.  We walk around, enjoying the evening, eventually getting on the train to travel to an area with a better chance of catching a taxi.  I made a bad choice about the right station for a taxi.  None came by that were empty.  We waited for 45 minutes, moving from one corner to another before a taxi finally pulled up.

Back at Brad’s hotel, we make a plan to meet again on Wednesday.  He has a tour of the Great Wall tomorrow.  Monday and Tuesday, he’s traveling to Seoul for some touring.  I head home eventually, trying to decide if maybe Judy or I need some cheap glasses?

Quiz Night (we are terrible!), 11/21/14

School runs very smoothly today, for both of us. Judy has a musical rehearsal after school. As it works out, two of the faculty helping with the musical are setting up for another activity, and a third member of the group has a doctors appointment, so Judy and David are left to get some good out of the rehearsal, by themselves.

I taxi over the BISS with Dom (Shannon’s husband), and Scott (Alexis husband) around 5:30. The three couples are participating in the BISS Quiz Night. There’s a catered meal, followed by a quiz competition. Teams for 4 different international schools are attending. This is a first for Judy and me.

The meal is good, and then it’s off the next room for the competition. Each team is seated at it’s own table (six to a team). There are around 18 teams. The first quiz is sort of a history quiz, and we score a perfect 20. The next best was 19. The next round (can’t remember the subject area), and we missed a few, but so did everyone else, so we’re still in first. Our first place held up through the 3rd round, but we had misses, and the scores were tightening up. We bombed round 4!   It was a page with pictures of 10 flags of countries in Asia (Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, etc.). We had to correctly identify the country and also select the name of their currency from a list we were given. I think we got 5 out of 20. Ugh!


Rounds 5 & 6 were a series of flops until the seventh round and our group (I mean to say Scott), nailed all but one. It was the a “drop the needle” for 1-2 seconds on pop music. He must be encyclopedic. The music would be played, then we had to name the title, and the group that popularized it. Scott was amazing. We didn’t pull up enough to win, but we finished 5th (I mean Scott finished 5th).

Thursday, 11/20/14

Early day for me, and I’m out the door around 6:30. My knees are kinda creaky today, so I go out the front gate, and get a cab. This early, the trip takes about a half-hour, so I arrive with plenty of time to set-up my room and get materials in place. Some uses my classroom over the weekend for a large elementary choir (not from BHSFIC) so it’s always a tumbled mess with chairs and trash scattered everywhere.

Class goes well, and as usual, Orchestra Club is cancelled for this afternoon. Grade 12 students have mid-terms tomorrow, and the 10th and 11 graders have some kind of after school meeting. I kill time on campus, finishing up some paperwork, eating lunch, and visiting with folks. I get back to the apartment around 2:30. I spend the rest of the afternoon making sure I have a good plan to the end of the semester. I’ll miss three classes to come home for Xmas, so I have to leave plans for someone to cover (unless like last year, they decide to let the students do self-study).

Back to the table tennis club, 11/19/14

It’s been a couple of weeks since I played table tennis. The weather is gorgeous and I don’t know how many more of these days we’ll have. I noticed last night, delivering food to Anna and Javi, the bike area seemed to be cleared out? Since our bikes were chained together in that area, I’m a little concerned about where they might be. Lilly calls the UHN Management office and finds out that many of the bikes were moved into a basement area. If someone isn’t regularly riding them, and they aren’t picked up in the next couple of months, they’ll be trashed eventually. We wander through the maze of the dimly lit basement area and find our bikes, still chained together. After unchaining them, she helps me take them back up top where I can get to them easier. Looking around the walls of the area, there is a sign describing what they were going to do, but I couldn’t read it.

I change into my cool weather bike riding/table tennis gear and head over to the table tennis club. There aren’t many players, but eventually, a couple of guys decide to try me out. They both started off slow, and then gradually added spin and speed to their game. About the time I begin to think I could “hang” with these guys, everything speeds up and spins more. There are so many styles and spins, and each player is different. I’m getting better, but there’s no substitute for years of playing like most of the people around here.

After a couple of hours, I’m exhausted. I make the ride home, and fall into my chair, ready for a short nap. After dozing off, I wake up, do some planning for classes tomorrow, and wait for Judy to get home from the dentist. She lost a crown yesterday (chomping on a caramel). She had a 5:00 pm dentist today, but arrived early at 4:30. They took her back immediately, after explaining to her that she was early. The dentist took a look, decided it could be easily put back on, and did it. She paid 210 RMB (about $38) for the procedure, and was home by 5:15! Unbelievable!

