So much has been happening lately that I almost have an excuse for never writing blog posts. Brian has changed jobs (though he’s still at his old job for two more weeks to fulfill the part of his contract that says he must give 30 days’ notice), and will be teaching at an American high school program at a local high school in Hebei district, 20 minutes from our house by electric bike (which means his dream of having an electric bike has finally been fulfilled). He will be teaching tenth grade literature with two very important perks: a regular work schedule, 7:30-4:30 every day; and real health insurance at the international hospital! It’s also a little bit more money each month. Below is a picture of him at his soon-to-be old job. We will miss visiting him there.
We have also rented the one-bedroom apartment next door to us to open our own little English school, at which I will be teaching two hours a night Tuesday-Friday and all day Saturday. That may not seem like much, but I’ll just say that I could just teach my current English students 3 (Sunny and Angel and their friend Grace) days a month and that will cover the rent. So we hope to save up some money to do some work on our house in the US and maybe do something fun like visit Chris and Maggie in Papua New Guinea for a jungle adventure. Who knows? I still hate teaching, but I can do it and it seems stupid to pass up the opportunity. You can see the school here.
Since I will be so busy now, we have hired an ayi, with the help of a good friend. An ayi (or baomu) is what the Chinese call a maid. Ours now comes every day for 3 hours and cleans the entire house and irons (hallelujah!). Her time here doesn’t overlap with the children being at home, which takes away any potential parenting advice (which we were upfront about anyway, and I don’t think would even be a problem with our ayi), and wow, it is so fantastic to leave a messy house and go out and come home in the afternoon to a clean house. What luxury! I have felt so weird about getting an ayi. So so weird. It feels so…wrong, and imperialistic to have one, not to mention invasive, but after almost two years we did it. Our friend contacted an agency for us and very very specifically told them that we had 4 cats and a rabbit and that we must have an ayi who was not afraid of them. I wired them the 400 kuai fee at the bank, which covers 5 ayi-tries, and the first ayi showed up on the next Monday at 8:30 (she was supposed to stay for 4 hours). She had no idea we had cats, was a bit afraid of them, was very afraid of the rabbit for some reason, and though she managed herself alright in the same room as the cats, she did express concerns that they would give her a disease. She also talked to me non-stop. I mean, wouldn’t stop. Wanted to fill me in on every detail of how she was cleaning, wanted to show me everything at the end of every day and hear my praise, and talked about everything in between. She seriously over-estimated my Chinese abilities, and I’d just nod and hope in my heart that would make her be quiet. It was so stressful (do you know how stressful it is to try to communicate in a language that you’re not good at?), and it made me dread being home, so I started taking my lesson planning into the classroom next door. I had two different Chinese friends at different times try to explain to her that I didn’t understand as much as she thought and just wanted her to do her job and let me be, but then she’d just talk just as much, only more slowly and asking me if I understood and giggling a lot if I said no. She had so much to say about how 4 hours wasn’t enough time, and cleaning the school for us was an absolute no. And couldn’t wash a dish to save her life. My neighbor taught her how to mop the floor (apparently dealing with cat hair was beyond anything she’d ever had to deal with before). At the end of the week, I finally got up the courage to ask my friend to tell the agency to send another ayi.
The following Monday, we got our new ayi and wow is she wonderful. I just like her as a person, which I’d hope for but certainly never expect to get. She brought snacks for the cats and has no fear of them at all. She’s even starting while the rabbit is having his first heavy molting (holy cow!). She listened to everything my neighbor had to say about how we’re Americans and we’re different and if you think we’re doing something wrong, please don’t tell us, and just clean the house like it’s your house and do what you think needs to be done, and if I have a problem I’ll tell you. She just dove right in and did it all. The second day, she was finished 2 hours into it (the other ayi couldn’t finish in 4 hours!), and asked me what else she could do. Seriously, I love her. I just love coming home to a clean house that I had nothing to do with cleaning.
I’d also like to add (and it doesn’t fit in anywhere), that the weather is so beautiful suddenly. From a month in the high 90’s (F) every day to 75 degrees with cool winds and blue skies. Unfortunately, sleep-with-the-windows-open time also coincides with outdoor-karaoke time. Good lord.
Piper has started at xueqian ban, which is like US kindergarten, the year before first grade. It’s a lot of sitting and writing and studying, and a typical strict Chinese teacher who doesn’t care how hard you try to do something, if it’s not exactly perfect, she makes you do it again. It’s not really what I think a 5-year-old needs, especially one who already hates Chinese school and fears that teacher. She’s also going through a bit of mourning over the loss of her sweet da ban teacher who is now the boys’ teacher. It just breaks my heart. She cried herself to sleep the other night missing her, and it makes me so sad, because I remember feeling that way about teachers, too. Especially when what you’ve moved on to is so different. We’ll try for a few weeks and then pull her out if it hasn’t improved. I’ve tried talking to the school, and explained that we’re different and we don’t care if something is perfect as long as she tries and not to tell her it’s not correct right now, because she needs a lot of help not hating school, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. The boys are finally as happy as clams now that they have Piper’s teacher.
We’ll be starting our first real year of homeschool in the afternoons, too, using the Build-a-Library Kindergarten curriculum (a WONDERFUL friend brought all the books back from America, and what a treat they have been for my library-deprived kids) and Math Mammoth First Grade for Piper and miscellaneous spelling workbooks and the free lists from Zaner-Bloser. I am so excited! The kids can all do the Build-a-Library together, and the boys can continue to work on phonics, and I think it will be just right for us. Here are some of our summer learning (fun) adventures in the pictures below: milk painting and non-Newtonian fluids and an M&M’s color wheel. Chinese people think this is all very strange, but some really mourn the fact that they don’t have this choice themselves, and I feel very bad that they really have no choice but to submit to Chinese education if they want their child to succeed in China, but at the same time I feel so lucky not to be Chinese.
Finally, I’ll close with this sequence of pictures that is just hysterical to me. Piper doing math on the roof gets confused when she tries to count on her fingers using Chinese fingers signs for the numbers.