Traffic and a creative Tuktuk ride, 4/17/15

There are days when the traffic outside allows me catch a taxi to school, and there are other days when there’s no way a taxi is a good option. Today is one of those “no way” days. No problems on the train commute. Classes went well. Back at the apartment, I spent time making notes about where we finished up so I can pick up in 8 weeks when classes “might” meet again.

We’ve arrived at that time in our Beijing experience when I start realizing, “Hey, I don’t have too many subway trips to school left”. Or, “I’m not sure if I’ll see some of these people again”. The graduation activities for my school are May 22 & 23, and I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to attend. It’s the same day as “International Day” at BISS (the 23rd), and Judy and I will be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary that evening.

Judy went to the dentist’s office as school ended. She called me when they began to work on her crown. The traffic issue is still bad, so I began to make my way over on the train to meet her.

Apartment Traffic Video link

We meet up at the dentist. We couldn’t seem to find a taxi, and ended up taking a Tuk-tuk (small motorized enclosed rickshaw). It was probably cheaper than a taxi because of the traffic. Our tuk-tuk driver was really “creative” in his route. There’s no way a taxi could’ve made it that fast.

Tuktuk Video link

We were headed to a place in Sanlitun called “The Local” to meet a group from BISS. It’s a favorite of the Australians in Beijing. The televisions are full of Rugby, Australian Rules Football, Cricket, and of course, soccer. The elementary staff is celebrating the “Grade 5 Exhibition” with their Australian teacher, Roger. I love getting together with this wide-ranging group of personalities and accents. We’ll miss this back in Fort Worth.

The Grade 5 Exhibition students, teachers, mentors, and elementary administrators.

The Grade 5 Exhibition students, teachers, mentors, and elementary administrators.

Last Orchestra Club day, 4/16/15

An update on yesterday’s dust storm.  Today’s news report talk about it being the worst dust storm in 13 years in Beijing.  Guess they’ve never experienced some of that stuff that happens in Eastern New Mexico and the Lubbock area.

I’m up and gone early for my Thursday classes, as usual. I took a taxi, and ended up arriving at school around 7:00 am. That’s a little early, even for me. I get the room set-up and plug everything in, and dabble with some presentation ideas. The classes kick off on schedule.

The students look dead when they arrive. They are studying maniacs right now. They have, essentially, their final exams Monday thru Wednesday next week. Regular classes are non-existent after those tests until after the SAT on June 6. There are three weeks of school still on the calendar after that, but I’m not sure what kind of class schedule they’ll have. Right now, I think I’m supposed to teach regular schedule June 11 & 12, and then I’m officially finished. That’s 8 weeks from now. Between now and then, the students are in double and triple blocked tutoring sessions for the AP tests, and after the AP’s, they’ll shift to an SAT Test focus.

After class, I make some adjustments for the presentation material for tomorrow, and then practice my rap for the video-taping session for the senior graduation video. I’m not gonna set the Hip-Hop world on it’s ear or anything, but it’s fun.

I always enjoy lunch because it gives me a chance to visit with everyone. I don’t have many lunches left with these guys. After lunch, I meet the students in charge of the video session. It takes less than 20 minutes to complete, including set-up (thanks to my practice before-hand). The rest of the afternoon is spent getting some Starbucks and clearing out the cabinet where I’ve been keeping all the orchestra club music/parts/warm-ups, etc.

After school, a couple of orchestra club students wandered in. We’re too close to final tests for most of them to have the free time available. I set up the “Loopy” app on the iPad. We laid down some looping tracks, and then played along with it. We had fun figuring out how to use it, and “jamming”. After class, we said our goodbyes, I packed up the music I was keeping and my clarinet, and headed to the train.


A few pictures Judy took around BISS of the trees and shrubs.

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Back at the apartment, Judy had been having “one of those days”. She dropped and broke a container of make-up remover in the bathroom, then dislodged a crown eating dinner. She hurriedly got an appointment for the dentist for tomorrow afternoon. That’s one of the nice things about Beijing. I’m not sure she could have scheduled an appointment that fast in DFW.

