Water Towns

Sonnie on Bridge

Kendra on a bridge at Xi Tang

Canal at Xi Tang

During the last month, my friend, Sonnie, and I had some fun while our husbands were working. We visited two water towns near Suzhou, China: Zhou Zhuang and Xi Tang. The water towns in China are towns that sprang up around China’s extensive canal system. Each one claims to be the Venice of China. Each is picturesque in its own way, with quaint shops, beautiful old residences, museums, bridges, and boats. We took a boat ride in Zhou Zhuang. The boat drivers traditionally sing Suzhou folk songs. We asked our boat driver to sing to us and she sang a charming song about Zhou Zhuang. We didn’t understand a word!

The day we went, it was blazing hot and humid. The sky was blue, though, so the pictures turned out better!
The Cormorants are birds that fish for their masters. The fisherman gets the fish they catch.

Substitute teaching 10-14-11

Oct. 14, 2011

It has been an eventful week since we returned to Shanghai from Korea. We returned on Friday, October 7th. We were a little bit tired of Korean food. We had not had many good restaurant experiences in Korea. So when we returned to good old Shanghai, we immediately went to a great restaurant called Coconut Grove, which had delectable Thai curries with coconut milk. Yummy!

I had some assignments due Sunday for my online class. It was also Conference weekend for Asia. Saturday Jeff had to work. All of China had the week off, but to make up for it, everyone has to work on Saturday and Sunday. Jeff took off Sunday so we could go to conference. Saturday he went to work, and I worked on my class assignments. Sunday we went to watch conference at a different place than usual. We usually have church on the Pudong (East) side of the river in a very nice BMW dealership with a large beautiful auditorium. That is great, but our branch is the Puxi (west) side of the river. On conference day, we met at the clubhouse of one of the apartment complexes in Hongqiao, where most of our branch lives. It is about a 45 minute commute for us to get there since it is further to the west of us. We enjoyed the conference very much, especially hearing our bishop from Tucker ward, Elder Cornish, speak. He is now in one of the seventies quorums. We also enjoyed hearing Elder Clayton talk about his mission to Peru, since that is where Mark is now serving his mission.

Monday and Tuesday I substitute taught at a school in Hongqiao. My friend from church was on vacation in America, so I substituted for her kindergarten class. It was fun! The principal offered me a job the first day I taught there. They are opening a new English immersion class for third graders whose English needs more attention. I’m not really interested in working fulltime because then I can’t travel with Jeff. Still, it was very interest-ing to me to know that if I want a full time job, I can get one easily. The pay is very similar to my pay back in the states, maybe a little higher. Substituting is also about the same pay as subs back home. If Jeff’s job extends to a second year, I can get a job here. We’d probably move further west in the city so that I wouldn’t have a 45 minute commute to work.

The school actually curves around behind me.

I subbed for the kindergarten here

I enjoyed teaching at this school. I had 17 kindergarteners (they call them Primary Reception). The school is somewhat unique. It is an international school which follows the international baccalaureate curri-culum. It is also the only international school which is allowed to enroll national Chinese students. The students in “my” class all speak primarily Chinese at home, except for one boy whose mother is Philippino and father is Danish. There were only 17 students in the class, which was a very comfortable size for kindergarteners. I’m told the classes can get up to 23 students in them. The school is bilingual. Instruction is in English for most of the day, with one hour of mandarin instruction every day. The Mandarin teacher is there most of the day for translation support when needed. There is also a full-time ayi (maid) in each class. She cleans the classroom and provides support with paperwork and children as needed. She does not speak any English, and does not do instruction, but helps with crowd control.


The children are very bright. Even though English is their second language, they are learning how to read and write in both English and Chinese. They all know their letters, and can copy a sentence from the board. They are working on their short easy word reading right now, which is excellent progress for October of their kindergarten year. There is plenty of prep time because the children have music, art, computer, and Chinese specials. In fact, there are only 2-3 hours of homeroom instruction per day, depending on which specials they have that day. Having a second teacher in the room, and having students who aren’t fluent in English gives the teacher a little less control than I would like, but overall it was enjoyable to teach there. If we end up staying a second year, I would consider teaching there, or at another international school, or teaching English to college students. There are plenty of jobs available if you happen to speak English and have a white face. Rents here are very expensive, though. We have a western standard apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms for $1700 per month.

Tuesday afternoon Curtis and Julie Fullmer came into town! We were excited to have some more time with them. We saw them in Seoul and then again in Shanghai. I took a taxi from the school in Hongqiao to the shopping mecca at east Nanjing road where Julie and Curtis met me. It was great to see them again. We looked around, dropped their backpacks in our apartment, then met Jeff at Lost Heaven for a wonderful dinner. That evening we went to the bund and took pictures of the spectacularly lit skyline we took the ferry over to the Pudong side to see the buildings up close. Wednesday Jeff and Curtis had to work, Jeff at his office and Curtis from his computer, so Julie and I went to see the bund up close and personal. We met Jeff for lunch, then we went to the Aquarium, and then went up the tallest building in China, the World Financial Tower.

In the evening we went to dinner with Jeff, then visited the Yu Yuan Garden shopping area, where all the buildings are in ancient Chinese architecture, with the curving roof lines. Also, for our viewing pleasure, the roofs are lit with Ming Dynasty LED lights 🙂

Thursday we took a train to Suzhou and saw the beautiful Humble Administrator’s Garden and Tiger Hill. The Garden is so lush and lovely—a private heaven started in the 1400’s. Oriental gardens are different from European or American gardens. They are arranged to give the viewer many different kinds of views. They use three elements to form the views: rockeries (using rocks from Lake Taihu riddled with holes), lakes, and plants. I had never seen lotus plants before. They are like lily pads on steroids. The leaves stand up three feet or more from the water surface, and they are 2-3 feet across. The rocks from Lake Taihu are in piles as high as 20 feet, reminiscent of mountains. Then we went to Tiger Hill, where an 8-story Pagoda stands in a complex that reminded us of Monkey palace from Jungle Book. The view was beautiful, but wilder. The pagoda tilts at a 3.59 degree angle, like an Asian leaning tower of Pisa.

I was worried about my ability to navigate the train station on my own. Before, Jeff was always there to read the Chinese. Train station boards are completely in characters. The people there don’t speak any English. I was able to get us to and from Suzhou, although the return trip went to a different Shanghai train station than I thought. It was no further from our apartment then the train station we planned to take, so it worked out fine anyway.

Friday morning, we flew to Minneapolis for Jeff to attend the AIChE Conference. Busy week!