Playing Tug-of-War: Parenting Edition

Shenzhen Central Park

Bean resting in Shenzhen Central Park

Balance, living in the moment, mindfulness and buzz words like these are always in the media. They circulate around and around. I look at them and wonder should I or how should I incorporate them into my life. Other times, I just ignore everything and keep doing what I am doing. Today,I feel like I am playing another game of tug-of-war: parenting edition.

Here’s the deal. Raising a world traveler like myself isn’t always easy. This week is a holiday in China. Everyone is on vacation for the Spring Festival and Chinese New Year. We are traveling in Europe. No one is on vacation here. Their vacations will start when we head back to China. As I travel with Bean, and we visit friends with children, I am always questioning myself. Should Bean get to hang out and have a vacation, watching as much T.V. as she would like because it is her vacation? Or should she do some schoolwork instead because all the other children are in school? Bean’s life is like the best vacation most kids will never have. Therefore, she spends her day doing a little school work. I keep it easy. After all, we are trying to learn Chinese, keep up our French and stay current with English.

Then there is the junk food question. How much is too much? We eat a healthy diet. Eating at the cantine for breakfast and lunch, we have good choices of meals that contain lots of vegetables. But, because of my difficulties adjusting a few months ago, I am more lenient about things like granola bars, croissants, hazelnut spread, yogurt drinks and the weekly junk food movie night dinner. We also eat at restaurants often since we travel quite a bit. Often, it is less expensive to go to dinner than to cook a meal. Bean loves it.

Bean loves to take buses, trains and planes. She loves riding in cars. She loves going to hotels. She knows she can eat as much as she likes, basically whatever she wants. She knows she can watch hours and hours of T.V. and mom won’t say anything. Bean knows she will get some spending money and she can spend it however she likes. She will try to spend it almost as soon as it is in her hands. Bean does not believe in balance. She lives in the moment and enjoys herself while doing it.

I have read papers and seen videos where people talk of schools killing the creativity in children. With children who are as curious and strong-willed as Bean, I don’t know how it is a possibility. These kids would be held down and tied to their seats. They would be beaten into submission. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often in schools in the developed world. Bean is a master of independence. She can’t help it; it is in her blood.

Finding balance between what Bean needs to know, wants to know and what I want her to know is a constant tug of war. I believe this is what parenting is all about. No one told us this when we were younger. The one thing that helps me is to always think about what I am trying to teach her. If I can remember the lessons I want Bean to learn, think about the person that I want her to become, I can relax knowing that I will win the game.

Life in Shenzhen- Photo Story

Chinese socialism

Chinese socialism looks more like western capitalism.

Shenzhen, China is home to almost 12 million people. Because of the large influx of workers from the countryside, some of whom do not have papers to work in the city, that number may be grossly underestimated. The city began as a little fishing village and has only grown so large in the last 20 years or so. Most of the residents come from somewhere else.

Exploring Shenzhen and living here, there is a great mixture of lifestyles, history and cultures.

Lingzhi Park

Lingzhi Park right down the street from us in the middle of high rise apartments.

Fengyan Temple

Fengyan Temple in Shenzhen, China

Shenzhen, China

The old and the new in Shenzhen, China

Farm in Shenzhen

Pick your own vegetables farm in Shenzhen

Futian district central park shenzhen

View of Futian district of Shenzhen from Central Park

As always, I look forward to discovering more of this city and this country. That, I know, will take years!

Baocheng Primary School Arts Festival

Arts Festival shenzhen

Great participation and a grand production.

Shenzhen Baocheng Primary School Arts Festival was an exciting time to be at school. The students spent hours practicing in the weeks before the event. Everyone was involved in some way. I even sang and danced with Bean.
She was able to perform with her class and has continued showing off the routine to anyone who will watch.
The skill level of the students and their lack of stage fright was amazing.

Shenzhen Baocheng Primary School

Shenzhen Baocheng Primary School

Arts Festival Baocheng Primary School

Arts Festival Baocheng Primary School

Bean's class performance

Bean’s class performance

Martial Arts Club Shenzhen China

Martial Arts Club

Dance club Baocheng Primary School

One of the many dance clubs at Baocheng Primary School

playing the holusi

Every student is required to learn to play the Holusi.

arts festival Shenzhen china

Every act was full of color and creativity.

performing arts festival

Bean and I performed together.

