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What Has Happened to Education?

Or I guess my real question is has it always been this bad and I just didn’t know it? You see, I went to a high-end private school and received an excellent early education. At the time I didn’t know anything different, so it was just school, and I thought school was school for everyone.

I’ll spare you the long and detailed story of why, but I didn’t go to university until I was in my 30’s and even then, teaching was not my first choice of careers. Heck, it wasn’t my 5th choice but here I am, a teacher.

I didn’t hear the term critical thinking until university. My response was an audible laugh and “you mean thinking???” Everything I had ever been taught about what thinking was was suddenly being called critical thinking…as if there were a different kind of thinking.

Fast forward 8 years. At this point I was working the most amazing, most fulfilling job of my life (and I’ve had a lot of jobs). I was a middle school teacher and I had never, ever been so happy in my life. I had never even imagined life could be so fulfilling.

Sometimes I would encounter things that confused me a bit. Because I was in my mid-thirties but brand new to teaching my boss checked in on me often. One day she wanted to ask me about how I was teaching reading and she used a term I had never heard before: close reading. I told her I had never heard that term before and a look of oh-my-god-what-have-I-done-placing-this-woman-in-a-classroom came over her face.

She explained to me what close reading was and I was like oh! You mean reading. Yeah. I know how to read, and I know how to teach reading. She insisted it wasn’t just reading. It was close reading. I teach a combined class of 7th and 8th graders and we can take up to an hour to read two pages in book. Every time the author uses interesting words, I stop whoever’s reading and we discuss word choice. We discuss figurative speech, symbolism, and theme. We discuss character motivation. We relate what the character is going through in the book to personal experiences my students have had. I don’t just listen to them say the words. I teach them how to read. To read, one must feel and understand the meaning of the words. Other than that, it’s just saying words. So yeah. My students learn how to read.

If teaching a student to understand the meaning behind the words is called close reading, then what the heck is plain ol’ reading? I got my answer to that. A year or so later I had a student in my class that was a very poor reader. This student had a younger sibling and I asked that child’s teacher how she was with reading. The teacher responded fine. She’s a good reader. Now understanding… that’s another thing. She can read the words, but she doesn’t understand what any of the words mean so she doesn’t get anything from it. I just looked at her, cocked my head and said, “so she can’t read?” The teacher responded, “No she can read she just doesn’t understand any of it.”

So here we’ve got a problem with word meaning. I don’t care at all if the kid can pronounce masters level words, if they don’t know what the words mean then they’re not reading. It’s like the word belief. It can mean two different things. If someone asks me, do you believe in the bible. Well, yeah, I believe there is a book called the Bible, but do I believe in the Bible as in it’s the inspired written word of a god? Then no I don’t believe in the Bible.

I couldn’t believe this fellow teacher was telling me a student was a good reader, but she couldn’t understand any of the words. It threw me into a bit of an existential crisis. What are we doing to children if we’re basing their reading level only on whether they can pronounce the words or not?

Another creepy story from education: I had an 8th grader that once several years ago had been held back, so by age he was a year older than his classmates. At the beginning of the year he didn’t know how to multiply. Now I’m not saying he didn’t have his times tables memorized. I’m saying he didn’t understand multiplication. He was 13! How was I supposed to be teaching him pre-algebra if he couldn’t even do basic multiplication?

Everyone at the school but my own husband told me this student was a lost cause. I was told to not even try with him. Just give him a calculator and teach him how to use it. Everyone said if he’s this old and hasn’t learned his times tables by now he never will. My husband was on my side. He believes in me.

The parents were on board. I can’t dismiss for a second how much help they were at home. They worked with him daily and they got a math tutor for him.

I never let the boy slide by even once in the classroom. All year long I expected him to do the same work his classmates did. Yeah, sure, it took him longer than everyone else, but I made him do it. I made him not only memorize his times tables but understand them. Why is this the answer? This goes back to the same issue with reading. I don’t care if a child can spout out math facts to me if they don’t understand what they’re doing and how the answer is what it is then what’s the point?

That student not only learned how to do multiplication he finished my pre-algebra class, moved on to algebra and passed that class too. The boy almost every other teacher I know told me to give up on, the boy everyone said was a lost cause is now thriving in school. The child that was just barely passing any of his classes (and that was with very creative grading) is doing well in in all of his classes now. He needed someone to believe in him and challenge him while everyone but me wanted to give up on him.

One more story: Since I work in an international school environment, I get new to the school students all the time. Their parents were transferred here for some reason or another, they went to school in different country until now, and here they are in my classroom today. By the time they get to me many of my students are attending their 4th or 5th school.

One time I got a new 7th grader (12 years old) that could not write at all. His handwriting was nearly illegible, and his “sentences” were just groups of words on paper. His spelling…oh!…his spelling… any 8-year-old could have done better. It was really shocking.

I spoke with him about it and he told me at his last school they never, NEVER wrote with pen and paper. 100% of their schooling was on laptop. He was completely dependent on spell check and grammar check at all times. He had no idea how to write if given a pencil and a piece of paper. How long had he attended this school? Three years. Ugh. The last time he had held a pencil in his hands was 3rd grade. I confirmed this with his parents. It was true. No pens, no pencils, no paper at his last school. None.

Oh, my goodness! I had a challenge before me. I had to get this kid up to level.

