4.15.2013

one long week, a date, and a weekend later..

The week started off pretty relaxed but in no time got busy, busy, busy.

Tuesday I learned that my primary teachers needed to prepare a 15 minute teaching demo to present to prospective parents looking to enroll their students into the ilp program next semester. They were expected to have this demo down pat by Friday morning which is when they would present it to the principal of the school.

By Wednesday I was notified that Bond (the English teaching company our coordinators work for) needed six of my teachers to learn a dance with Shiqi (another ILP group nearby) and perform for a tv show called Chinas Dream (or something like that - it's like Americas got talent), rehearsals were everyday in prep for the big performance in Guangzhou on Saturday.

Thursday my primary teachers rehearsed for their demo and my other 6 dancing star teachers rehearsed for Chinas Dream Show while Preston and I wildly ran around collecting money and passport information from each teacher so that our coordinator could purchase our next vacation train tickets to Beijing.

Friday I was up by 6:15 and out before 6:45 with Shiqis head teacher Michaela, to an area of Zhongshan called Xiaolan. We met up with the ILP group there to put on a demo for a large primary school nearby who was interested in the program. There were 9 of us teachers total, we were to hold a demo (which consisted of a more or less watered down version of our ilp teaching method - they wanted more entertainment than actual English speaking, typical China) with one group of students for an hour in the morning and another group of students in the afternoon for another hour. We begun and they just loved us so much they wanted us to stretch our hour-tops plan for each session into two to three hours each. Not only did we teach longer but as we progressed, the estimated amount of students we would teach per session went from 15 to 50. Change is no stranger in China, plans change all the time, if they don't change, they are not real. So we did what all good english teachers in china do, rolled with the punches and kicked butt.

All while this was happening my Primary teachers presented their demo and from what I heard they did a great job and the principal loved it.

Finishing up a long/fun/funny/interesting day, I made it home just after dinner and right on time to go on a walk with Jenna, Konner and my boy. We walked down the street to a little shop called the Deli, it happens to be a little store full of imported foods - cream cheese, ovaltine, progreso soup, ketchup, fancy pasta noodles, life cereal, tortillas, so on and so forth. It's funny, we've been into that shop a time or two but never get anything. Maybe it's just as comforting looking at familiar foods as it is eating them. It's probably cost that keeps us from indulging. Any kind of cheese is always tempting, but unfortunately the price isn't worth it!
I actually did make one small purchase this night (I felt like I deserved it), a brownie. Of course not an American, cakey brownie but it was thick, and had chocolate on chocolate on chocolate so I could not complain.
We ended the night right with a great little flick, Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Saturday morning rolled around and the six of my teachers took off for their big performance in Guangzhou while the others slept in and Preston and I enjoyed a delicious breakfast of Preston's doing (I am telling you, he is the best human in this whole entire universe!)
Egg sammiches and an apple each (because you know what they say..)
Preston and I got the chance to talk to some of our favorite goons via Facetime, I wish we would have taken a snapshot of their cheery mugs - we miss those guys!

After lunch we took off on a lovely day date. We bused into the city and got off at the fruit market. The weather was a delightful contrast to the rain and temperature drop we had been experiencing all week, it was so pleasantly warm.
Umbrellas as far as the eye could see earlier last week
Saturday sunshine on our tootsies
It was the best kind of Saturday afternoon, the streets usually hustling and bustling were much quieter. We passed not too many others on our walk and if we did they were moms holding sleeping babies on benches in the park.

Quiet streets 
"Hi everyone, my name is Handsome"

We walked a mile down to a place we hadn't ventured too before called Holiday Plaza, a popular shopping center. We didn't think to much of it but decided to wander in anyway. I am glad we did because it was very nice inside and had some fun, unique stores.

After wandering for a few hours we walked back down towards the bus stop and stopped at our favorite Muslim noodle shop and ordered some great dishes.
Tangent: for two large plates (like four meals worth) of noodles, two little bowls of soup and a piece of bread - 27 yuan. That is $4.36 people!!!