I have never seen anything like it on a primary school level. Have you?

Letter to the Education Department

Xin’an Foreign Language School


Since arriving in China, I have had many moments when I wonder “What are they thinking?” One of those moments happened earlier this week when all of the foreign teachers in the Bao’an District of Shenzhen were asked to write an essay of 1000 words about what they learned, their strengths and weaknesses for this past semester. Whoever thought this was a good idea must have read it out of a book of management ideas. I haven’t met a teacher yet who has taken this “assignment” seriously. Here is my essay. Reading between the lines, you will have a better understanding of what teaching English in China is like.

To Whom It May Concern,

I have been a teacher for many years. I enjoy the way that I can see the marked improvement of an individual who is working towards a goal. I have taught many subjects and many age ranges. When I decided to come to China, it was with the expectation that I would be able to further my experience by becoming a foreign teacher.

I envisioned a large classroom of students eager to learn. Myself being the teacher eager to teach them. I knew that the class would be 50 students or more, but it was a challenge that I was willing to accept. I have taught classes of around 75 or more students. With the help of an assistant or two, we were always able to manage the classes. We had students who were able to learn the material and we saw changes in their lives. This is why many teachers keep teaching; because they are able to influence positive change in the lives of others.

I envisioned students who had small knowledge in foreign languages coming up to me at the end of the semester, able to hold a short conversation. This was my expectation because I felt my methods were proven. My daughter and I are language learners. In a few short months, I watched my daughter learn French through very simple activities. I knew I could use these activities in the classroom and see many students succeed.

In the past semester, I have learned many things about myself and teaching in China. I have learned that my methods may be great, but this is not what I am expected to do in the classroom. The first week of teaching first graders, I was told that asking them “What’s your name?” was too hard. I was told “Let them sing songs they will feel happy about learning English.” When I am in the classroom, though my title is Oral English Teacher, I am expected to entertain students.

The first week of teaching fifth graders, I noticed they were not expecting to learn, they were expecting to watch videos. I thought maybe I was mistaken. I prepared many incremental learning lesson plans. I searched for many ways they could learn English and practice speaking. I attempted to implement these lesson plans in my classes. A few weeks later, I was told that the students thought my classes were boring and they wanted to play games.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. This problem is not mine alone. It is the constant complaint of many of the foreign teachers I meet. We came to gain more experience teaching in the classroom and to share what we know about English. The longer we stay in China, the more we also must learn. We must learn to be entertainers!

In reviewing my semester of teaching in China, I realize that I am deficient in many areas. They are areas in which I must make improvements in the future. I am deficient in my ability to be flexible. I did not come to China to be a sing and dance teacher. Now that I realize this is what is expected of me, I must put forth more of an effort to sing. I must learn some moves to entertain my students while they are learning new songs. If they learn the English words that go along with the songs and the dances, I will be very content. I have met many people who said they learned to speak good English through listening to music. Maybe my approach has been wrong all along. I will learn to be more flexible and therefore, I may see more improvements to the language skills of my students.

I must improve in my ability to take criticism. Designing lesson plans take time, especially when you are trying to do it correctly. When a teacher spends hours putting together lessons so that their students will receive quality instruction, it isn’t always a simple matter to hear that other teachers feel it is too hard. It is even more difficult to hear that your lessons are boring. To go from being a favorite teacher, an instructor in whose learning center all of the volunteers want to work because the work and the atmosphere is fun, to being a teacher who is told that her classes are boring because there are not enough games,that is hard. In the future, I will practice letting criticism slide off of my back. I will not let the words of others affect my work.

I must improve in being calm and at peace when I am teaching. I take my job too seriously. If there are students who wish to talk among themselves and not pay attention to my lesson, I will learn to accept this. I will look at them with understanding. I know that there are different learning styles for all students. Some students are encouraged to take classes in which they have no interest. I am able to look at them knowing that if they choose not to take the opportunity to learn, it is through no fault of my own. If they wish to grow up in a society where the emphasis is on speaking English and their skills are below satisfactory, I will let the blame rest with them. I presented the information in a professional manner.