Coincidentally, at the same time someone posted in an international school teachers’ forum I belong to about computers in classrooms. It was a general what do you think about technology in the classroom kind of post. I commented that I’m all for technology in the classroom but sometimes teachers/schools go too far. Then I explained about this student.

Wow! The comments exploded. Everyone told me I was wrong for wanting to teach the student to write. I was told it was a waste of my time. I was told if he was this age and couldn’t write he’d never learn. (I’ve heard that before). I was insulted and numerous people wrote in a condescending way implying I didn’t know what I was doing and the only thing to do for this child was to let him continue to use a laptop in my class.

What bothered me the most was the apathetic lean they all seemed to have. I couldn’t believe how many teachers from schools all around the world were telling me to not waste my time on this child. He was a lost cause.

Is this really what education is?

Here’s a sample of the child’s writing from the first week of school in August.

Here’s a sample from September

And here’s a sample from October

All it took was kindness, understanding, and dedication from me, the teacher. I had a meeting with the parents, we came up with a plan, and we put it in place. The October writing is not perfect but just look at the improvements made in just 7 weeks of school with a teacher that is encouraging? If teachers give up on students or even worse won’t even begin to try with students, then what are we creating for our society? When teachers discourage other teachers from trying to help what are we saying?

Is this what education is these days? Teach to the lowest level and when they can’t even do that just call them a lost cause and ignore them? Has it changed or has it always been this way and I just happened to be one of the luckiest students on earth to have amazing teachers that cared about my education? I was taught to think and to read and that’s what I teach my students to do. I always thought teachers cared and that’s why they did it but I’m not so sure anymore.

My experience in this world of international school teaching has led me to believe a whole lot of people just choose this path as a way to get paid to party all around the world. In between drunken adventures with co-workers they go to the classroom and put in as little effort as possible to save up energy to party again tonight. Even the teachers that aren’t just in it to party still put in minimal effort to try and actually help their students. The really high-level schools only cater to high achievers and kick out the students that don’t make the cut and the other schools have teachers that call children that are a bit behind lost causes.

It’s really depressing. Don’t worry about me. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I love my job. I love teaching and I love making a difference. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a student that came to me struggling succeed in the end but this isn’t about me. This is about our children and our future. What you should worry about is the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m not the norm. I’m the outlier and that’s not good.

Cultural Differences part 1,000,000

The number one, most difficult, thing for me to adjust to about living in a different culture is my super friendly nature. I was always raised to be friendly to everyone. Make eye contact, smile, say hello, be friendly. I’m that Southern girl that’ll strike up a conversation with the person behind me in line at the supermarket. I’ll spend 20 minutes in a gas station because I struck up a conversation with the cashier. It’ll take me an hour to run an errand that should only take 10 minutes because I have so many conversations along the way. I love people and I talk to everyone. It served me well in the restaurant business and made me lots of friends in the States.

That trait of mine does not work to my benefit in all cultures. You may have trouble adjusting to different foods, a new language, different fashion, different levels of cleanliness, or any number of other things about living in a different culture but, for me, I struggle with avoiding eye contact and not smiling at people. It goes against the very person I am. It goes all the way to my inner core.

A woman sitting alone here in Benin is obviously just looking for a man. Why else would she be out alone? But I get depressed when I just sit around the house all the time and I simply must go out. I take a book or, on Sundays like today, I take my computer and work on my book. Men will never leave me alone. I can’t go anywhere without being constantly annoyed. They follow me around in the store, the follow me down the street, they demand my phone number several times a day. Give me your number. The most common pick up line I hear here is “You’re my queen, you’re going to have my babies.” Sometimes they bother me so much I have to find a security guard and ask him to tell the guy to leave me alone. I pay $100 a month to work out at a gym when my favorite form of exercise is walking but I can’t walk here because they won’t stop harassing me.

That’s when I don’t look at them. If I make eye contact it’s even worse. The same thing happened in China. Making eye contact with a man is an invitation. It’s sooooooooo hard for me. My first instinct at all times is to talk to anyone near me. If someone looks at me I smile and say hello. It’s who I am. But here, and in China, I have had to break myself of that. I’ve become colder, more distant, and I don’t like it.

It’s so different here in Benin than it was in China. Life and especially the idea of beauty is so different from than it is in China. It’s been a nice boost for my self-esteem. In China I was called fat and ugly several times a day. I cried a lot. I was once told I was too fat and ugly to be in public and I should lock myself in my apartment and not come out again until I lost weight. I once walked into a clothing shop I knew wouldn’t have anything to fit me but I wanted to look at the cute clothes anyway and the entire staff accosted me and shoved me out of the store all the while telling me I was too fat and ugly to be in their store and I was bad for business. The kids around our apartment complex called me the fat foreigner. I sank into a pit of depression so deep I was unsure I’d ever be able to climb out. I did join a gym but the people at the gym were really mean to me and that made me quit going. I don’t know about you but having the gym trainer call me fat and ugly didn’t motivate me to work out harder, it motivated me to stay home in bed and eat. All of their abuse only made me gain weight and cry all the time. It didn’t have the effect they intended.

Here in Benin it’s different. It’s my normal Sunday afternoon routine to go out, sit on a restaurant patio, and write. I’m working on a book. As of the time of this writing I’ve been here an hour. I have a collection of 3 phone numbers from men that wouldn’t leave me alone until I agreed to take their numbers. It’s always the same: the walk up to my table, loom over me, the more bold ones pull up a chair and sit down at my table without asking, and say give me your number. I say no. They say give me your number. I say no. They say give me your number. I say no. Then they say I’m going to give you my number. I say I’m not going to call you. They say I’m giving it to you anyway. I say whatever. They try to talk to me but I ignore them. If I talk I give very short answers trying to get rid of them. Here’s my nice collection of trash I’ve collected today.