TT, Korean food, and a dust storm, 4/ 14-15 /15

TUESDAY, 4/14/15

Judy didn’t sleep well last night. Courtney was defending her dissertation for her committee. We finally get a call from her around 6:00 am. All went well, and she passed unconditionally. There’s lots of celebrating and relief on both ends of the phone. Guess we’ll be heading to the US for a graduation in May.

Today is the Grade 5 Exhibition at BISS. It’s an evening of performances and displays, representing all the work the grade 5 students have completed in the PYP (Primary Years Program). There are two performances during the day, and then a final performance this evening for the parents. Judy’s part of the program is two songs with the group. Everything goes great and the entire evening and performances are a big success. This is like a graduation for the students.

Now that we know for sure about the graduation, I start researching airfare back to the US. I did a swim session, ate lunch, and then rode to the TT park to work on the things from my lesson. I stopped at a bike shop on the way hoping to get my brakes fixed. They told me they’d have the part in 3 days.

I played a guy I’d played early in the fall. I remembered him because he hit and served with lots of crazy spins, trying to “dazzle” me. I’ve improved and he wasn’t ready for me to start hitting it back. It was fun watching the reaction when I was able to turn the tables on him a few times.

WEDNESDAY, 4/15/15

Our ayi shows up at 8:00 am, ready to work (her regular Wednesday time slot). I spend the morning at the wet market, and then swimming. After lunch, I worked some more on our flights to DFW. The remainder of the afternoon was spent working on a project for school.

The faculty members have a chance to make a video comment/statement to the BHSFIC seniors for their graduation, and mine’s being taped tomorrow. I decided to write a rap. It turned out OK. I created a music track using Garageband, and then wrote a rhyme that matched up. After I had it written, I loaded the script onto an iPad app called iPrompt Pro so it would scroll as I was recording. Next step was setting the speed and font size so the script timed out with the music. Since it was my first attempt with the teleprompter app, it took lots of trial and error.

I joined Marilyn Prettyman, Josie Francis, and Steve Scott at 5:15 for our Wednesday night world food tour.   We’re eating Korean tonight, and it’s a little earlier than usual. Everyone was told to go home immediately when school finished at 4:00 because of an impending wind/sand storm. We walked into the restaurant about 5:30. Didn’t notice much weather happening. The food was ok. I don’t think seaweed will become a regular part of diet.


Some of the Korean sauces and appetizers.

When we walked out at 7:30. There was a little more wind, and a lot of dirt in the air. It smelled like a good ‘ol sandstorm. In the 30 minutes it took us to walk to the South German bakery and make a purchase, the sky was beginning to clear and the air was freshening. When I got home, Judy began talking about that “bad storm”. Huh? I guess it blew through while we were eating in the basement restaurant.


TT lesson #2, 4/ 12-13 /15

SUNDAY, 4/12/15

We’ve got a light day today. Judy has a big week ahead and digs in on the planning. I took a final look at our US taxes and filed online. Ouch! I had very few deductions this year. I hope next year is better. I’m going to have to make some adjustments in our withholding when we get home.

MONDAY, 5/13/15

Judy heads out ready to face a full week. The first half of my day is pretty much a regular morning. I worked some, did a swim (1600 meters), and then ate lunch. While I was eating, our ayi came in and started cleaning.

After lunch, I rode the bike over to the table tennis park and proceeded to get beat to pieces by an old woman. She played a much different game than most of the others I’ve been playing. She loved to hit backspin, after backspin, after backspin, etc. She delighted in running me around, and I gave her way too many opportunities to be delighted. At least it gave me a chance to work on my own backspin. I left the park about 4:15, and rode to Ditan Park for my TT lesson. I had plenty of time to find a KFC for dinner, before going in and prepping for the lesson scheduled for 6:00.


The backspin queen!


The west gate of Ditan Park, near the TT gym.


The entrance to the Table Tennis Training area. It’s almost hidden.


Staircase leading to the gym.