I consider myself fortunate to teach in China. I consider myself fortunate to teach at my school. I have some kind co-workers. I have incredibly cute students. I have had some amazing days of wonder when I enter the school campus. I never expected to be impressed with morning exercises or art festivals put on by students. These things have been eye opening experiences I would not have missed for anything.

This semester has also brought with it many moments of self examination. I know that as my teaching career here in China continues, I will be given more of these moments. I will continue to adjust and grow. I will become the teacher I am expected to be by the Education Department.

Chimelong Safari Park, Guangzhou China

Guangzhou, China

Chimelong Safari Park
Guangzhou, China

We got out of town! Many of the foreign teachers have told us about visiting Guangzhou, the city next to Shenzhen. Bean and I decided we would try it out. We hopped on a bus very similar to Megabus and two hours later, we were in the middle of Guangzhou.

There were many challenges that came with our exploration of this new city. We found it to be more crowded and dingier than where we live. The subway was a nightmare of pushing and shoving. I did not navigate throughout the city as well as I had expected I would. I almost made up my mind to dislike the place.

Chimelong Safari Park saved our opinion of Guangzhou! A reader was kind enough to put me in contact with her sister who has lived in China for five years. What a great help she was. She recommended that Bean and I visit the park and see the pandas. Thank you Nicolle and Michele!

We decided to linger at our hotel in the morning time. We didn’t want to fight the people on the subway. There was a pretty good free breakfast and Bean enjoys laying in bed and watching movies and Chinese cartoons. When we finally left the comfort of the hotel, the train ride didn’t take very long. We reached the Safari Park within 30 minutes.

lemurs at Chimalong

Which one is King Louie?

The distance from the entrance gate to the Safari Park was a nice walk. I decided not to take the bus and see what else the Chimelong Resort had to offer. Yes, the Zoo/Safari Park is a part of a HUGE resort. There was a water park, an amusement park with many rollercoasters, a hotel and the Safari Park. Since we happened to be at the Chimelong Resort during a weekday, we were able to enjoy ourselves without crowds. I have mentioned crowds and masses of people many times. If you have not experienced hundreds of thousands of people trying to do the same activity as you, you just won’t understand. Walking through the zoo and seeing the animals is much more enjoyable than seeing people act like they are in the wild.

The first animal on our list were the pandas. We didn’t realize that the map we were given was a map of both the drive through safari and the walk through safari. We were not driving, so try as we might to get to the other side of the map, it wasn’t happening. When I understood the map, we stopped going around in circles and enjoyed ourselves!

I really liked Chimelong Safari Park because if animals must be in captivity, I want them to have large spaces to roam around. The park was quite large and the animals at the Park had adequate room with attractive habitats. The animals even seemed to be friendly and welcoming to visitors.

Chimelong Safari Park

Lions, Tigers and Ligers! Oh my!

Maybe it was just lunch time! At the park, visitors can feed many of the animals simple things they enjoy eating like bamboo, fruit and meat for the big cats. Bean loved it! The elephants were especially sociable. I fell in love with elephants years ago. I was so happy to reach out and pat their trunks. Watching the mamas and babies together was touching.

Unfortunately, the pandas were taking a nap by the time we finally reach them. For a minute, we thought we were going to see something interesting. But no, this panda just wanted to find a better spot to lay down and sleep. The koalas were also sleeping. I didn’t know they slept as much as they do; 18 hours a day.

Elephants of Chimelong Safari Park

Elephants will always be my favorite!

In almost every enclosure, there was an educational area where children (and adults) could learn more about the animals. The park also offered a few large productions about the different animals and their environments. Of course there were a million gift shops and restaurants.

While Chimelong Safari Park is not much different than many zoos we have visited around the world, I found it a pleasant way to spend our day. No Chinese is needed when looking at animals! Because of our time spent there, we will keep Guangzhou, China on our list of places to re-visit.

