Hope you all back in the States got your taxes files and everyone is getting a nice big refund!  I'm very fortunate to have a mother who is taking care of all my financial (and other) stuff back home.  She told me I'm getting a small refund ;>).  April 15th came and went here without anyone mentioning taxes.  I don't know how they handle taxes over here, or if they even have income taxes.  I'll have to find out.

I've been taking Chinese lessons with one of the students from Eastern Kentucky University.  It's been very interesting.  Unfortunately today was my last lesson as they've had to change the time of the class and it conflicts with my teaching schedule...oh well.  My teacher told me my pronounciation of Hanyu was good (but remembering what the words mean....well that continues to be another story!)  Bi laoshi (my teacher...family name is Bi, laoshi means teacher) is very good about telling us the meanings of words and the story behind them.  For example, when you go to the store to buy things you are going to buy dongxi which translates literally to east/west.  Makes perfect sense right....well in ancient China they believed that there were five substances that made up the world and they corresponded with direction (draw an intersecting line) at the top is north, bottom is south and so on.  The fifth point is the intersection of the lines. The five substances were water, fire, wood, metal and soil.  Water is on the north point, fire on the south, metal or gold on the west point, wood on the east point and soil is the center.  When you buy things you put them in a bag and you can't put water or fire in a bag, only wood and metal hence east/west..pretty cool huh!

For weeks I'd been seeing the street vendors selling these gold paper things that looked like ancient Chinese money and yellow papers.  I had no idea what they were for, but my students told me they were money for the ancestors.  Ok, simple enough I thought.  Well, on April 5th Bi laoshi told us about the festival surrounding the money.  April 5th or qing ming means solar brightness and this is the day you burn the paper money.  First you are supposed to burn the gold paper money, this is for the ghosts who don't have a home or people to give them money.  You don't want them taking the money you are going to burn for your ancestors.  Then on the yellow papers, which are actually envelopes and are considered big money, you write the name and address of your ancestor on it and then you burn it.  If you live close to where your ancestor is buried or more likely where their ashes are you are supposed to take flowers, wine and food to their burial sight.  It kind of reminded me of our Memorial Day when we remember our loved ones.  Apparently this is a custom that was banned during the cultural revolution, but is allowed now.  Bi laoshi also taught us a famous Chinese poem that talks about qing ming and the first lines goes "When Qing Ming (April 5th) is coming it is raining"  It is said on April 5th it always rains, and sure enough, it rained here on April 5th.  The rest of the poem goes on to talked about the people who sadly walk the streets remembering their loved ones.  I thought it was very interesting how it rained that day.

The girls are doing well.  I asked their teacher the other day how their Chinese was coming and they told me the girls are doing very well and that they know many words.  I asked if they were speaking in complete sentences.  They said, no, but they do speak Chinese and do it quite well, especially when they want something....hmmm imagine that.

I've started planning the girl's birthday parties and decided to borrow Lisa McClure's idea and have it at the old guest house.  I'm going to invite all my students and the girl's classmates from their kindergarten and the children's parents.  It should be a big bash.  I'm going to make a couple of pinata's for the children to bust open.  I emailed the ccai email list and apc (a parent's china) begging for help.  I asked for people to send me their children's cast off Happy Meal, Kid's meal etc. toys and any used party decorations they have laying around.  If any of you want to send a package over we'd love to have it as well.  It's going to be a big party.  I know nothing that people sent Lisa "went a beggin" Her student's wiped out all the goodies that were sent.  I thought if there were any left overs here I'd take them to the orphanage, which is very close to the LIT campus.  I've been over there many times and I know the children there would really enjoy them.

I have bought yet another bike, my 3rd.  People around here think I'm nuts, but hey I sold my first one and will sell my second as well.  This bike is sooooo cool.  It's an electric bike and it makes peddling up the hills so much easier.  I was curious to see if electric bikes were available in the US and found several web site, they are.  Mine has 3 modes.  On is completely powered by the electric motor.  You just hang on and ride.  Another is completely human powered, you peddle it and it's all you, like a regular bike.  The third is my favorite and that is assisted.  The motor helps you peddle.  It's great for going up the hills around here.  Some of the hills are fairly long and steep and I don't know that the motor has enough power to make it up with out me peddling as well, but having it assist is so sweet.  I can pull all the hills around campus with ease.  You still feel it in your legs and your heart rate increases a little, but it's nothing like a regular bike.  Some of the hills here I had to get off and push my bike up (but so do most of the people) now I just peddle up them, even when pulling Julie and Charlie in the bike cart.  I was planning on going downtown to the park, riding my new bike, this past weekend, but the weather didn't cooperate.  Hopefully this weekend we'll be able to get out and play.

My classes are going pretty well.  I've got a wide variety of students.  My favorites have turned out to be the ones with the poorest English.  I have three classes of various majors.  They are taking my class as a pure elective course.  I'm the first foreign teacher that these students have ever had.  I have to speak very s l o w l y in class, but it turns out that these are my most motivated students.  My other 4 classes are made up of students who are required to take English and some of the students in them are awful.  They just sit and stare out the window and disrupt class.  Last week I was so mad at one class for not doing anything and wasting my time, I just gave them all a pop quiz.  Today I gave it back to them.  Their scores were horrible and I hope I got their attention, but I doubt it.  Oh well, if they want to waste my time, I'll just waste theirs.  I've talked to many teachers around China via the internet and I understand this is quite common.  Leanne told me most students really regret not spending more time studying English when they get out in the real world.  Hmmmm sounds familiar, I regret not studying some of my college subjects more too.

Things around here are really hopping, there are 7 new apartment buildings being built right outside our building. Plus there are another 5 that are almost complete.  Construction over here is very different than it is at home.  Almost everything is done by human power.  The ground was all leveled by hand.  Then they brought in some of those big machines that look kind of like cranes with the shovels on them.  I don't know what they are called, to dig out the basement's.  Now they are erecting some sort of footing type walls, again all by hand.  The wall construction kind of reminds me of the wall construction for the great wall.  I haven't seen any rebar or metal reinforcement of any kind being used.  There are hundreds of men scurring all about.  The built several little row apartments and are all living in them.  They have brick walls, dirt floors and metal roofs.  My windows look down on several of them and I can see the workers at rest.  It's all been quite interesting to watch.

I guess that's about it.  We are looking forward to the May Day break.  We get a week off and most of us are planning on traveling somewhere.  I'll probably head to Dalian, but I'm not sure yet.

Have a great day and remember I LIVE for email!