I’m never going to be happy cooped in up in my house all the time. I simply must get out. I try and try to avoid eye contact and not speak to strangers but it’s so difficult for me. Even when I know if I look at that guy and smile at him he’s going to think I want to fuck him sometimes it happens instinctually, before I can stop myself.

I must admit being in an environment where I’m not constantly called fat and ugly has worked wonders for my mental state. I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time and I’ve lost almost 40 pounds since moving here. Being called beautiful as many times a day as I was called fat and ugly in China has does wonders for my health. As I’m typing this I have to keep my eyes on my screen because there’s a guy sitting across from me that’s staring at me and every time I glance up for a second he gives me creepy sexy eyes.

People ask me all the time what’s the most difficult part of living in a different country? That’s it for me. Not making eye contact, not smiling, and not being friendly. It’s hard. In Europe people don’t smile at each other but when I do they just roll their eyes and mutter something about Americans under their breath, in China it’s an invitation to call me fat and ugly, in Benin it’s an invitation to fuck. I don’t think I look forward to anything more on my yearly visits to America than being able to smile at a stranger and just have them smile back and keep on keeping on.

Before anyone goes and calls me mean or racist you should understand that I am ever so aware that the problem is me. I’m living in their country and in their culture and I’m the one that has to adjust. I’m trying. I really am. An entire nation of people is not going to change to cater me. I get it. I’m just writing about my experiences and what it’s like for me to do all the traveling and living in different cultures that I do. You ask all the time what it’s like. This. This is what it’s like.

Your racial politics don’t always cross cultures

So in 1963 President John Kennedy began the Art in Embassies Program. It is a public-private partnership that promotes cultural diplomacy through US embassies around the world. In 2002 they began an artists abroad program where artists can apply to travel to US embassies around the world and perform or display their art.

This week a jazz band is being hosted by the US embassy here in Cotonou. I posted about it on Facebook and Instagram and have received an amazing amount of hate from it. Everyone says the same thing: pardon me…but…uh…shouldn’t African Americans be playing jazz to represent America in Africa? I responded to a couple people but then had a huge lot of what I can only guess are African American Social Justice Warriors begin attacking me and calling me a racist, a colonizer, and some other extremely not nice things. For the first time I was brought to  block several people and report several more. The hatred was pretty intense.

Well…something tells me the application for your band getting to play in a US embassy doesn’t have a check box for race. It’s a damn band. If you want to bring your American racial politics into a world traveling jazz band then let’s talk about what it’s like here.

First off, I’m no colonizer. I’m a wanderluster. Since I was 14 I’ve never lived in the same place more than 4 years. I’ve traveled in 47 of the States and 39 countries, I’ve lived on 3 continents and in 4 countries so far. I have no plans of stopping. After spending 3/4ths of my life in poverty and just a decade ago being sick and homeless on the streets of Atlanta I hit the proverbial jackpot, I have found my calling and it’s traveling and teaching. I’ve never been so happy since the day I was born.  While I’m traveling I observe, I study, I write, and I try to do what little good I can for the world. I’m no missionary and I’m sure as hell no white savior. I just want to travel and see the world. I want to learn and I want to do it in the real world. While you’re calling me a racist on Instagram for watching some white guys play music I’m actually living in a foreign country, learning the language and learning the culture. Far more than you’re doing scrolling through the Internet from your cushy chair in Starbucks.

You wanna talk race relations in Africa? You wanna talk about how fucking stupid it is to say bringing 3 white guys here to play jazz music is a problem? You remind me of meat eaters that get grossed out by hunting or slaughter houses. You’ll eat your meat but it has to come in the neatly wrapped plastic packages in the supermarket. You can’t dare be faced with the reality that your dinner was once a living breathing being. Heck, you can’t even eat a fish with the head still on it. You wanna talk reality? Let’s talk.

Benin is the 16th poorest nation on earth. Literacy rates are below 40% for the total population and 20% for women. Slavery is still a very real part of day to day life here. People commonly sell their children for about the equivalent of $60 USD. People on the street approach me with their baby and try to get me to take it. They beg me to take their kid back to America with me. The teen girl that runs the small shack selling food attached to the wall of my house lives in that shack with her 3 year old little girl. There’s no water. They shit and piss by the tree across the street. My gardener almost died a few weeks ago because he didn’t have money to buy some antibiotics and was too ashamed to ask us.

Education here is depressingly abysmal. Last year, for my World Geography class I thought I had done something really awesome. Through a few people I had met I arranged for a local university professor to come lecture my class on life in Africa. This man, this African man, this African university professor, proceeded to tell my students that the white man had to come here to get slaves because white men can’t work in the sun. They needed slaves to work their fields. Then he moved on very casually to the next topic. Here in Benin there is very little understanding of chattel slavery as it was in the US. Because slavery is still common practice today. I was flabbergasted and didn’t really know what to do or say. This is a guest speaker I brought in to lecture my students! A history professor from a local university!!! Telling my students that the white man just had to come here and get slaves because his poor white skin couldn’t take working in the fields. Even members of the elite here are extremely uneducated compared to the average 6th grader in the US. I recently taught a wealthy man with a very respectable job that owns two large homes that plants need sunlight to live. Our American ideals of education simply do not transfer here.