Spending the Holidays Abroad

Thanksgiving in Shenzhen

Thanksgiving in Shenzhen, China

Someone said don’t even try to recreate a holiday in China because it will never feel the same. Bean and I are often traveling, so we make the most of every holiday. We live a unique life. Our holiday celebrations will never be completely traditional. There are many holidays I choose to ignore. There are a few I celebrate because I want Bean to have great memories. Thanksgiving, and a little bit of Christmas, is what we celebrated this year.

When we are in the USA, Bean and I spend Thanksgiving with our entire famiy. That is, all of the family members that are able to join us wherever we happen to be holding the feast. We have been to Georgia, Minnesota, Louisiana and more. This year, faced with spending Thanksgiving in China, I wondered if we should even attempt to remember the day.

Fortunately for us, we have several American acquaintances who were eager to celebrate the day together. I was all for it! The only question in my mind was, “How will the food taste?” In my family, we eat the same meal every year. If it isn’t just right, run and hide because NO ONE will ever let you forget.

The day arrived and we were about 20 hungry people looking for food, fun and a feeling of home. We met far out in Bao’an. The best thing about the day was that everyone did their best to make the day memorable by bringing their favorite dishes. We spent a great deal of time searching for the right ingredients in stores throughout Shenzhen. It all came together beautifully, right down to the after dinner board game tournament.

Christmas Brunch

Sharing Christmas Brunch

After such an enjoyable time spent with other foreigners, we all decided that we would get together for a Christmas brunch. Throughout my life, I have enjoyed spending time with others over a breakfast meal. Normally, there is something even the pickiest of eaters can find pleasing. Right before the event, Bean and I hurried to the host’s house so that we could help make decorations. You can’t really celebrate Christmas without decorations. Just like in other parts of the world, Christmas is becoming more popular in China. We found everything we needed to make our brunch simple and festive.

The menu was simple. Toast, eggs, bacon and hashbrowns were the staples. The hashbrowns turned out to be the number one favorite food! We blasted Christmas cheer throughout the apartment and enjoyed time with friends. But we couldn’t linger all day, we had more Christmas activities on the calendar.

We discovered a Do-It-Yourself Bakery School not far from the house. We signed up to decorate Christmas cakes. I thought it would be the perfect activity for Bean and I. We haven’t baked anything in ages!

Bean bakes

Bean gets help from friends as she perfects her cake decorating skills.

When we got there, the organizer had us put on our aprons and find our stations. He gave us the option of decorating with fruit or without fruit. I chose with fruit, which happened to be a mango. I can’t believe that I had to come all the way to China to learn how to cut a mango!

We learned, or were given a refresher, on making the icing, assembling a cake and icing the cake. When it came time to decorate the cake, I asked myself, “Why did I want to do this?” I had no clue how to decorate my cake. My mind went totally blank. I can ice a cake, but I am not creative enough to decorate one. Bean decided to use every color of icing that was on the table. Instead of having a Christmas cake, she had a Color Run cake. Whatever works! She was happy.

baking in Shenzhen, china

Baking and Decorating!

For the actually Christmas holiday, we did what we always do, got out of town. We spent Christmas at the Chimalong Safari Park in Guangzhou, China. We hung out with pandas, tigers, giraffes and elephants. It was a blast!

We hope that you and yours had a safe and happy holiday season. All the best for the coming New Year!!

One Thing You Need to Know About China

speech competition shenzhen china

Participants of the Speech Competition

Recently, I was invited to be the guest judge for an English speaking competition at Xin’an Middle School in Shenzhen, China. When I accepted the position, I had no idea of what the position entailed. The organizer was kind enough to tell me more a few minutes before the start of the event. Thirty two contestants were given the opportunity to give a three minute speech on the topic One Thing you Need to Know about China. I was one of five judges, but as the guest, I would be the only judge to pose a question to each contestant about their speech. The students would then have one minute to respond to my question.

