21 December 2010


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Baotou Teachers' College took all 11 foreign teachers out for a holiday lunch, and we'll join our Amity colleagues for a combined regional meeting and Christmas celebration. Our new nativity set carved with Asian figures and a fiber-optic Christmas tree make our apartment feel very Christmassy, and with the Advent candles and music we couldn't ask for more. This is the only Santa we've seen in Baotou. Not exactly a figure of jolliness, but it's a tough job. Most of the stores have a Christmas display like this one. Santa advertises baiju here, a 80-120 proof white alcohol made from distilled grain. It's a wicked drink, although a great cleaning solvent. So have a tantalizing taste of Christmas New Year's Day, and Happy 2011!

10 December 2010

Winter Walk

Winter in Baotou -- cold (-15 Celsius), often sunny, and no snow. The horse, an integral figure in the creation and survival of the Middle Kingdom, is frequently depicted in public places like this Culture Park.
Behind the mop, whether on the street or at home. Sigh.
School children sliding on the ice.
Keeping warm with a face mask and ear muffs.
This little bundle is the one in China's 4-2-1 family (4 grandparents, 2 parents, 1 child). Grandfather says she's 2 1/2 years old.

End of Semester

The term is drawing to an end so the students have that combined sense of excitement and dread as finals approach. This poster announced the English department's New Years Party which was an elaborate production of singing, dancing, and skits, complete with a fog and bubble machine. The auditorium was packed and it was fun seeing our students as performers.
We've been having our classes come to see how the foreign teachers live, and practice English outside the classroom. We ask them to show us on the map where they're from, and are surprised how many live in far northern parts of China requiring a long train trip to get home.
These visits have been a great opportunity to get to know the students a little better; they're really a great group.
We were honored to be judges for the 2010 English Speech Competition and were surprised how many of the orations had an inspirational theme.
Mr. Johnson in the classroom. Most students keep their coats on although the rooms are heated, but we've discovered the unexpected occupational hazard of chalk dust.

06 December 2010


We enjoy the signs in China; here's some of our favorite Chinglish over the last few months. While no smoking signs are common, they're frequently ignored.
"first priority resporyutukity Your satisfy is our" caught our eye going up the escalator in the supermarket.
"Study does not mean lack of time, but diligent." Most of our classrooms have motivational signs like this one.
"ProtectCircumStance begin with me." China has a more casual approach to things like grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.
"Treasure Life" is a big safety slogan everywhere, not just for drowning.
We're definitely in the best place for seeing the sights (and reading the signs).

27 November 2010

Going to the Dogs

In the Communist era dogs were more likely to be herders, guards, or meals than companions. Now, not only are they more common, but their role has changed. This is as close as we've seen to our favorite dachshund breed, and he was just as fixated on the tennis ball being thrown as ours are. We often see older people taking a walk with their dog, a reflection of dogs' important role as companions as the nest empties.
While we haven't noticed a great variety in breeds, most look like this guy. Since Pekingese date from the 700s when Chinese emperors made them the palace dog, this may account for their appearance.
Since dogs, like people, are numerous here, regulations are coming into place. Beijing limits city dogs to no more than 35 cm (14") in height, and Shanghai is planning a one-dog-only policy. A formal proposal to ban the eating of dogs has been introduced to the National People's Congress.
With dogs have come services for dogs with dog-treat stores, dog social networking, and more vets. Breeds like huskies and poodles are status symbols, and with colder weather now we've even seen dogs wearing little sweaters.
So it's a dog's life here, as this little guy sunning himself would agree. And a real visible testimony to the increasing affluence in China.

13 November 2010

Student Life

It costs students and their families a bit less than $2000/yr for tuition, room and board, books and incidentals. Given an average individual income of $3700, sending your child to college can be a real financial stretch. All students live on campus in dorms like this; laundry is hung outside to dry.
Students live 6 to a room, and each one comes with a desk and small locker. The rooms are quite basic, there's no TV to distract, and lights are out at 11 p.m.
Since there's no hot water in the dorms, students head across campus to the boiler room and fill up their brightly colored jugs. There's a small building with showers, where for 75 cents you can have a hot scrub.
Most of the students come from small towns and rural areas several hours by train from here so don't get home very often. There are a lot of sports activities and campus clubs, but your real group is the five other students you share a room with for the 4 years you're a student.
Each floor has a student washroom, with squattie commodes on one side and long sinks on the other. The sinks are also used for laundry.
Here two of our young single faculty colleagues show us their rooms, which are quite like those of the students except they have only 3 to a room. The college is building an on-campus apartment for foreign teachers which should be ready next year.