Since we ate such a large dinner we decided to head back to Kaiyin and grab dessert a little bit later. I have been wanting to go to this cute little cafe ran by a cute little Russian lady since day one, so guess where we got dessert?
Bread Pudding by J'am
Super cute inside
We loved the big wooden table 


When we got back we found out that our teachers won the Dream Show, they find out later this week if they made the cut for the all-paid trip to Shanghai for the finals! Exciting!

Since China is 14 hours ahead of home (Utah) for most of us, we didn't watch LDS Conference last week but caught up with it this Sunday. Presto downloaded the Sunday sessions and we got all comfy-cozy in one of the darkened primary classrooms and watched the good brethren and sisters of the church on the big screen. It was like we were there!
Enjoying all the wonderful messages.
I can't wait to go back and study them further - what was your favorite talk?
Ps. after my mom tagged me on an instagram photo of a batch of freshly baked conference cookies, I have been dying for a cookie of any kind.. With limited number of ingredients it took a good amount of searching on the web to find a recipe I could pull off here. But I had faith and found a great Peanut butter cookies recipe (great because it was so easy and doable) that consisted of one yellow cake mix (which i brought from home!), 1 C PB, 2 eggs & some oil (I used coconut oil)!
 I rolled out tiny little balls and topped them off with one semi-sweet chocolate chip each and popped them into the toaster oven for 7 minutes. They turned out delish and were the perfect conference treat.



and there you go! Everything in one week crammed into one.

love always,

the Smiths






4.11.2013

Living the China life

Because of the incredibly high demand for posts, Amanda and I are going to try and update on a daily basis. This is not always easy because we are quite the busy-bodies here in China, but our fans (moms) need us!
So it didn't take long to get back in the swing of things after our vacation. We lounged around all day Sunday and hopped right back into teaching on Monday.
On Tuesday it was our dear friend and fellow teacher Konner's birthday, we decided to celebrate China style. We all hopped on a bus and went into the city, where we went into a giant 5 story mall up to the 4th floor. From there we entered a very elegantly dressed lounge with  music muffled in the background. That's right we went to Karaoke! I couldn't believe how huge this "karaoke complex" was. There were tons of rooms with "tipsy" asians singing some of the greatest renditions of Adele and Lady Gaga songs my ears have ever heard.
It was awesome. We had a group of twenty so we had a large room and I wish I could say there was some rhyme or reason to this beautiful musical madness but basically you pick songs and just let the music fly thru two provided microphones (amongst songs sung there was Florence + the machine, FUN, Solja Boy, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nena, Beyonce, Michael Jackson, Brittany Spears, Michael Buble (bleh), so on and so forth).
 My personal favorite was when our Chinese coordinators would sing because they can appear reserved at times but when you hand them that microphone they become Adele or should I say "Aderr"… All in all it was a wonderful experience and I am sure we will go back at least once more to sing our hearts out.
Aside from that little party our week has been pretty normal. We have been very busy with teaching and trying to arrange for travel to Beijing in a few weeks. I know it seems like we go on a lot of vacations and the reason why is because we do and it is awesome but I will say it has become a bit exhausting planning out flights and trains and hostels and gathering money from the other teachers. But really who am I kidding, I love doing it so really life is good.