I walked into a much different scene than last week, when I first found the gym. Last week was a holiday, and the gym was almost empty. Tonight, the gym was full of kids and parents, and the training was serious. There were lots of great young players and coaches watching and drilling them. I’ll post a short video I took. I tried to take some better video, but the camera didn’t work. Maybe next week.

Table Tennis Gym video link

The lesson went well. My forehand needs the most work. My backhand was the most solid stroke. My backspin shots were the most improved (thanks to the little old lady earlier in the day). We can’t converse, but I could see he was ramping up the speed of some of his shots, trying to push me.

After the lesson, I went out, climbed on the bike, and started home. My brakes weren’t working? After closer inspection, I found the rear brake handle had broken, so no rear brakes. Someone, or something must have bumped my bike while I was inside. It was fine when I parked it. I rode home very slowly, making sure I kept plenty of distance in front of me. The front brake works a little, but won’t stop the bike by itself. I arrived safely. Whew!


Interviews and dreams, 5/11/14

Today is one of several student interview days to be held at my school. The government has limited enrollment on our campus to 60 new students each year. Students who are interested in attending must take math and science tests administered by the school, and those who pass the test are allowed to interview. There are three interview groups. One is for the Chinese faculty members, who evaluate a student’s level of science and math above the test. The 2nd interview is with the administration and includes the parents to determine the student’s and parent’s ability to manage the school financial and time demands. The 3rd interview is with the English-speaking faculty. Our job is to determine the level of each student’s English comprehension (how they speak and can they understand us).

There were three teams in the morning and four teams in the afternoon. I was part of the morning group that began at 8:00 am. We finished at 12:45. Each team was scheduled to interview 14 – 15 students. Each interview lasted 15 to 20 minutes, and we listened to each student talk about why they wanted to attend the school. We also asked questions about travel, their favorite activities, etc., to determine how well they could understand the questions we asked and then formulate a logical and well thought out answer.

Some of the students were really conversant and had no problems. A few struggled to understand the questions. They were all nervous, but some were visibly shaking. For many, selection to attend this school would be the beginning of a successful life. Failure to “make the cut” might doom them to meeting less than their goal of attending a university abroad. Out of our group, we heard 5-6 solid candidates. The rest fell into the “maybe” category.

The Chinese faculty interview and test scores are the most important and deciding factors. The national test for junior high students for HS admission is in May. Those test scores will be used to rank the possible attendees, and make the final cut. Testing is really important. A low test can keep a student from even attending HS. A high score opens up their world to endless possibilities. Students here must get serious about their lives and goals at a young age. There’s not much chance to “find yourself.”

Today is double the fun! 4/10/15

Today’s classes have a new dynamic. 11th grade students from the Beijing #4 HS main campus International Program are coming over to check out the classes at our school. The two programs are combining next year at our campus and the school will double in size. We’ve heard the main campus students aren’t happy about the move, and the administration hopes this will alleviate some of the concerns they (and their parents) have.

Instead of the regular class sizes of 22 & 25 students, today I have 40 & 41. The room is really crowded. The visiting students come in with lots of confidence, and those who spoke to me have solid English skills.

At lunch today, Amy Song was back for a visit. Amy was the school clerk in charge of dealing with all the passport/visa, rental issues the foreign teachers faced when I first arrived in China. She was our main contact when dealing with any “China” issues. After Xmas this year, she didn’t come back, and none of the foreign teachers were sure what happened. When I saw her, she told me she had been in Ft. Worth the last month (somewhere near Keller Central HS). I still don’t know why she was there, but it was fun to talk to her about the DFW area and what she had done.

Back at the apartment later, I closed out the week, filing all this week’s materials away and entering attendance and grades. Judy texted to let me know we’d be going out for dinner. Dom and I catch a taxi and meet Shannon and Lara (kindergarten) at Homeplate BBQ. We spent almost three hours eating and discussing (solving) all the problems of the world.


This is Steve’s e-bike, still decked out for winter riding. Josie had a yellow version of the same bike, but it was stolen a couple of weeks ago.