I find myself constantly struggling debating coworkers on their insistence upon calling me ma’am. I don’t like it. They tell me they are raised to respect white people and address them with honor. I explain it’s racist and they say huh? what? I explain if you are supposed to respect me simply because of the color of my skin am I supposed to disrespect you because of the color of yours? Don’t call me ma’am just because I’m white. It’s gross.

I live in a place where people don’t have money to send their children to school or to feed them so they sell them off as slaves. Hundreds of people die in the hospital daily not because their illnesses are all that difficult to treat but because there’s no money. Almost no one I interact with on a daily basis can read or write. I could continue this list all day to explain to you the horrors I see.

Is it sad? Yes. Did I have to struggle with some pretty tough depression when I moved here? Yes. When beggar children ring my bell at home or crowd around me on the street do I still get emotional? Yes. When I go to the pharmacy and the man with the horrific tumors all over his face is there begging me for anything to feed his children do I ask myself wtf is wrong with this world? Yes. But I am in a very REAL situation and very, REALLY, have come to grips that I can’t save the world. I’m not trying to tell anyone how white people do things right and how if they’d just do it my way they’d get out of this poverty. That’s what missionaries like to do.  That’s not my place. Not my role, and I have no interest in being that person. I’m not here to save the world. I’m here to observe, write, and learn and hopefully help a few people along the way.

If you think seeing 3 white dudes playing jazz music is going to have any kind of a negative effect on the minds of the local people then you have no idea what you’re talking about. You are far out of your league and you are part of the problem.

Do you want to help the world? Do you really want to help the world? Become a teacher. Get off your high horse trying to imply I’m a racist for wanting to hear some music.

How Not to be an Asshole About Language

Last night I finally had an encounter with someone that got me fired up enough to really write. I’ve come here to write several times since arriving in Benin but never gotten around to doing it. I’m back.

There are nice people all over the world and there are assholes all over the world. I find them both everywhere I go. This post is not a commentary on Benin culture. I’ve been here 4 months and so far I have absolutely loved it. This post is commentary on human beings.

In my travels I’ve found that when in a foreign country and not quite speaking the language yet you encounter two types of people and these two people exist in every city, every village, every country worldwide:

Type One:

Hi! Welcome to my country! How long have you been here? Are you learning the language? Oh yeah? How long have you been studying? How’s it going? Can we speak a little? Wow! You’re really good! I can’t believe you know so much after only studying for x amount of weeks! I’m impressed. Keep it up! If you ever need to know how to say something feel free to ask. I look forward to keeping up with your progress.

Type Two:

May or may not say something in English first. Immediately speaks high level of their language then looks at me and expects me to respond. I say I’m sorry I don’t understand. He/She says I’m speaking your language you should speak mine. I’ll only speak in English but you should answer me in French. I explain I’ve only been studying you’re language for x amount of weeks. I can’t do that. He/She says how dare you come to my country and not learn my language. I tell him/her they are being rude to me and I don’t appreciate it. Then there’s the inevitable insult and statement about how I am disrespecting his/her culture and how rude I am for coming to a foreign country and not learning the language. He/she repeatedly says insulting/condescending things to me and repeatedly tells me that I’m the rude one for pointing out how rude they are being.

Don’t be type two. No one likes him.



Let’s talk about learning

Most specifically language learning.

So let’s talk a bit about how rude it is to tell a person they must just have a knack for learning languages and it must be easier for them. I think I can explain it best through a story.

When I first went back to college I had not taken a math class in 17 years. And even 17 years earlier math was not my strongest class. I was put in the bottom level of remedial math and I had to work hard to understand it. For 2 semesters of remedial math and then on to algebra, pre-cal, and stats I spent anywhere from 2-5 hours a day in the math tutoring lab. All the tutors knew me on a first name basis. Shout out to Eddy! Love ya!

Math was so very difficult for me. I cried so much in that tutoring lab they probably all thought I was a basket case. I really, really struggled with it. But I worked and worked and worked to understand it. While my classmates would only show up in the tutoring lab an hour before class on the day of a test I was there almost everyday until they kicked me out at closing time at 10:00 and I went in to school early to study several days a week.

I ended up with an A in all my college math courses but one and in class I could almost always answer the questions because I had studied the stuff so much. All my classmates would get mad at me and say things like “you always know the answers…it’s not fair…. Math is so easy for you” I would laugh at them and explain how many hours I spent in the tutoring lab every week just to understand this stuff and how it in no way was easy for me. They always ignored what I said and just went on saying that it was unfair that they got bad grades because math was hard for them.

I feel the exact same way when people tell me that languages must come easy to me. It’s like this complete dismissal of all the hard work I put into learning a language. It’s hard. I study hard at this stuff. I went to Guatemala and worked 4 hours a day one on one with a tutor for  almost 2 whole months to learn Spanish. Let’s break down the numbers: a college 3 credit Spanish course is 45 hours in the classroom per semester. That’s 45 hours with a teacher over 15 weeks. I studied 140 hours in only 7 weeks. That is a fuck ton of work. And it’s hard fucking work. For anyone to say I must just be good with languages is completely disrespecting the work I did. In addition to the tutor I have also listened to over 120 hours of mp3 lessons and done countless hours of studying online.