While waiting for the competition to begin, I spent some time in conversation with the other judges. They were from various schools in the Bao’an District of Shenzhen. Some of their schools were secondary schools, some boarding, some senior high schools. The teachers of Senior high schools often have the heaviest work loads, as they are preparing their students for college entrance exams. They work up to six days a week, teaching morning and evening classes. Some stay on campus with the students as most Senior High Schools are boarding schools. This means that the young people only go home on the weekend. One of the judges taught in a school with over 10,000 students. The idea of that many students at one school is beyond my imagination.

The opening ceremony started. Harry, the organizer, called the students to choose a random number from the hat. All of their names were then written down in numerical order. The hosts of the program consisted of four senior high school students from Xin’an High School, two boys and two girls. Their rehearsed speech was so well delivered, I could have been at a TV game show.

Then the speeches began. The first speech was delivered, then the second speech; we were doing good. Listening to the third speech and fourth speech, I felt like I was really learning One thing I should Know About China. The fifth speech and the sixth speech were decent too. The competitors had varying levels of English. There were a few who seemed to have a good grasp of the language by their pronunciation and delivery. However, when I asked questions, I could see that the quality of their delivery was due to practice. Comprehension and conversation were missing under ordinary circumstances for many of the speech competition participants.

On the seventh speech, we hit a snag. This contestant had the same thing to say as the second contestant in regards to the rapid development of China. The subject is interesting, but not really the one thing I need to know. The next speech was cute and original. I enjoyed her topic! She spoke about the square dancing grannies that I love to see in the park every night. I am so interested in them that I went to the park and danced with them last week. After her speech though, we got back to repetition. The next ten students wanted to talk about the popularity of China’s mobile payment system Alipay and WeChat Wallet. I quit trying to be original in my questions and began to ask the same question in a few different ways.

xin'an middle school

One Thing You Need to Know about China

Once I settled into my role, I noticed I was hearing the same phrases over and over again. “We, the Chinese people, will never bow down.” “The sleeping giant of the East is waking up to meet the West.” “I am proud to be Chinese!” Every country has nationalist fervor. It was like a reflection of so many Americans and their patriotism in Chinese form. No wonder world peace is impossible. One thing I want to know, did the students choose to put this in their speeches or were they encouraged to say these things by their teachers?

My favorite speeches were by young people who did not win the top prize, but their speeches were very original. Wearing the Hanbok (traditional Chinese clothing), The Giant Pandas of China, Square Dancing and The Left Behind Elderly. I am conflicted during these events because I am not sure how seriously students take their score and their performance outcome. I want to be fair. I also know that it is high school. There will be loads of opportunities in their lives to participate in other events and improve. However, I also don’t know for what the Chinese are looking. It is the difference in western and eastern perspective. I judged from a Western perspective. While my favorites didn’t win, I am delighted to have heard these special “One Thing I Should Know” speeches about China.

My favorite part of the afternoon was watching a Chinese English teacher get on stage and share her passion for hip hop dance through a routine that she prepared. It was amazing. She travels during school breaks to take classes with hip hop choreographers in the United States. She returns to China and shares her passion for the dance with her students and other teachers. I looking forward to taking classes with someone as passionate about their craft as Lillian, in the future.

Hip Hop Xin'an High School

Xin’an High School’s Favorite Hip Hop
star

Later, Lillian’s student got on stage and performed a popular hip hop song. Hip hop is not my preferred music style. However, given the amount of school work that these students do, I am thrilled that he has the time and energy to follow his passion. I was so impressed with him and his performance that I cheered for him throughout the entire routine.

After the hip hop performances, I made a short speech encouraging the students to continue what they were doing regardless of the outcome. I encouraged teachers to keep teaching. What we do is important!

Participating in school life and activities on a voluntary basis gives me a sense of fulfillment. I am glad to do more than come to work and go home. Events such as this competition, help me to have a better understanding of the education system in China. In the midst of the rigors of student life, there is a happy place. I am finding them!

Chinese Tea Culture Event

Bao'an Tea Culture

Tea Culture Event

This past week, I was invited to join other foreign teachers in my district o Bao’an, to participate in a traditional Chinese Tea Culture Ceremony. It was one of the most interesting things I have done in China to date.