Planning and cooking, 11/ 17-18 /14

MONDAY, 11/17/14

Judy heads out to school feeling good. We’ve hit that time of the year when it’s cold in the morning, right around freezing, and then it warms up to the middle 50’s. There’s no wind, so it’s really comfortable out walking around.

I’ve got two jobs on my list today. One is to book our travel to Harbin, China in January. Harbin is the home of the ice sculptors who do the work at the Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine for the big ice display. There are several areas in Harbin where amazing ice sculptures are on display, including a “night area” with elaborate lighting. We’ve been waiting for the management team at BISS to make a decision on a Saturday rehearsal for the musical. The decision came this morning, so I get to start booking the airfare, hotel, and tours. It took about 3 hours to finalize the details but I finally got everything in place and confirmed.

After Lilly arrives and begins cleaning, I travel over to Metro for groceries. Metro is ready for Christmas. One section of the store is totally decorated and stocked with trees and holiday decorations. Even in Beijing, the stores gear up for the Xmas holidays really early.


Xmas items at Metro in Beijing.

TUESDAY, 11/18/14

Now that we have a permanent address in Ft. Worth, we can begin shifting our mail to our new address. It’s a time-consuming process, struggling with the various websites and all the usernames and passwords. I’ve decided to set a goal of at least two changes each day until I’m finished.

We’re also trying to follow up and make sure the condo is clean and ready for us when we arrive, and the movers are scheduled. Everything seems to be progressing and in place. I’m curious if it will all work out as it’s supposed to.

Today is a cooking day for me. I start late in the afternoon, putting the ingredients together we worked on Sunday. I get the cheesy potato soup ready about 30 minutes before we’re ready to deliver it to Anna and Javi. Now all I need is Judy.

There have been some bad traffic days for Judy here in Beijing, but today sets a record. It took over an hour for her to get home. The main road was blocked and when the driver took an alternate route, it was no better. We finally go the food to it’s destination, 30 minutes late. It was still hot, but they were probably beginning to wonder what was going on. Most nights, we’re not facing a timetable, but tonight, of all nights, the worst traffic ever.

Saturday / Sunday, 11/ 15-16 / 14

SATURDAY, 11/15/14

Judy is eager for a weekend to recover from her bout with nausea on Wednesday & Thursday.  I get the chance to travel back across town to my school for Parent/Teacher conferences.  When there is a government holiday, the government many times also declares official make-up days.  This goes for schools as well as business, etc.  Today is an official makeup day for one of the 4 days we missed due to the APEC conference.

The decision at our school was to use today for 11th grade parent meetings, and 12th grade classes.  Tomorrow is 10th grade parent meetings (I don’t teach any 10th or 12 graders).  This morning is “drop in” conferences for parents and students.  I’m pretty sure I won’t have any parents come by, and sure enough, no visitors.  I arrived, set-up in my room, and began working on several different projects.  I worked undisturbed until lunch, ate lunch in the faculty lunchroom, went back to my classroom and finished up my projects, heading home around 1:00 pm.  The afternoon was set aside for “scheduled” conferences.  With nothing scheduled, I was free to clear out.

Back at the apartment, Judy managed to make it to nearby Capita Mall to buy a baby gift.  One of her best friends here in Beijing (Anna, New Zealand) had her baby while we were gone to Shanghai.  Judy and several of the other close friends go by later in the afternoon (Anna lives in UHN, also) to visit the new mom and cuddle the baby.  They have a great visit!




Anna on the left, Lara (kindergarten, Australia) on the right.


Shannon getting in on the fun.

SUNDAY, 11/16/14

Our focus for today is to figure out what to cook to take over to Anna’s on Tuesday.  One of the BISS faculty put together a schedule for meal delivery for everyone living in UHN.  We cook some around here, but never for anyone else.  Anna is vegetarian, but her husband (Javi, Spain) isn’t, so we’re trying to figure out what to cook that will work for both.  Judy finds a recipe for a “cheesy potato soup.”  We’ll set aside bacon bits in a separate dish for Javi.

We spend the afternoon chasing the ingredients at the grocery store, and the local “wet market”.  Back at the apartment, we clean all the vegetables and start putting together the ingredients.  The best part of this project is that we’re going to test it.  We, of course, need to make sure it’s eatable.  I’ll also have to cook it myself on Tuesday, while Judy’s at school, so I need the practice.  It’s a success, and we stuff ourselves!    