Shall we even talk about Chinese? It is fucking hard for me. Learning Chinese has been more difficult for me than Organic Chemistry was in college. The first month we lived here I studied Chinese 80 hours with a tutor. For the next six months I studied 8 hours a week, for the next six months I studied 5 hours a week, for the next six months I studied 3 hours a week, and since then I have studied 1.5 hours a week. In less than 3 years I have put in over 500 hours of private one on one tutoring hours. How many credit hours is a college degree? Oh yes: 120. So I have studied Chinese for almost enough hours to have earned an entire 5 university degrees. And you want to tell me languages must be easy for me???? I have made it through books 1, 2, and 3 and I am now 25% through book 4. Not to mention the fact that almost everyone I know only speaks Chinese, no one in any shops speaks any English and I am forced to speak and understand it all day everyday. How dare you say that I must just find languages easy to learn. I must just have a knack for languages. I am “blessed” with a talent for learning languages.

No. I fucking work hard. That’s the answer. I fucking work really, really hard at it. It is not easy and for you to say it is completely disrespects all the work I have put into it.

I am sharing this story because I see people make these mistakes all the time. When an amazing musician performs people will talk about how “blessed” he/she is or how naturally the music comes to them. I assure you that person practices many hours a week. I know musicians that practice 8+ hours a day. That’s why they’re so good.

Sure are there maybe people out there that language actually is easy? Maybe. Are there people that math is easy, or music is easy, or art is easy, or whatever it is they excel at is easy for them? Maybe so but for most of us we have to work really hard to be good at what we do and ignoring our work by assuming it is easy for us is not cool. Everyone that I know that’s really good at something got there through hard work and practice.

Starting in less than a year I’ll be moving to a new country and learning yet another new language. I enjoy the challenge. I like the feeling of overcoming an obstacle and I also know that learning new languages is one of the best things we can do for our brains. But please, oh please, do not tell me that learning languages is hard for you and easy for me. I will be working a full time job in a new country where I know no one, taking extra language courses on the weekends, listening to French mp3s on the way to work and the way home, studying every extra moment I can find in the day to learn the language and be able to communicate with the people around me. I will be working hard. It will not come natural to me and for you to say it does is simply rude.

Going to the animal hospital in Xi’an

It’s funny. I have recently, very recently, been making some friends I really like here and a jazz bar opened that has live music every Saturday night. My Mandarin is finally to a point where I can make friends with Chinese people that speak no English at all and I can get around town with no trouble. For the first time in 2 years I have actually somewhat been enjoying life here and I have been thinking maybe China isn’t so bad and I might be able to enjoy my last 10 months here.

Nope. All it took was one trip to the vet to be reminded: I HATE IT HERE.

6 days ago I found a puppy on the street. For the first 3 days it seemed like a perfectly healthy puppy. I put him on social media to try and find him a home but then he became ill. At first I thought it was getting used to the dog food but after 2 days of lethargy, diarrhea and vomiting I knew it was serious. I worked in an animal hospital for 2 years and an animal shelter for 5. I am no vet but I know enough to know it was serious. mmexport1473051278131

I know a vet here. I contacted him and told him the story and that I cannot afford treatment for anything serious but I am willing to pay for euthanasia. He said okay bring him in.

When I arrived at the vet clinic the vet that I had already arranged the euthanasia with said omg this puppy is too cute to execute. They tested him and he was positive for Parvo. He said we must treat him. I was like uh… well that cost is on you then. They put loads of pressure on me to pay the full price for treatment and I stood firm. They refused euthanasia no matter what I said. I said okay then. I’m just going to throw him out on the street, get in a taxi, go home, and let him die a slow, miserable death. At first they said okay but when they realized I was serious (between you and me I could never do that) they changed their tune. At that point they agreed that if I would pay the amount the euthanasia would cost they would pay the rest of his treatment.

I have to constantly remind myself that they are so far behind in medicine and they think they are doing best, they simply don’t know any better. I DO NOT in any way believe the vet, or anyone at the clinic, is cruel or that they were only trying to get money out of me. Although several people I have told the story to do believe they were pulling a shakedown. I believe that in their own way they only wanted the best for the puppy and they thought they were doing right. I am under the impression that in China if an animal has a 5% chance of survival and the cost will be astronomical they still insist you try. The only way I think I can survive here another 10 months is believing the best in them.

It’s really weird to me since I have never encountered such a cold, impersonal culture and yet I take a very, VERY sick animal in to put it out of its misery and they refuse. They leave children that have been hit by a car to die in the street, they eat dogs, they keep polar bears in glass containers in shopping malls, in my goddamn city, just last year, med school students performed horrific experiments on dogs and left them on the roof to die, they beat their dogs severely, they

ready to be sold.
ready to be sold.

keep dogs in cupboards as if they are quite literally toys, my dog gets kicked by a random stranger on a regular basis while we are out walking but, by golly, if you take an animal to the vet YOU MUST treat it. Humane euthanasia is not an option. I do not understand.

This is not my first experience with being refused euthanasia. We brought our two cats here from America. One was 16 years old and went into kidney failure. My uncle is a vet in the US and I sent him her blood results. He said it’s over for her. There is no way she will survive this. The best thing to do for her now is to put her down.