We entered the Tea Mall and signed up for the class that we wished to take. I chose to make Black Tea because I mostly drink black tea. I was then free to walk around to the different tea shops and drink tea. That means sitting at a table, having someone pour tea for you in small Chinese tea cups, making conversation and drinking lots of tea. I chose to save that for later and basically explored the mall. There were many beautifully presented stores with handcrafted tea and handmade tea sets for large amounts of money. It was pleasing to the eye to see the beauty of the tea.

Re-entering the great hall, we sat at low tables with a tea set in front of us. The organizers of the program welcomed the foreign teachers to Shenzen and explained what we would be doing and seeing that day. In the first program, Miss Tea Culture 2017 (or something like that), came to the stage and demonstrated the proper pouring of Chinese tea with an elaborate show. She worked to relaxing music played and the tea flowed.

The next demonstration was of Kung Fu tea. Much like the martial art of Kung Fu, the tea pourer was precise with her movements. She was pouring tea from a tea pot that looked a lot like an old fashioned brass gas can. I know it wasn’t, but that is the best way to describe it. She would dance and pour tea into a cup placed a great distance from where she was. I don’t know whether she spilled or not, not being about to see the table, but I encountered the same style of pouring tea at a restaurant. Those ladies never missed, so I am sure she didn’t either!

Kung fu tea master

Kung Fu Tea

The last demonstration was of tea from the Soong dynasty. The tea ladies demonstrated the care and patience that goes into the making and serving of this type of green tea. You must stir and stir until there is a foam on top of the tea, at which point it is ready to serve. Some people make a design in the foam, similar to a barista at your local coffee shop. What does it taste like? Foamy tea.

We, the foreign teachers, were released to go and find our classes. There were four different sessions, Pu’er tea, Kung Fu tea, Soong dynasty tea ceremony and black tea making. Walking around and seeing what the others were doing in their sessions, I must admit, I was a little jealous. I chose a very simple tea making session. However, it was fun.

Song Dynasty Tea

Tea from Song Dynasty

We walked into a room with baskets full of fresh tea leaves on the table. We then kneaded the tea like bread dough, getting all of the water out and rolling the tea leaves into a ball. By the time we finished, our tea leaves had shrunk in size and turned black. The tea went into a great big bin for fermenting. Fermenting is a bit like drying, but also aging. This being modern times, it can be done in about 30 minutes.

We were encouraged to go and drink tea in the tea shops again. I found a beautifully lit shop with a young woman who knew a few words of English. I used my few words of Chinese and we laughed as we pulled out our phones in order to communicate better.

The young lady served me tea and we talked. She served me more tea, and we spoke more. She served me tea again and I tried to drink slower. Finally, I just could not drink any more tea. I tried asking if it was rude if I just left without finishing the pot of tea. She didn’t understand. “I don’t want any more tea, but I don’t want to be rude. Can I leave?” She thought I wanted to try a different tea. I am about to burst from tea. I need to get back to class. Finally, miraculously, we understood each other and I returned to class.

The black tea came out of the fermenter and needed to be dried. The drying kiln was not hot enough to do the job adequately in the amount of time that we had left, but we gave it a shot anyway. The tea was dumped into the shallow section at the top of the kiln and we all took turns rotating the tea with our hands to get the remaining moisture out. The scent was fresh and very closely resemble freshly cut green grass on a hot summer day. The tea remained somewhat damp to touch. Sifting it around in the kiln, I was able to feel it drying slightly. Then the time was up. The tea needed to return to the fermenting, drying machine. While everyone else was able to receive their tea as they left the event, my group was told we would receive ours in the mail.

I was slightly disappointed, but thankful for the opportunity to participate in something so unique. We were given a small Chinese tea cup and a small sample of tea as a gift from the Bao’an Education Department. We were invited to eat some of the snacks popular in Bao’an at tea time. I like the little cheese cake snack the best, while I took a few peanut butter style cookies in my bag for later.

Making Black Tea

Making Black Tea

Once again, as I searched for a taxi, I thought about the differences between the east and the west. I remember having teachers from India, Nigeria, China, Mexico and more countries from around the globe. I doubt they were ever invited to participate in a cultural event, just for them, because they chose to teach at my school. The priviledges that I have keep me humble.