We did meet an interesting lady yesterday at the supermarket. Amanda, Chloe and I ran to the market to grab a few things, after a short time of shopping there this sweet asian woman kept smiling at us. This is not that weird to us because a lot of people stare at us and occasionally they are smiling so we thought nothing of it. However, when we were out waiting for the bus a car pulled up and honked at us, the window rolled down and that nice lady was yelling to us.
We walked over and she introduced herself as Alice and told us to get in and she would give us a ride home (we were at the market that is a mile from our apartments). We didn't even hesitate and hopped in her car and she just talked our ears off. We found out her husband was German and she works for a shoe company based in Italy, she was the biggest sweetheart.
She asked if we wanted to see her house so she could have us over for dinner sometime which we gladly accepted so she pulled into a gated community and pulled up to a very nice house. We walked in a got a mini tour and noticed something that we would not normally see on a Chinese nationals wall. Pictures of Christ as well as Crucifix's. It didn't take us long to discover that she was christian and had been converted while working in Iceland.
She did share with us the story of her conversion which I feel compelled to share with you. She was in a small village of only roughly 236 inhabitants and she discovered they had 3 churches among them. All presumably catholic, and she asked about them and began learning a little bit about other beliefs. She even explained that when her italian coworkers would say 'Happy Easter' and 'Merry Christmas', but she didn't know what those were and that they were celebrating Christ. Her story was a bit jumbled and in broken English but we were getting the gist.
She explained how she first felt confirmation of the Lord and she described it as so: "He began supernatural talking with me and I didn't know who it was, so I figure it was the American FBI talking to me in my head!" We thought this was so awesome. She later explained that she asked a co-worker what this voice was and he explained it was God.
It was quite the experience meeting Alice and I am sure we will meet her again. It is always interesting to meet someone with different beliefs than you, especially when their beliefs are different than most of the people in their entire country. So that was another cool story from this week.

I act as if our weeks just creep by as if we are not in a foreign country, but I am constantly realizing how much Amanda and I are growing here in China. Our relationship is strengthening and we are just growing as people every day in every way. It is such an incredible experience and I am so thankful for it! Welp thats the update from these two hooligans! We love you all we hope you are staying happy, healthy and positive.

Love the Smiths

4.08.2013

Part Four: the perfect end to a perfect holiday

(amanda.. again..)

Saturday morning the troops took a little longer to wake up than on days previous - most of them stayed up late dancing the night away with the birthday girl, however I love my sleep too much and called it a night after dumplings and dessert. So Saturday morning, I was once again an early riser (two days of being the first up, a new record).
The morning was crisp and clear, not a cloud in sight. Again I found myself sitting in the beautiful common area of our hostel with a bowl of delicious oatmeal (we Smiths eat oatmeal like it's going out of style), my journal and the view. I could have stayed there forever.

The boys showed up eventually after checking out from their hostel and making the 45 minute trek with all their luggage to our place.
Once everyone was up - we broke off once again in search of lunch (yes, it was about noon by the time everyone finally woke). A group of us ended up at, you guessed it, Kelly's for a second round!
This time I took a chance and ordered something I hoped would be a good stand in for one of my most favorite comfort foods - a grilled cheese and tomato basil soup. Luckily, tomato soup was on the menu and as for the grilled cheese, I ended up ordering (with crossed fingers) a baguette with cheese, in hopes that it would suffice.
This is the end result, you could say I was satisfied:
perfection
Prestons heavenly egg and veggie sandwich

Awe Kelly, we love you!

Being our last day (so sad) in the beautiful Yangshuo, our group decided to spend it zooming around on scooters! Preston and I, having done the whole scooter extravaganza on our honeymoon opted for a tandem bike rental instead.
 We took the path we had been on the first day but went down the right side of the fork rather than the left. It so happened that turning right magically led us to the Yulong river where we got to experience a real bamboo raft river ride!
This is the Yulong

This is a photo of all the many bamboo boats
This is a photo of a beautiful ride
This is a photo of the weird man who kept splashing us 
this is a photo of two kids on a boat in the middle of China
this is a photo of a murder about to be witnessed

This is the best photo we have as a married couple
The bamboo ride was quite epic, and when I say epic I mean it.

We continued on after the ride through the countryside where we made an unexpected friend (who really liked the taste of the draw strings on my jacket).
Pretty little friend
Here are some photos from our ride home:
insta - prestonjames100
who says it takes two to tandem?
No comment
Our excellent Saturday adventure earned us a third meal at Kelly's, if you don't know by now, we looove this place! I ordered a margherita pizza, Preston got a yummy chicken sandwich - but we didn't get a photo of it (can you believe that?) so this picture of Konners bacon burger will have to do


 Afterwards Preston and I split the most delicious donut I have ever had, fresh made, hand dipped in warm chocolate and covered in nuts. Don't worry, I ended up here one last time right before leaving.