We actually had a rehearsal! 4/9/15

I made it to school around 7:25 am, set-up the room and all the technology. Classes go well, in spite of the fact that the students don’t like the rhythmic reading we do every class. Several of them are really good. The students tell me that the orchestra club will be meeting today. We’ll see!

After lunch, Josie and I go find the travel agency that’s organizing our Tibet trip in three weeks. We paid a deposit, and got a better timeline on when the balance of our fees would be due. Back at school, I worked on my class lesson for tomorrow and waited to see if the Orchestra Club would actually meet.

Hooray! We actually had a rehearsal. The students read the piece fairly well (a Bach Bouree), and then we tried to fix a few of the problems. After rehearsal, we talked about next week, and they want to rehearse one more time. Unless something changes, next week will be the last chance we’ll have to meet. I finished up the class with a few card tricks. I’ve been practicing a little and decided they would be a receptive audience that would allow me to work out some performance issues. Close-up card magic is a blast, when it works, and it did today, thank goodness.

The train ride home on Thursday evenings is always interesting. I’m usually leaving during rush hour between 5:45 & 6:00. The crowds can get really packed. I don’t know how the shorter people stand it. If a person were claustrophobic, they’d be having issues.

As I’m traveling I notice a text Judy had sent after school about leaving immediately at the final bell and going to Dragonfly for a foot massage. It had been “one of those days”. She’d had all she could take from students and adults, and needed a break!!!!

Tuesday/Wednesday, 4/ 7-8 /15

TUESDAY, 4/7/15

Judy heads out, ready to fight the taxi wars. I feel sorry for the next person that jumps in front of her and gets her taxi. They may not understand what she’s saying, but they’ll know she’s mad. Her patience is wearing very thin. There’s no official line, so more times than not, people walk up the street in front of her and flag the taxis before they get to her. She’s not a happy person when that happens.

I go through my usual morning routine. When our ayi arrives, I grab the bike and ride over to the table tennis park. I’ve got a few things to practice before my next lesson. One of the older guys grabs me when I walk in, and we hit for the next two hours. I can’t knock anything past him. As I begin to hit harder, he hits harder. He’s helping me work on my game, but eventually he decides to remind me he’s a real player, and raises his level, running me around. Then he slows down and goes back to helping.

Back home, I put together a soup for dinner. The apartment’s clean, dinner’s ready, and I’m beat from swimming, the bike, and the table tennis. I’m gonna sleep hard tonight.


Our ayi arrived later than usual today. She didn’t come in until 8:30am. She’d been walking in around 7:45 the last several weeks. I killed a little time and then head out to Metro for the weekly grocery excursion. I got back around 10:30, unloaded the groceries, and went over for a swim session. I’m up to 1400 meters. When I got back to the apartment after swimming our ayi was gone, and I ate lunch.   I worked a while on some travel possibilities, and then took a short nap (one of the perks of part-time employment). I spent the rest of the afternoon making sure everything was ready for my classes tomorrow and Friday.

I left the apartment at 5:00 to ride the train over to Liangmaqiao Station. I met three of the faculty from my school for dinner. They’ve been trying a different style of food each Wednesday. Two weeks ago, it was Indian, and this week, it’s German. We have dinner at The Paulaner   I had some sausages, and potato salad. It was ok, but not remarkable. Afterwards, everyone wanted to walk to the nearby South German Bakery for bread to take home. I walked with them, but didn’t get bread. There’s no way I’m going to drop any pounds eating a couple of loaves of German bread with butter.


Ditan Park and a table tennis coach, 4/6/15

It’s a new week and I’m beginning to look for new places to visit. The time before we leave Beijing is narrowing, and I need to make sure I see everything I want to. If I find something especially good, I can bring Judy back on a weekend.

A couple of times lately, I’ve driven by Ditan Park in a taxi on my way to catch the train at Yonghegong Station. It looks like a nice park and lots of people are out playing badminton and dancing when I’ve gone by at 6:45 am. The weather is nice today, cool but not cold. After my morning ritual of working, swimming, and eating lunch, I jumped on the bike and headed over.