Have you ever worked on a job where they make you feel like royalty just for coming to work? If you have, I would love to hear of your experience.

The Color Run: Shenzhen, China

The color run

The Color Run Shenzhen, China

I made a goal to run at least one 5k a year. When I was in the USA this summer, the weekends kept arriving so quickly that I never took the chance to schedule a fun run. When I heard “The Happiest 5k on the Planet” was coming to Shenzhen, I signed up. It is not easy to get Bean to run with me. It’s not easy getting anyone to run with me! The Color Run was a great opportunity to run with others and have a great time.

I make the mistake of expecting events to be the way I remember them from the West. In my mind, if it has the same name it will be the same. I am learning that nothing is the same, not even a race. In the USA, we have lots of hype. Before arriving to the event location, there are signs, people in athletic gear or costumes, music and lots of free stuff!

When we arrived, things were so quiet we were sure The Color Run must have been cancelled. The directions I was given were on the opposite side from where we saw a group of people with Color Run gear headed. We followed them and walked for ages. Even as we got closer to the location there was no music, no crazy costumes. There were no signs. We walked until we saw the finish line. Finally, we arrived.

The color run shenzhen

Ready, Set, Run!

At the actual location of the event, there was more action going on. People changing into their race t-shirts, taking pictures, lining up. I began to get as excited as Bean. We were bursting with enthusiasm!! We got our registration packets and we were ready to run!!

People of Color at the Color Run, Shenzhen

We brought Color to The Color Run in Shenzhen, China

Along the race route, there weren’t people standing on the sidelines cheering us on. There were no markers telling us where to run. Laborers continued their construction projects. Families played in the parks. Vendors sold clothes and school supplies. We still had a blast! It is the happiest run after all.

Between kilometers, there were stations were we dove into color. Pink, purple, blue, yellow, green and foam. We ran through them all! We were covered head to toe in a rainbow of colors. As we ran along, other runners showered us in color. There were so many, I feel they wanted to say they had a chance to throw color at the foreigners.

The Color Run Shenzhen china november

Bean’s favorite part of The Color Run in Shenzhen, China

Bean loved the color stations. It was an excellent incentive for her to keep moving until the end. She left covered in blue from head to toe; in her mouth too. She got her wish to have blue and purple hair, at least for a few hours.

the color run shenzhen china

Dreamers are Winners!

The Color Run in Shenzhen, China was a great experience for us all! I am glad that I didn’t participate in a fun run when I was in The States. I would have missed this amazing opportunity. Now, how do I clean my shoes?

The Color Run shenzhen China

Where are my black shoes?

25 Things to do in the Middle of Nowhere

Shenzhen, China

Hiking in remote areas of Shenzhen, China

Bean and I have been in the middle of nowhere many times since leaving Chicago. We have never owned a television, so the adjustment for us is different than for most people. Arriving in China, I here of foreign teachers struggling with homesickness and boredom. For the times when internet access isn’t available, when there are no other foreigners around and the pubs are in another city, here is a list of activities to try. Bean and I haven’t done them all, but we have done many.

1. Learn to cook the local food- There is always someone who wants to share how to make their special dish. If you ask a few questions and are willing to learn, you can always be busy.

2. Take a walk- One of my favorite activities. I like to follow a path or street I haven’t taken. Even the most direct route has a detour somewhere along it. I am always discovering something new.

3. Go for a run- I enjoy going for a run every morning. I go to the local park, but anywhere is good. Unless I am lucky enough to have a running partner, I am the only foreigner present. It has been a great opportunity to meet people and start having a conversation.

4. Go for a hike- Just like with walking, most paths can be turned into a hike. If not, hiking trails abound in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes the scenery at the end of a long hike is awe inspiring.

5. Learn the language- It is always easy to find someone who wants to share their language. We have had random strangers walk up to us and volunteer to teach us Chinese. Whether it is difficult or not to learn the language, we are trying!

6. Learn a new language- If we already know the language, we can always start learning another language. It is like the man I read about who learned Spanish while living in Japan.