But would the vet here listen? No. He REFUSED to put her out of her misery. He insisted we keep trying treatment after treatment. She suffered an additional 2 weeks and we paid an additional 10,000¥ ($1500) before he was finally convinced he was not going to be able to save her and he agreed to euthanize her. Now anyone that knows me knows that I love my animals as much as I love my daughter and I would do anything for them. This was not about money. This was about her quality of life. She WAS NOT going to recover from this and he simply would not do what I was requesting.

And it’s ridiculous because it’s REALLY freakin’ expensive. I mean it’s expensive for me and for them it’s nearly unbelievably expensive. The average Chinese person makes about the same amount of RMB per month as the average American makes in USD so if something here costs 5¥ I can say for them it’s like $5. We spent the equivalent of $10,000 in two weeks to treat a cat that had absolutely zero chance of surviving and today they (a different hospital) wanted more than $2000 to treat a stray puppy.

If someone walks into a clinic in the US with an 8 week old puppy she found on the street that tested positive for Parvo, For the past 2 days was lethargic, had severe diarrhea and vomiting, and hadn’t eaten the vet is going to give the option of euthanasia and would never tell you that you have no choice but to pay $2000 for treatment. Who the fuck has $2000 lying around to save the life of stray puppy? A $50 euthanasia is the kind, humane thing to do.

I do not regret coming to China. I have loved learning Mandarin. I have really enjoyed studying another culture. I have seen some amazing places, and things, and met some absolutely wonderful people but I am ready to move on. Who knows where we’ll be this time next year? Maybe I’ll hate it too! Life is one great learning adventure to me and I love it!

Why are Chinese people so nice?

I talk about the kind people I meet in China often. I have made a friend in the countryside that even invited me to his mother’s funeral because he feels so close to me.

There’s a wonderfully kind little old lady that sits in her wheel chair outside the main gate of my apartment complex every afternoon and she always smiles and waves at me when I pass. There is a nice family on the 18th floor of my building that has invited me for dumplings more than once. The first friend I ever made here has been more than kind to me in showing me around town, introducing me to his friends, and being a nonstop help with my Mandarin needs.

I’ve had little old men get up from their seats on the bus and no matter how many times I insist he remain seated he makes me take his seat. The shop owner where I buy my fruits and vegetables always compliments me on my speaking.

There’s a little boy in my complex that always runs up to me and calls me 老师(teacher) even though I’m not his teacher and I teach him at least 2 new words every time I see him. There’s a restaurant owner that every time I go in she puts her grandchild in my arms and seems the happiest woman ever to see the way I hold and play with the baby.

There’s a bar owner that knows my name, knows my drink, and is always happy to laugh and joke with me.

IMG_0505I understand why Chinese people are so kind. They are a collectivist society. The group as a whole is the most important and since we are all a part of the group we all must be kind to each other. If one member of the group falls the group cannot function properly. Being unkind to one is being unkind to the whole. Confucius wrote “Act with kindness, but do not expect gratitude.” Confucius also said “To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.”

So I’m curious. How many people are going to send me hateful messages for generalizing Chinese people today? I think probably none. No one gets upset when one generalizes in a positive way. Generalizations apparently are only a bad thing if the reader does not like them.

What kind of world are we living in if we can never point out the negatives of life? If we pretend everything is perfect and there’s nothing wrong with the world how will we ever achieve world peace? China is not a perfect place. Nor is the United States or Switzerland or Angola. If we are forced to accept, like, and even respect the very worst of every society in fear of angering others how will we ever change?

I believe that it is our job as humans to make the world a better place for the next generations. How can we make the world better if we don’t admit there’s anything wrong with it? If we have to pretend everything is perfect and we love everything around us at all times?

I can talk about how nice and kind Chinese people are all day long and never have one person call me out on generalizing but oh my god you say something bad about Chinese people and it’s immediately you’re a racist! You’re generalizing! Fuck generalizations! If you don’t like it just leave! We don’t want you anyway.

Sorry people, but generalizations go both ways. If all you want is to read about my positive experiences then you probably don’t want to read my blog because I write about the negative ones too.

This isn’t about me vs. China. This is me vs. the world. Wherever I am living or traveling I write about the good and the bad. I have loads of happy positive things to say about people and places but to leave out the negatives would not be true. For those of you that get angry with me for generalizing about negatives, but not angry with me for generalizing about positives perhaps, just perhaps, the problem lies with you and not me.

I leave with one last quote of Confusius:

“The faults of a superior person are like the sun and the moon. They have their faults, and everyone sees them; they change and everyone looks up to them.”


Just answer the damn question.

Here’s a sociological study for you. Chinese people do this thing where they think they’re helping you but they’re really not and I hate it. Apparently as a people they believe that if you ask them for help with something but then you end up not liking that thing they will blame you for it. So instead, what they do is try to talk you out of doing what ever it is that you asked about. It’s really, REALLY annoying and makes me never want to ask a Chinese person for help with anything ever.

****Watch for this in movies. We see it now in movies when anyone is trying to do business with a Chinese person and we go OH! That is so true!

Want some examples? Sure you do.

Example 1: I wanted to go to this big international supermarket I know of here in Xi’an. I know the name of the place in Chinese and I was feeling brave so I went out and hailed a taxi. I said the name and he asked me which one? All my hopes were crushed. I had no idea there were more than one. But oh! There’s We Chat, China’s social networking thing kind of like Facebook.

So I wrote on We Chat can anyone tell me how to say the Metro Supermarket near the TV tower? Here’s an example of how the conversation went:

Person A: Why would you go there?