The worlds best donut can be found in Yangshuo

After one final donut we all made our way down the street to the bus station and nervously awaited another roach filled night bus - but alas, we landed ourselves what we dubbed 'the hilton' of night buses! This one was so shiny and new, not one unwanted insect in sight! Preston and I landed a sweet spot in the back so we could be by each other. We spent the first bit chatting, then we pulled out the old iPad and watched The Impossible (I cried 93% of the movie). During the movie I realized again that I needed to use the restroom.. I worried that since this bus took off later than the first, we wouldn't make any pit stops, I panicked yet again! But shortly after trying to convince myself to calm down and making a plan for relieving myself out the window, the bus exited the freeway and came to a halt at a rest station. I was off that thing in a flash, and to my pleasant surprise this rest stop was a significant improvement from the last (go here to read about our first night bus experience). After our stop I think we all slept like babies. 

Our trip was perfect in every way.

I hope everyone had a great conference weekend - we'll catch up with you later this week (:

Love, the Smiths






4.07.2013

Part three: Some rain, some river, some birthday fun

Amanda - again:

Day two, Friday, I awoke early. I pulled myself out of the comfy bed Chloe and I got to share and went out into the lobby for an oatmeal breakfast and some soothing sounds of rain. It rained and poured on and off for a couple of hours, and by the time Presto and the boys made it over it had quit and the day looked lovely and inviting. 

We broke off into smaller groups in search for lunch. Preston, Jenna, Zack and myself ended up going to my all time favorite cafe in Yangshuo, Kelly's. I had discovered Kelly's last time I was in Yangshuo and fell in love instantly. Kelly serves a variety of delicious western dishes, along with some traditional Chinese meals but lets face it, you can't turn down a tempting burger or sandwich when you eat Chinese every single day in real life.. 

I ordered exactly what I did the first time I was there, a double veggie burger with CHEESE (so rare) and fries. I must have talked it up good because Preston and Jenna ordered the same thing. 
Kelly's
"The Best Veggie Burger"
AND this is how much I love it
Our bellies were completely stuffed, so naturally Jenna and I ran off to order mango smoothies before meeting up with the rest of our group. I don't have a picture, but imagine a smoothie that ingredients include a couple of juicy ripe mangoes and ice, blended up to a silky smooth perfection. So worth the end result: a bellyache!

For Fridays venture we headed down to the Li river and hopped on a couple of rafts for a relaxing river excursion. Half way through our boat drivers stopped us at a little island for some photo ops. 

Preston, Me, Konner, Chloe, Brent, Zack, Jenna, Kasey, Courtney, Lexi
A more natural group photo 
Feeties 
A little snapshot by KonKon
Rafting was a lovely time.

Upon returning to West Street, Preston and I parted ways from the group and went on a little walk to the outskirts of town
Preston and his photography skills always amaze me.
Follow this boys gramming, he is an insta-King
[prestonjames100]
Photo bomb pro ^^

insta-courtesy of preston james
the one and only
insta-courtesy of preston james
courtesy of preston james via nikon d3000
We wandered back to the girls hostel around 6:30 to get ready for a little surprise dumpling making party to celebrate Lexi's 19th birthday! Our hostel staff consisted of the sweetest people ever, when they learned that it was Lexi's birthday they offered to teach us to make dumplings and also helped us find a bakery we could get a little cake from. Once everyone was at the hostel we brought out the cake and the group plus our new friends Jian and Helen (Jian is the manager of Green Forest and Helen is one of the cutest staff members) sung happy birthday then got to dumpling making! 
Jian and Helen singing Happy Birthday in Chinese
Lex being a sport and blowing out the 'candles' (strawberry flavored pocky's)
Delicious dumplings for all! We should have kept track of how many we ate, I have never been so full/satisfied in my whole entire life. 
The evening ended with ice-cream (which has become a daily necessity for me in China) and another walk around West Street. 