7. Play a board game- Board games from home may not be easy to find at the store, however, there are many native board games on the shelves. A quiet night with nothing to do is a great opportunity to learn how to play these games.

8. Learn to dance- I have discovered a great way to break out of my comfort zone and learn something new. It’s dancing. Even if the location is remote, someone should know how to do dance. Staying in a small community in France, I mentioned my interest in dancing to my host. She told me the couple downstairs loved to ballroom dance. Meeting them I found out about dancing in the area.

9. Learn to do woodworking- I have never taken up woodworking. Thinking about being stuck on a farm, I remembered there were lots of trees. I could have taught myself if I was bored enough. I suppose I could have learned basketweaving too.

10. Milk a cow- Milking cows has changed in our modern times. Not many people use a bucket to catch the milk. Following behind a few farmers, I have attached the milking apparatus to the cows at milking time.

11. Grow a garden- In small communities, people are always willing to share seeds and tools needed for gardening. They are also willing to let you work alongside as they work in their garden. If there is no one who likes to get their hands dirty, growing things, there is always a pot I can place on my windowsill. I can have my own indoor garden.

12. Learn to paint- I have read somewhere about people using natural colors of leaves, dirt and rocks to make paint. The idea is fascinating, especially if there isn’t an art supply store nearby. I don’t currently have the time to try anything like this out, but if I did, I might become the next big thing!!

13. Read a book- As much as I love the library, there isn’t always one around. I have my library’s app on my phone and I am able to read as many books as for which I have the time and interest. Reading is great for those early hours of the morning when I can’t sleep.

14. Write a book- Having no internet connection is a great way to focus creative energy on writing about being in a remote location with nothing to do!

15. Learn to bake bread- Bread requires very few ingredients, most of which can be found in practically any store worldwide. The smell of baking bread is so comforting. Having extra time, proper attention can be paid to adequately kneading the bread, letting it rise, punching it down and starting all over. The finished product is often well worth the wait.

16. Discover local history- Regardless of language barries, there is always someone who wants to share the local history. It is possible to communicate with our hands and gestures, making learning history something to laugh about (depending on the subject matter, of course).

17. Interview locals- Goes along with learning about the history. It would help to have a translator or a basic knowledge of the language.

Shenzhen Bay, China

Shenzhen Bay

18. Attend local events- Regardless of the size of the community, there is always something going on. One place we visited with less than a thousand families, there was a circus that came to town, a community center with nightly activities and the local epicerie. If I didn’t want to go out at night to the community center, I could always go to the epicerie and catch some gossip.

19. Learn to draw- I heard that drawing is just putting what you see on paper. Well, what I see never turns up on the paper. I could spend hours drawing something as simple as an apple and not have it turn out looking like what I see. Learning to draw is certainly an option when stuck in a remote location.

20. Repair or Build something- Being out in the woods, farm or far suburbs, there is always something that needs to be repaired. I am not very handy with tools, but given the opportunity, I can try. Whatever I make may be leaning to the side a little, but I tried.

21. Sew/ knit/ crochet- Whenever I think about being in the countryside, I always think about Little House on the Prairie books. They would sit by the fire at night and sew or crochet. I have been in foreign homes very similar to Little House in the Big Woods. I had my sewing kit with me, pulling it out at night to repair a hole. My very own Little House Experience.

22. Recycle or upcycle- The projects are endless for recycling and upcycling.

23. Teach something- Share knowledge. We all have something to share with other people. While I am here in China to teach English, I am knowledgeable about many things. Just as the people can teach me, I can also teach them.

24. Meditate- I have learned that there are times when I am supposed to be still and quiet. If I am in a quiet place with nothing to do, that is a good time for me to go with it…relax. It can not hurt me. In fact, it is useful when learning how to accept a situation that I can not immediately change. Meditating, focusing on the present moment and accepting are all states of being I will always have room for improvement.

25. Be a detective- Enjoy the adventure. Find something to do! If we seek, we will surely find.

My list was thought up on the spur of the moment, based on my travel and experiences. Your life is different than mine. I would love to know what you do when you are in a place with nothing to do!