An American Abroad

Goodbye Yuxi

Goodbyes are hard. I tend to make them brief and not to linger.

In the last week of June, I said farewell to many good people. I can’t list them all here, but I do have photos to remember some of them by.

I’ll miss Rachel for her spirit, her generosity, her insight into culture and psyche, and her family which she so generously shared with me in Xishuangbanna.

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I’ll miss Xulu for being my tattoo angel and friend, for playing frisbee on the beach, and for all the help she gave me as I tried to navigate in an unfamiliar culture.


I’ll miss Sunny for being so much like her name: someone who is always cheerful, who puts a smile on my face every time I see her, and who’s a terrific TA as well.

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My student Anne was the sweetest six year old imaginable. It was lovely coming into class and seeing her so obviously glad to see me.

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Paul is a fearlessly verbal student, a young man who constantly brought new words and phrases to class to try out. At his suggestion, I took the whole class to see Godzilla before I left town. And as a parting gift, I gave him a book about the Marvel Comics universe, something he knows a great deal about already.

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My colleagues at Shane English Yuxi held my goodbye banquet on my second-to-last day of teaching. It all happened so quickly — it seems like only a couple months ago I was attending my own welcome banquet. I will very much miss my teaching colleagues, who were my friends, mentors and teachers.

Paul, my boss, taught me how to teach and the connection between instruction and performance.

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Matt taught me to love Swansea soccer.

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JJ showed me that music is an international connector; some of my happiest evenings in Yuxi were spent listening to him sing and play guitar at a local music bar. Luciana taught me to understand her strange Yorkshire dialect (which apparently has a critical shortage of consonants) and how to make a comfortable home wherever you are.

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David was a terrific friend who regularly reminded me that the world is full of the bizarre, the wonderful and the fascinating.

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I didn’t get good banquet photos of Daniel and Silas, but the former renewed my own idealism while the latter taught me how important it is to have a quest.

24 hours after my farewell banquet ended, I was on a plane bound for Vietnam thinking of all the good people I’d left behind. I hope very much to see them again.

Classroom Conversation with a Precocious Eleven Year Old

“Where were you?” I asked one of my students in class, looking for an answer along the lines of “I was at the park.” But Paul is a fearless and precocious kid. With him it went like this:

Me: Where have you been?

Paul: I was in the sky.

Me: Why were you in the sky?

Paul: I’m a god.

Me: What were you doing in the sky?

Paul: I was in the toilet.

Me: Do gods use the toilet?

Paul: Of course.

Children’s Day

In the States we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but in China they celebrate Children’s Day. Shane English Yuxi marked the occasion by cancelling classes last Sunday and having and an offsite party.

The event was held at a hot springs park near Yuxi.

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Considering it was a highly structured event that was put together by an outside firm, I had a surprisingly good time. The games we played were fun and inventive and involved the adults as well as the kids. There was some attempt at moralizing, however, about respecting your parents and keeping yourself “clean.”

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One segment I enjoyed was the sending of wishes into the sky. Each group of a dozen people got a paper hot-air balloon and some traditional Chinese Post-It notes. We wrote our wishes on the Post-Its and stuck them to the balloon. Inside the balloon was a light metal frame, at the base of which was a small square of paraffin. When our wishes were all written, we lit the paraffin on fire. The flame warmed the air inside the balloon. After about five minutes, it was hot enough to fly and we let it go. It rose up into the sky and flew away in the breeze.

There were other people at the hot springs, including a rather ragged troop of what I assume was some kind of JROTC organization. Somehow the plastic guns and the red Converse All-Stars made the junior soldiers look less than fearsome.

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After a shaokao (barbeque) lunch, I excused myself and headed back to town. I had a plane to catch to Kuala Lumpur later that day.

Starting the Goodbyes

I have just one more month left of teaching here in China at Shane English Yuxi. I’ve already begun the process of handing off my students to other teachers. Today was my last class with some eight-year-olds I have grown very fond of. I wish them all well.

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I’ve been assisted by a wonderful TA, Angela, who really deserves most the the credit for getting these kids up to snuff.

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Ready for Vacation

Today was our last day of work at Shane English Yuxi before the May Day vacation.


JJ (left), Silas (right) and I are in our professional vacation attire and ready to go. JJ is heading to Beijing. Silas is heading to Guangzhou. And I’m heading to Cambodia and Laos.

Who’s she? She’s my sister.

The assignment given to my students after they finished their final exam at Shane English Yuxi was to draw a picture and write an English sentence or two on it. One of my nine-year-olds, Vicky, is a bit of an over-achiever who loves to draw. Instead of doing just one picture, she drew ten. I think her artwork and design sense is amazing, especially considering her age.

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By Motorcycle to Jiangchuan

On the map, the town of Jiangchuan looks to be only about 20 kilometers east of Yuxi via the Yujiang Expressway.

But when you avoid the expressway and follow the back roads through a dozen villages, ride up and down mountains, and savor the twisties of rural Yunnan, the distance is easily twice that. I rode there yesterday with my Shane English Yuxi colleague and boss Paul Rushton, who after seven years here knows the geography of the region in great detail.

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Zippy struggled up the hills and topped out at 70 km/h on the straightaways (and makes disturbing noises at that speed), but he floated over ruts and potholes and was very sure-footed on sand and loose gravel.

Out in the countryside, farmers worked their land by hand, oxen grazed in the wetlands, and rural graveyards stood silent on the mountainsides.

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In one village we discovered an ancient outdoor theater that’s been converted to a restaurant and junked up by more recent additions — but I can still imagine what it must have looked like back when it was the only source of entertainment for miles around.

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At another hamlet, we were welcomed by a group of older men who here hanging out outside what looked to be an old temple. They were friendly and curious; I doubt they see many laowais (foreigners) there.

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Jiangchaun stands on the shores of Xingyun Lake, a pretty body of water that’s being developed into a tourist area. We skirted Jiangchuan itself and opted instead to loop around the lake. Some of the villages that dot the shore have old canals running through them, with houses built right to the edges.

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We passed by steeply arced stone footbridges faced with dragon gargoyles, but by that time we were headed back to Yuxi for dinner, so we didn’t stop. I hope to explore these at a more leisurely pace next time.

Daniel’s Welcome Dinner

A Shane English Yuxi tradition: every new teacher gets a welcome dinner. On Sunday night it was the turn of our newest colleague, an American from Denver named Daniel.

Outside the restaurant, JJ and I tried our hands as laundry detergent pitchmen. Note the bride in the background.
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Inside, the arrangement was as usual: a large round table with a floral arrangement in the middle and a revolving lazy Susan for the food.
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And here is the Man of the Hour himself:
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Final Exams in Two Classes

Students in two more of my classes at Shane English Yuxi had their final exams last week — and now I have a stack of tests to grade.

My twelve-year-olds have come a long way. Months ago, this was my most challenging class because of the widely varying ability levels among the students. But on the oral test, everyone rose to the occasion. Summer, my TA in this class, deserves most of the credit for that.

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The other class I tested was a group of wonderful eight-year-olds. We have a lot of laughs in this class, but there is serious learning going on as well. Emma, my TA in this class, was just terrific and enjoyed working with these students as much as I did.

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Class Portraits

I’ve taught this primary school class for almost eight months. Many of these students were among the first I had at Shane English Yuxi. Yesterday was our last review class before the final exam, so I took a few pictures. Sad to say, once this course is completed, the class will likely be split and I will lose many of my favorite students. But while they were together, they were the class that always made me the happiest.

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