Ni Hao everyone (hello)

We've left Beijing via the train, which suited the girls just fine. They had been looking forward to riding the "choo choo train" for quite a long time. It was one of the slower trains and took about 7 hours for us to reach Jinzhou, but since we had seats in the "soft seat" section we were quite comfortable. I understand there are 4 types of train tickets sold. There are hard seats, which are what most people purchase as they are the cheapest; and the soft seats, which are more expensive but quite comfortable and not at all crowded. On some trains there will be both hard sleepers and soft sleepers. Since we weren't traveling in the evening our train did not have these.

We arrived in Jinzhou, collected the luggage and were taken to the guest house to our new apartment, all 300 square feet of it. It is probably a good thing to live here first because when we move to the new foreign teachers housing, the 600 square foot apartment is going to seem like a palace! All we did that evening was crash. Charlie finally slept, we went to bed at 700 pm and didn't wake up until 700 am. She was one tired little cookie.

Leanne came over about 900 and with Hanjie's help showed me how to use the washing machine. There is one in our apartment, but when you put it in the bathroom to use it, there isn't much room to do anything. We elected to use the one in the kitchen. The washing machines over here are what I would describe as manual/automatic. To do a load of laundry you hook the machine up to the water faucet (which is cold everywhere except in the bathroom where there is a water heater for the shower). Turn the water on and fill up one side of the machine, put in your soap (they have Tide powder over here...yippee!) and your clothes and set the timer for however long you want to agitate. There isn't a center agitator post thingie like the machines at home, it's more like those new Calipso machines I saw advertised before leaving. The clothes swirl one way for 15 or so seconds, then the other way for 15 seconds and so on. After the clothes have finished agitating (a timer goes off) you set the machine to drain, then you put your clothes on the other side of the machine and it spins them. Then they go back in the agitating side, fill up with water for the rinse cycle, drain and spin again. Pretty cool don't you think. After washing the clothes you take them outside to the court yard and hang them on a line to dry. I can't wait to put my big fat grannie panties out there for everyone to see. Actually someone who lived here before me hung a couple of lines in the bedroom, I may put my undies inside to dry!

After lunch and a nap Leanne came over and took us to the kindergarten where she sends her own son, Michael. It is not the same school Lara attended here on the LIT campus, but is about a 10 minute walk (all downhill) away. It was very hot when we walked and the girls were very tired and cranky. The school it's self was very nice, it is situated around a central courtyard that was filled with playground equipment. Once the girls saw this they immediately wanted to go and play. Their class (which is the same as Michaels) is on the second floor. It consists of three rooms, there is a kitchen/wash-up area where the children wash their hands and their wash rags and cups are stored, then there a large room with a wooden floor. I noticed beds stacked in the corner and tables and chairs. This is the room where they eat their meals, the school serves three meals per day to the children. They eat breakfast at 750, lunch at 1100 and supper is at 400. If you want to pick up your child you have to do it when meals are not being served as they lock the gates from 11 to 12 and again from 4 to 5. I think this is done to ensure the children have adequate time to eat. Then there is one more room that is carpeted and the children and teachers all take off their shoes in here. This room had toys to play with and a piano in it.

When we arrived one of the 4 teachers (about 20 students) was playing a song on the piano and the children were walking around in a circle singing. Michael spotted his mama (Leanne) and immediately came running to her. We all took off our shoes and went in. Julie and Charlie went and stood in the circle with the other children, but when the music started they both came running to me, Julie in tears which set Charlie off, which set me off. I just kept thinking, what am I doing here. I think we are still experiencing jet lag and sensory overload. One of the teachers rushed to our aid and brought a couple of wet wash cloths to wipe the girls off with. It was very apparent they were still very hot from our walk and their cry. The teacher then brought them each a cup of water. In the mean one of the other teachers began playing a song and all the children went over to an area where there where small carpet mats and they each got out a mat and laid them out in perfect little rows. Then the children all went and got a toy. Most of the toys were on trays and they consisted of things like a bowl of dried beans with a little brush and dust pan so the children could dump them and then sweep them up, a bowl of wooden beads with a long string for threading the beans, and a cutting board with a fresh cucumber and a knife (a dull, eating one, not a sharp one). Another teacher came in who spoke English (I could understand about 25% of what she said) and began helping the girls. They showed the girls where the mats were and brought them each a toy. They tried to get the girls to play separately, but Charlie would have no part of that. Finally they just allowed them to play at the same mat. I was surprised at how quickly Julie and Charlie caught onto things, when they finished playing with one toy they would pick up the tray, put it up and get another (now if I can only get them to do this at home!) About this time the President of the school came in to meet us. She stayed and observed all the children. The piano teacher began to play a song and all the children began picking up their toys and rolling up their mats, Charlie really got into rolling up the mats, a couple of the children didn't roll theirs up and Charlie went over and did it for them. This got a smile and nod of approval from Madame President. She asked me how their school compared to kindergarten in America. I told her it looks very similar, the walls had bright educational posters on them and the set up of everything was very close to the girls school at home (Hi Miss Vickie).

It was 400 and before I could say anything, they were serving my girls supper, but Julie had been complaining she was hungry, so they ate. Charlie was complaining of thirst so one of the teachers got both girls something to drink. Supper consisted on a rice/vegetable mixture, Julie said it was very good and ate most of the bowl she was given. I did notice most of the children cleaned their bowls, but mine didn't. They were given spoon to eat with, I wonder at what age children are given chop sticks? After dinner the children took their bowls to the wash room where they put them in the appropriate place and washed their hands. They then took their chairs and put them in a circle and one of the teachers lead them in another song.

The classroom is on the second floor and the stairs to it are quite interesting in that the stairs don't go all the way across, at one side there was a built in slide. Needless to say, the girls loved this and they slid down both flights! The gates were locked so we had to let the girls and Michael play. We were soon joined by all the schools children. Madame President was talking to Leanne who told me Madame had an idea. I could teach English at the school. I'd heard I'd be bombarded with job offers, but I had no idea they would start so soon. Actually this is one I might consider. I can teach 1 class per week and the girls would go to school free. This school is more costly than the one on LIT's campus, Leanne told me this one is about 200 yuan per child per month as opposed to 70 for the other school. Leanne also told me this was a much better school and several of the LIT teachers used this one. We'll see.

On the play ground several of the older children came up to me speaking English.....hallo my name are you. They kept coming in closer and closer, so I thought what the hey. I got Julie and Charlie to come over and we taught them to sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. By this time many parents had gathered outside the gates and were watching too. We sang the song several times and a few of the students seems to get it. Finailly the little crowd broke up and the girls resumed playing.

I was really dreading the uphill walk home in the heat, but just outside the gates in the streets several pedicabs were gathered and I told Leanne I'd spring for one. So we rode back to campus all for the huge price of 2 yuan (about $0.25) If the girls go to school here I think I'll bike them to school, ride and push the bike back and do our marketing for the day, then walk back down hill to pick them up and take a pedicab home. I can understand why people over here are thin!!!

(Oh mom, I also survived my first trek up six flights of stairs today! However, I think I'm going to request all my classes be on the first floor!)