Ditan Park is the home of the “Temple of Earth”. Today is still part of the official Chinese Qingming Festival holiday. The Chinese schools are dismissed today. There are lots of people in the park, musicians, dancers, kites, and just people walking around. I made my way into the Temple of Earth. It’s not the most exciting site to visit. It’s where sacrifices were held, so there is no building, just a really large raised deck surrounded by open space for all the emperor’s underlings.


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As I was leaving the area, I noticed a secluded area with some kind of artificial turf. As I got closer I realized it was a large croquet court (actually several courts). I watched a little while. I’ve never seen an official croquet court, and I certainly never expected to see one in Beijing. There’s always a surprise around the corner in Beijing.



In my search for an indoor table tennis area, I had noticed a site on a map near Ditan Park listed as a “table tennis training area”, so I rode over to the Ditan Sports Park and began looking for it. The sports park is huge. Lots of basketball courts, outdoor and indoor. There is large track and soccer field. As I was wandering around looking for the table tennis area, I wandered into a large basement area with lots of really good young gymnasts. I also found the wrestling area. I finally had to ask about the pingpong area, and was directed to another building.

I found the building, went down the stairs to a darkened basement area, through a door with no sign, and “lo and behold”, a large table tennis training area. There were thirty really good tables, and really nice cushioned flooring with portable dividers for sectioning the playing areas. There was one table where a man was just beginning to teach a lesson. I watched the lesson, curious how he structured his approach. It was methodical, beginning with lots of repetition of basic forehands and backhands. As the lesson progressed he began to combine shots, backhand slice to forehand topspin, etc. I enjoyed watching.

As the lesson finished, I decided to see if I could work out some lessons for myself. What could it hurt? I had been carrying my table tennis equipment, in case I went by my regular TT club on the way home. Language was a problem, but the student who was finishing was able to translate well enough to help us arrive at a regular day and time for lessons. I was even able to take a lesson right then, so I pulled out my stuff, and he began to work me over. He made a few adjustments in both my forehand and backhand, but it wasn’t major, and I was improving as we finished an hour later. I’m looking forward to next Monday at 6:00 pm.

The doc, the market, and recovery, 4/ 4-5 /15

SATURDAY, 4/4/15

As we woke up this morning, Judy’s cough is becoming more problematic.   She didn’t sleep well. She’s had it since we returned from Vietnam, and it has gradually worsened. Thankfully, she agrees to go see a doctor (sometimes she refuses until the cough is out of control). She calls and gets an appointment that starts in half an hour. We scurry around and head out, jumping in a taxi. We walk into the doctor’s office about 4 minutes late.

Similar to past experiences, she gets in quickly to see the doctor. They ask a few questions and take her for some blood work. When they return 10-15 minutes later, they have diagnosed a bacterial issue, and have some prescriptions ready to go. We walk out the door 30 minutes after we arrive, with medicine in hand.

On the way home, Judy wants to visit the Sanyuanli Market for fruits, vegetables, and nuts. It’s a really big market with lots of choices, including meats and seafood. We make a walk down thru the market checking things off our list, and adding a few things that look especially good. That’s one of the problems with shopping when you’re hungry. Lots of things look good. There are numerous exotic looking fruits (exotic to Tex/NMex like us). We finish and load up, heading back to the apartment to unpack our groceries. The rest of the afternoon is spent relaxing and letting Judy make up some of the sleep she lost last night due to the cough.






The pharmacy at the doctor’s office


This little girl was teaching her brother words on the sign in the window. Judy thought it was cute and took a video, but the girl saw Judy before she got very far into the lesson. Check out the short video.


This is one of the crazy looking fruits the several of the vendors were slicing and offering samples.

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SUNDAY, 4/5/15

Judy still had a rough night with the cough. The medicine hasn’t been in her system long enough to solve the problem. We end up spending most of the day reading and planning for the week ahead. I borrowed a copy of “Selma”, and “The Judge”, from one of the teachers at my school, and that entertains us for some of the day.

When her cough gets wound up, it’s hard to listen to.  The more settled she is, the better. She has a full week ahead and will need every bit of strength to get through it.