Person B: It’s really far away.

Person C: You know there’s a supermarket right by your apartment.

Person D: You don’t want to go there.


Person A: What do you want there?

Person B: It’s really far away.

Person C: Are you sure they don’t have it at a closer supermarket?

Person D: I wouldn’t go there if I were you.

Me: Can you please just answer my fucking question and tell me how to say the name of the place?

Person A: I still don’t get it. Why would you go that far from your apartment?

Person B: It’s really far away.

Person C: You can probably get what you want at the closer supermarket.

Person D: You don’t want to go there.

Example 2: My husband and I were tossing around the idea of buying a car here in China. We happened to meet a guy that does bank loans for car sales. We asked him about interest rates.

Husband: So what’s the interest rate on buying a car here?

Bank guy: You want to buy a car here?

Husband: We’re thinking about it. How much is the interest on a loan?

Bank guy: It’s really hard for foreigners to buy cars here.

Husband: Yes. But what is the interest rate?

Bank guy: You know it’s a lot of paperwork.

Husband: Yes. But what is the interest rate?

Bank guy: It’s really a lot of paperwork.

Husband: But what is the interest rate?

Bank guy: You’d probably need a friend to help you.


Example 3: When I wanted to take a trip I needed help buying a train ticket because I can’t read the website.

Me: Can you help me buy my ticket to this place?

Her: You don’t want to go to that place.

Me: Yes I do. I have money in my hand. Can you please help me buy the ticket?

Her: It’s really far away.

Me: I know. Can you please help me buy the ticket?

Her: You’re not going to like it.

Me: Yes I will. Can you please help me by the ticket?

Her: It’s really far away.

Me: We already went over that. Will you please help me?

Her: You’ll be uncomfortable.

Me: I know. Please help me buy the ticket.

Her: You know its over 30 hours away right?

Me: Yes. I know. I want to go.

Her: I really don’t think you should go.

Me: Please buy the ticket. Here’s the money.

Her: If I were you I wouldn’t go.

Me: You’re not me. I want to go. Here’s the money. Please buy the ticket.

Her: You really don’t want to go.

Me: I’m getting angry. I want to go and I can’t do it alone. Please help me.

Her: I really wouldn’t do this.

Me: I’m REALLY getting angry. Buy the damn ticket.

Her: It’s not going to be worth it.

Me: Please leave my house.

Example 4: This one just happened today. I met a girl on a language exchange program online. She lives here in my city. She told me she is very, very friendly and she wants to make me as comfortable in Xi’an as possible. She said I could ask her anything anytime and she’d answer any questions I had. I said awesome!

Me: Can you tell me how to get to Qing Gong Market from my apartment?

Her: You don’t want to go there.

Me: And that’s why I never ask Chinese people for help.

Her: What do you mean?

Me: Chinese people say they will help but they really won’t.

Her: What?

Me: You just did it! You offered to help me. You said you would answer any question I had anytime. I asked a question and you refused to answer my question.

Her: Huh?

Me: I asked you how to get to Qing Gong Market and instead of telling me how to get there you told me I didn’t want to go there. Chinese people always do that. I ask a question and they refuse to answer it. I hate it.

Her: Offended I guess. Never responded.

So you can never get a simple answer for a simple question here. Being a new person that doesn’t speak the language it makes things very difficult. Everyone you meet that speaks a little English says they’ll help anytime you need it but dammit they won’t! I understand that in their own way they think they are helping me but they’re not. Just answer my damn question. That’s all I ask. I’ve taken to using an online service to answer all of my questions because there’s not really anyone I know that I can get straight answers from.

8th Route Army Guerrilla Warfare Theme Park

My husband, daughter, and I moved to Xi’an China a little over a year ago. Anyone that knows us knows we love to travel and we love to go to off the beaten path attractions. Oh boy! Did we find one in China!

When we arrived here we started doing online research trying to decide where to go on holidays. We found this article in The Atlantic and we knew we had to go. It’s an article about a theme park all about China and Japan during World War II. They even have laser tag where you get to dress up like Chinese or Japanese soldiers and pretend to be at war.

We were so excited! We arrived at the park and it was pretty much empty. We stayed in a hotel room inside the park and it was way nicer than we had expected and came with breakfast. For $30USD a night to be inside the park was a pretty sweet deal.

In China WWII is known as The Anti-Japanese War. Today anti-Japanese sentiments are really high. There are more anti-Japanese movies made in China every year than there are days. According to Chinese history the Chinese single handedly defeated Japan and they have more than one national holiday celebrating it.

We host on Couch Surfing and I’ve had several guests ask me why so many hosts in China say they don’t accept Japanese people so I went in and edited our profile to say we accept everyone even Japanese. My Chinese teacher refuses to teach or even speak to anyone from Japan. Polls show that anti-Japanese sentiment is higher in China for the younger generation of today than it even is of their grandparents that lived through the war.

The park is amazingly racist! Every bathroom stall has a cartoon picture of some anti-Japanese scene. In the gift shop, and I’m mad at myself for not buying one of these, they have little toys that allow you to slap a Japanese soldier either in the face or the ass anytime you want.


We walked around a bit the first day but mostly we rested and went to bed early. The next day we were ready to fight! We couldn’t find the laser tag. I don’t know how to say laser tag IMG_20151002_095128and it wasn’t in my translator so we resorted to hand signals. We would say in Chinese “We want to play” and then act with play guns in our hands. Most people just looked at us like we were insane but finally we met an actor that understood. He told us it was far away. Huh? Far away… the Atlantic says it’s here. Were we at the wrong place?