Back to grind! 11/ 13-14 / 14

THURSDAY, 11/13/14

Today marks a first for Judy in Beijing. She had to miss a school day. She makes the necessary calls, and posts her lesson plans, and gets back in the bed. She’s not running any temperature, so we’re figuring it’s food poisoning, related to some yogurt. She ate it, and I didn’t.

I leave for school prepared for a long day, with Orchestra Club after school.  The classes go well, but as I’m talking to the students, I realize that several of them have a meeting after school and won’t be attending the club. With the prospect of a greatly reduced attendance at the rehearsal, and Judy home sick. I decided to call off the rehearsal, and head back to the apartment to help Judy if I can.

When I get home, Judy is sleeping. The nausea hasn’t returned, but she’s really weak. We try to get some more crackers and sprite into her, and they stay down. We’ll see how school works out when she wakes up tomorrow.

FRIDAY, 11/14/14

Judy heads out to BISS, feeling much better. Because it’s a short week, there’s no assembly, so no choir performance today. There is still a full day of classes, though. When she finishes the day, she’s beat!

My classes go well. I hang around for lunch, and then visited with some of the teachers about their holiday travels. Two of the teachers went to Hong Kong. A couple of the others went to Bangkok. It’s always fun hearing about their adventures.

Back at the apartment, Lilly is buried with all our laundry from Shanghai. She eventually finishes, but it’s after 6:00 pm before she leaves. We’re so spoiled, having her clean everything, do the laundry, and then finish off ironing everything. We’ll definitely miss this luxury next year.


Back from Shanghai, 11/ 11-12 / 14

TUESDAY, 11/11/14

We’re headed back to Beijing today. We catch a taxi back out to the train station. There’s traffic, and it takes about 45 minutes. Once we’re in the station, it doesn’t take us long to get our bearings. The security is less involved than Beijing.


One last shot of our hotel as we leave Shanghai. The saucer looking building is the Grand Opera Hall.


Our seats on the train.


Our seats are in the first cabin just in front of the door.

The train ride is smooth and comfortable, and we have great seats at the front of the very first car. We even have our own area divided off with a door. There are two “business class” seats (electronic leg rests, etc.) and three 1st class seats. The return trip to Beijing is slightly under 5 hours. The taxi line is huge, but moves quickly. There are tons of cabs and helpers, so there’s no cutting in line. With the APEC holiday still in place, we don’t have any traffic issues heading home and we walk in the front door, less than an hour after we arrived at the train station.

WEDNESDAY, 11/12/14

The APEC holiday is still in place today. Our day has a lazy start, but gets interesting as it proceeds. I really don’t have much to deal with except some emails and a little paperwork. Judy has a haircut scheduled, but is feeling a little “dicey” as she goes out the door. Sure enough, when she gets home, she’s had a serious bout of nausea at the stylist’s. She hits the bed immediately, weak, and not able to eat or drink anything. She sleeps as much as she can, but wakes every few hours to deal with the nausea.

The worst part for me is that I can’t do anything to help. All I can do is keep the crackers and sprite near the bed and then stay out of the way. She does not like being sick! She hates me hovering even worse.

Suzhou and Shouzhuang water tours, 11/10/14

Today’s tour involves a two-hour drive to Suzhou. The city is over 2500 years old. It is one of the best places to view the Grand Canal, built from Hangzhou to Beijing (over 1700 kilometers), and finished in the 5th century. That’s really old! We arrive, and begin the tour with a short visit to a famous garden. After the garden visit, we went to view the Grand Canal. It’s an engineering masterpiece, considering when it was built.

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We had lunch in a local noodle shop (our request), and then went to the Suzhou Silk Factory Exhibition. It was a large series of buildings with various stations demonstrating the process of making silk. We saw the silkworms, the cocoons, and ultimately how the cocoons were converted to thread and fabric. It was interesting. After the tour, we were, of course, walked through a large store with every type of silk product available for purchase. I’m sure the guide gets a percentage if any sales that are made. The big push is for silk duvets, but clothes, scarves, and ties are also readily available.


Sorting silk cocoons for quality


Cocoons are soaked, then the end of the thread is found and threaded into machine where it begins to unravel the cocoon.



Judy and Courtney (FaceTime) shopping for pillowcases.

After the silk tour, we make an hour drive to Zhouzhang and the “Water Village”. It’s a picturesque area with canals, boats, and small shops. When we finish at the water village, we make the drive back to Shanghai, arriving around 5:30. It’s been a long, but interesting day. We’re tired of driving, but it was worth it. As with any tours like these, we only scratched the surface of seeing the area. A person would have to live in the area to really see it all, but it’s nice to get a taste for what’s here.

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