Sarah 1

Now that I have finally achieved VPN status, I can share some of my stories as well!

As my second year in Qufu, I slipped quite easily back into life here. I moved apartments from last year (as all the other teachers are fully and completely aware, I stored my things here over the summer) and am enjoying my new living space on the top floor of the Qushida apartments.

One thing very different from last year for me is I have so few classes. Last fall, I had 20 teaching hours, which is actually over the contract limit (for which they paid me extra). Now, I have only 8 teaching hours. I teach more advanced classes, which in theory requires more preparation, but in general I have a lot more free time than last year.

Therefore, I’m finding ways to keep myself occupied, such as this week I will be a judge with Max at an English speech contest at Qushida. The contest consists of a prepared speech (topic: what word has changed the world?), a short speech on a topic they get only a few minutes before, then a question from a judge. One night will be English majors, and another night non-English majors. The winner from each night will go on to a competition in Jinan, the capital of the province, and if they win there they would move on to Beijing. It is an ambitious goal, but I really respect the students for getting in front of a room full of strangers and making a speech in a second language.

Nick covered all of the stunning pictures from Taishan, so I will post a simple picture of some of our new Chinese friends, Connie and Crystal. Connie is a dean at Xingtan and in charge of the American crew over there, while Crystal is a translation teacher at Qushida.


Nick 2: Looking to the East

Well, I feel pretty settled in right about now. We’re into the third week of classes this week and now starting our very first full week of classes with our freshmen and sophomores. It’s nice to finally have some stability, getting a feel for our daily schedules and beginning to develop our daily lives and routines. It also sucks to have stability – routines get boring. I came here to break routine. Routine and spontaneity – an excellent example of the Chinese philosophy of yīnyáng. I’ve been doing a small amount of traveling on the weekends here with some of the other teachers. Last weekend we took a day trip to Jǐnán, the capital of Shandong Province. It was a short trip – we took advantage of some of the city’s Western delights to ease our homesickness: pizza, hamburgers, enchiladas and CHEESE.

This past weekend we went to Tài’ān, a city about an hour away, and did a nighttime climb of Tài Shān (Mount Tai) one of the most sacred mountains in China. It has been summit-ed by the who’s who of Chinese history: Confucius (Kǒng Zǐ – born in Qūfù), Mao Zedong and over 70 Emperors from different dynasties.

We started hiking up the over 6,000 steps to the top at about 11pm and it took us anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 hours to complete (pretty good times considering many take over 7 hours). Arriving at the top at around 3:30 am, it was cold and windy. We somehow killed the time (I must admit I got some shuteye after lugging my sleeping back to the top) and woke up to watch the sunrise with what we estimated to be at least 1,000 tourists (98.7% of them Chinese). With that many people staring off into the Eastern sky, the anticipation was palpable and, when it happened, the sunrise was beautiful; but what was more amazing was the sheer number of people that had made the pilgrimage to see it.

Climbing up the mountain the night before was crazy – it was impossible to get any space from others climbing the mountain. Many of them were students (I ran into 8 of my students alone on the train going to the mountain) but there was a fair share of adults too. Each carrying their flashlights, huddling together for warmth on the 2,000th, 4,125th, and even 5,999th stair, underprepared and seriously risking hypothermia each step of the way. It was eye-opening to see how important this was to each and every person. It didn’t feel like those people were going as sightseers or tourists but they were making the trek and pilgrimage just as it had been made 2,000 years ago. Max brought up the question: Do we have anything like this in the U.S.? And if not, why?

History. China has this immense cultural history and I think, as a result, they have a deeper historical understanding. Mount Tai, for example, has served as one of the most sacred mountains in China and been a place of revelation for Confucius, Mao Zedong and everyone in between. Not only that, but the mountain has been under continuous human settlement since the Neolithic period (about 10,000 years ago) with religious worship of the mountain has beentraced back over 3,000 years. Anything with that much history becomes a superstar celebrity like Mount Tai.

Do we have anything like that in the U.S.? Nothing comes to mind. Why not?
I think many would make the argument for certain sites in the “New” World that have just as an immense cultural history as Mount Tai. But the vast majority of European-Americans aren’t culturally linked to those sites. They belong to cultures that are no longer in existence for one reason ror another. And when you think about it, most Americans don’t have a cultural history or heritage that dates to beyond 500 years ago. This cultural history did exist and continued to until about 500 years ago. Now we Americans can only look at places of cultural importance as tourists rather than as participants continuing to make history.
Some photos:

Max 2: Dui means Yes!

has rapidly become the most common word in Chinese that I say. I say it to let people know I’m listening, I say it to food

and I say it to adventures.

City Wall Garden

Dui has left me with a new bike, freshly made noodles and a free guitar for the year (I’ll give that whole story when I play the concert on the Qufu campus with the music teacher and his friend in October).

As I write this, it feels like no time has passed in the last week and a half since we were brought after 13 hours in the air between New York and Beijing to the Zhong Xie Hotel hours before Hurricane Irene would strike the east coast. After corn and congealed blood for breakfast

we spent a morning in Beijing waiting for the entire group to assemble, visiting Tiananmen Square,

and after a hearty dumpling lunch,

made our way through impeccably clean streets,

past children trying to dirty the streets

to the massive Forbidden City, which I will need another visit to fully explore.

We also saw some blue sky in Beijing

We took a night sleeper train to arrive in Qufu around 8am. A new high speed rail cuts travel time to the capital down to slightly over 2 hours and just over 3 to Shanghai.

The first week in Qufu consisted of trying to stop myself from waking up between 3 and 5am due to jet lag, acquiring a phone and bike and getting to know my way around the campus and city directionally and gastronomically. Biking in Qufu is my favorite way to get around because bikers are a pampered minority, with designated bike lanes for the large groups of manual and electric (!) bikes that transport people around the city.

Biking and walking happen at a much slower pace, which allows ample time for people watching

Popcorn Love


and watching of other species

“Your voice in “Oral English” made me feel very energized!”

Anita and her boyfriend Cheney were grinning outside of my class. I had just finished a two hour introduction class for one of the two sophomore “Oral English” classes I’ll be teaching for the year. Anita and Cheney were not in this class and I realized that my voice had carried over the sound of fireworks celebrating some social event near the campus

the Qufu Normal campus is a popular spot for grandparents and babies

and the clip-clop of the freshmen and their military training

(after two more weeks of training I’ll pick up two more sections of freshmen “Oral English” to round out my course load to eight classes a week totaling sixteen hours of in class time for the semester)

I checked my phone last night after biking back from our first Pinyin lesson. (Pinyin is the latin alphabetized versions of Chinese characters that were invented to keep up with the spread of computers in the 1950s) to find this text message:

“I am another max! i am very happy ! i heard that you are as energetic as me. Maybe we can be friends”

This student Max is notorious for being a big talker. There can only be one answer:




P.S. Don’t forget to listen to the new Dizzy Peoples Comedy podcast!