We went to a play that was about Chinese villagers playing mean tricks on the evil, evil Japanese soldiers. The villagers gave the soldiers lots of alcohol but then it turned out it was poisoned and the soldiers all got diarrhea. Then our “favorite” part was when a Chinese woman was brought out dressed in a beautiful red dress with her head covered and a Japanese soldier tried to grab her but she ran away. He chased her for an hour trying to rape her but never caught her. In the end the joke was on him because she took her veil off and oh! It was a man! Rape jokes are so funny!

There is another play but we didn’t go because it was very violent and we didn’t want our daughter to see it.

While the play was going on I was texting with a girl that works at the park. We were using an online translator so we could communicate. I finally found out where the laser tag was and it was at a different park an hour away! The Atlantic, you lied to us!!! The girl tried fiercely to discourage us from going there. She said it was boring and we would not enjoy ourselves. I told her she did not know us, that this park was a mistake, and what we really wanted to go to was the park with the laser tag. So how do we get there?

We walked to the bus station and found a black taxi, that’s what they call illegal taxi services in China, we argued a bit on the price, finally agreed on one and he drove us there. It really was a bit over an hour away. My husband and I talked about it and I bet the reason in The Atlantic they have both parks listed as one is they never thought there would be any crazy Americans like us that actually wanted to go there.

We arrived. It was awesome! On a not sarcastic note they really did have a pretty sweet ropes course that would cost $200 to do in the US. Other than that we got fake guns to shoot Japs with as we rode a ride. Then there were tunnels to get lost in. And then the laser tag! I had never played laser tag before. I’m not much a of a gun, even toy gun, kind of gal but it was so much fun! There was another couple there with a little girl but instead of  evenly pairing us 3-3 Chinese-Japanese they made the two men Japanese and the two women and two little girls Chinese.

IMG_20151001_131248 IMG_20151001_140621

Even though there were 4 of us we still lost. I, nor the other woman, had ever used a machine gun before and my husband was in the army. We were doomed. It was so much fun though! It was my daughter’s first time to ever play guns. She had a blast.

I still can’t believe that girl tried so hard to discourage us from going! It was awesome! My husband and I both had more fun and laughed more than we have in over a year! It was by far the best time we’ve had in China.

Then we returned to the other park where our hotel was. We rode around in a miniature tank, which I think was the highlight of my husband’s entire week. We drove bumper boats where I ran into other Chinese tourists but they didn’t seem happy about it. Then my husband and daughter drove bumper cars and I took pictures. They have a smaller ropes course that children can do and my daughter loved it. She kept begging to do it over and over again. Oh! And they have airsoft guns where you’re targets are Japanese soldiers. We did that too.


So if you want to go to either of these parks here are the real directions. Every reference I’ve found to these places online lies to you and makes it seem that they are one in the same. I think they all go back to The Atlantic original article. Anyway, it’s in Shanxi Province, not to be confused with Shaanxi Province. Take a train to Taiyuan. From Taiyuan you need to go to the south bus station. From there you take a 2.5 hour bus ride to Wuxiang. From the Wuxiang bus station you can walk to the 8th Route Army Theme Park. That’s the one with the mini-tanks, bumpers cars and boats, mini ropes course, and plays. BUT! If you want to go to the 8th Route Army Guerrilla Warfare Theme Park you still have an hour to go. Outside the bus station there will be a bunch of guys hanging around wanting to drive you somewhere. We got a round trip ride for 150¥ RMB. Apparently there is also a beautiful limestone cave you can go to in the area but we didn’t have time to do them both due to our late start. If you need more exact assistance feel free to email me.



华山西安中国。 Mount Hua adventures

My family and I went to 华山, Mount Hua, yesterday. It is about an hour and a half outside of Xi’An by train. I had read about it online before moving here and I’ve wanted to go ever since we arrived. There were a lot of stairs. Our legs are very sore today. But it was totally worth it! I got to walk on one of the world’s craziest/scariest/most dangerous hikes and I loved it! hua3

We wanted to take our daughter with us but after standing in line for quite a while we were told no children allowed so my husband was totally awesome and watched our daughter while I go to do the hike. Getting down to the plank was terrifying. Once I was firmly on the wooden platform I felt secure. I moved faster than everyone else. I made it to the end, had someone take my picture, and passed everyone up going back before most of them were even halfway across. I think I may have done a bit more adventuring in my life than the average Chinese person.

I passed one poor girl on my way to the end and on my way back. She was frozen in fear and crying. I tried to help her but to no avail. I spoke to her in my broken Chinese and offered her my hand but she wasn’t comforted in the slightest. Passing people was wild. The trail is very narrow with a 2,000ft drop and it is a two-way path. When you meet someone going the opposite way as you the two of you have to work out who’s going to hug the wall and who’s going to go on the outside. While you are strapped in it’s still pretty scary. You have two straps with 2 separate carabiners. You unhook one, reach around the person, hook it to the cable beyond them, unhook the other, do the same, then carefully pass them while hugging as tightly as you can. This is the scene looking down. Yes that is my foot. Not something you want to be whimsical of.



This is the tiny temple at the very end of the trail.  I can say I’m one of the few people form the US that has ever seen this temple. hua4

Here is a video of me walking on the plank.