Another great day.









4.06.2013

Part two: bikes, mud, a broken peddle & magical mountains

A little snapshot Preston took from the bus
Early Thursday morning we arrived in Yangshuo. I slept very well (in case you were wondering).
We loaded our luggage on our backs and headed to our different destinations. Out of the 16 in my group, ten of us ended up in Yangshuo for vacation this weekend. Because there were four boys and 6 of us girls, we decided it would be cheaper for all if Preston and I parted ways in the evenings and bunked with our fellow genders. It was holiday for the Chinese this weekend (tomb sweeping day) so try as we may we were not able to get all ten of us at the same hostel. So the girls and myself stayed at a hostel five minute walk from the bus station while the boys were about 30 minutes out.

After checking in and admiring our beautiful hostel (green forest hostel yangshuo, I recommend it to anyone who is lucky enough to venture here one day) we met up with the men - who rented bikes for the commute from their place to ours.

We all opted for the mud caves and moon hill so us ladies rented some bikes as well and we all set off.
Though the caves weren't all too far from where we were staying (maybe ten minutes) we all opted for the scenic byway which was the most lovely ride through the Yangshuo countryside anyone could ever imagine. It was so tranquil cruising down the narrow roads past the green fields, lotus filled ponds and the towering misty mountains. So very tranquil until my sweet boys peddle decided to dislodge from the rest of the bike body. Whoops. It was at no fault of his own, none of our bikes were top notch but his did look like it had been through the ringer one too many times. We backtracked the path to find the bolt that had come lose, found it (luckily), and used a rock to twist it back on. This happened once more before arriving at the cave but again we were able to find the bolt and get it on good enough to ride.
Waiting for the peddle repair
taking a little break to be goofy

I had been to Yangshuo once before when I was last in China (fall 2010) and visited some mud caves with my girls. It's one of those "you've got to do it" things, so I was excited to introduce my group to the joy of immersing yourself in thick goopey mud. We all changed into our swim suits and entered the cave with a tour guide and the cutest family of curly haired kids I have ever seen. The cave was sweet, the stalactites and stalagmites were lit up in all different colors. Our tour guide would stop us here and there to tell us about the different formations and the stories behind them. The tour took us through different caverns, across underground rivers and over submerged bridges (due to high water levels) before arriving to the mud pit.
Everyone jumped in, there was not an ounce of hesitation from anyone! It is pretty cold at first but once you are submerged, you don't really care. We played and played, went down slides built into the side of the cave, and got a bunch of photos taken by the typical tourist photographer who tries to get you to buy overpriced photos (which buy, we did). After a time Preston got very ambitious and decided he was going to go all the way under the muck, head and all. He did this and came out looking like a mud monster/statue esque, poor guy couldn't see or hear hardly! Like a good wife, I summoned the photographer back over to take a photo and by his genius I posed Preston like the 'Thinking Man' statue. After this undeniable photo op, I guide Preston out of the mud pit and up to the showers, he may have frightened a few Asians along the way.


The best part of this whole experience (if you ask me) would have to be the hot springs we got to enjoy after cleaning off the mucky muck. We soaked for a good thirty minutes, dried off, and exited the cave into the bright and beautiful world.
me and the lovely ladies outside the cave
We jumped back on our bikes and headed down the road towards Moon Hill, a lovely mountain that has a big 'Oh' in it. We hiked up what seemed like 1000 stone steps to the center of the O. It is quite the lovely view from up there!
Moon Hill
the view



We decided to head back to town since the big ol' sun in the sky was getting ready to set. The ride back we took a more direct route which was a good choice seeing as Preston's peddle fell off again 2 minutes into the ride and that stupid bolt was not found this time. So, a couple of us took turns towing Preston back into town.

After returning our bikes we all decided to catch some dinner and end our night with a cruise around West Street (which was absolutely packed) to shop & people watch.

busy, bustling West Street
the cutest buddhas ever
Fan Man
Day one in Yangshuo was an undeniable success.