The Campus

Baotou Teachers' College is part of the Inner Mongolia University of Science and Technology. About 10,000 students study to be teachers with majors ranging from physics to physical education; we teach the English majors. It's a modern campus with labs, administration, fine arts buildings, two large cafeterias where we enjoy great food, and many dormatories since all students live on campus. This is the old teaching building where we have our classes; a new building is under construction, as are apartments for all the foreign teachers.
This mural is in front of the library, a large building where students can study and access computers. Diane is with four of our students who gave us a campus tour.
A large gym includes basketball and volleyball courts plus several rooms with ping pong tables. Adjacent to the track field, swimming is available in a nearby hotel pool and tai chi classes are conducted around campus.
The oldest main building on campus, once a library, is now an art building. Most of the buildings were build in the Soviet style, so this one is rather unique.

08 November 2010

Visit to Hohhot

Hohhot, capitol city of the province of Inner Mongolia, was the spot for a weekend visit. We boarded the train at the Baotou station for the 2 1/2 hour journey. Train travel is quick, cheap (about $2 for our trip) and very crowded. We've learned that as soon as the gates open there's a great surge and scramble for seats.
We met up with a couple of other Amity teachers to see the sights and compare notes on the joys and challenges of teaching in China.
A visit to the Museum of Inner Mongolia where Daniel pointed out Baotou's spot on a map of mineral resources. Half the global supply of rare earth minerals comes from the Baotou area.
While visiting the Temple of Five Pagodas (1732) we discovered many rooms like this with large statues of Buddha surrounded by burning incense and offerings of food. There's also a rare Mongolian cosmological map carved into stone.
Hohhot is home to a large Muslim community. We arrived at the Grand Mosque as groups of boys were getting ready for school; scaffolds in the background are for the new dome being built. There's a resurgence of religion in China as evidenced by the growth of mosques, temples, and churches.

31 October 2010

Halloween Party

Yesterday we brought a bit of western culture to Baotou Teachers' College. The sophomores decorated the room and about 150 of them came out for an evening of games, and of course lots of candy. Daniel looked and acted like a real ghoul while Diane had the perfect witch's broom, not to mention the nose. Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with these apparitions.
Pin the nose on the pumpkin was a popular game (the pumpkins here are rather small and used in the kitchen, so we didn't have any to carve or decorate). Also popular was musical chairs, candy toss, and pass the orange while the movie "Ghostbusters" was on.
Mummy decorating was a hit, and we went through rolls of toilet paper.
Two of our young faculty came out in costume -- Michael Jackson on the left and Marilyn Monroe on the right. And of course it wouldn't be Halloween without bobbing for apples. We had four bobbing stations and a few hundred apples. The students are already asking when we can do it again!

21 October 2010

From the Window

Our kitchen window gives us a bird's eye view of daily life on our street. We often say to each other this is one of the best things about the apartment we have. When a power outage strikes, which fortunately isn't very often, repair men shimmy up and make repairs. The equipment includes a small stool, a long pole, and men wearing climbing cleats on their shoes.
Each day the potato man cycles over and sells hot yams from his cart while bicycles and electric bikes whiz by. And Daniel's ever-favorite Smart car was even sighted. All this in the sideroad -- the main lanes are across the curb.
This is the season for dried fruit, including kiwi. On the fresh fruit side the oranges we always associate with Christmas, Mandarins, are in season and have become a daily staple.
A large cadre of street sweepers are employed in China. Given the amount of litter in public spaces, they're kept busy and appear to have guaranteed employment.
The pancake lady makes delicious crepes filled with egg, vegies, and braided bread. Excellent fare for about 65 cents. After the lunch rush street vendors and cleaners sit together on small stools, gossiping about daily events.