Thursday, June 11, 2009

Not the Beijing of the Olympics

Now that Flickr is finally unblocked in China, I've posted a bunch of photos I took on a walk with my friend Marco (visiting from Shanghai en route to Italy) from our hotel to the Dandelion School. Every day the students and I take the bus to school because the walk is long, the weather is hot and the sidewalk-less road is dusty. People were curious but friendly as I walked around like a tourist with my camera. The walk is not what I would call pleasant, but it was a fascinating tour through a predominantly migrant neighborhood. This is where the people that build Beijing's skyscrapers and sweep its streets live.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dandelion School on NPR

The first day the DukeEngage students and I arrived at the Dandelion School we were put to work with a team of dentists who were volunteering their time to examine the mouths of 600 students. At lunch we were fed the same food Dandelion students eat every day: stir fried vegetables, a tiny bit of meat thrown in, and nutrient enhanced rice. The school doctor told us not to be scared of the yellow-orange pellets mixed in with the otherwise normal looking rice -- that's the added vitamins. I eat the rice every day now, and hardly notice the little pellets in my food.

NPR broadcast a story about the nutrition program at the Dandelion School about a week and a half ago. (It's amazing that I work at the school, but found the NPR story a week and a half after it was broadcast!) I'm not sure how much the added nutrients actually increase standardized test scores -- that could also be due to the school's better teacher recruitment and retention in the last one or two years -- but I'm sure it's helping out the students who arrive at the school malnourished or the students who, like the story points out, ate a steady diet of instant noodles.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Art at the Dandelion School

One of my favorite things about the Dandelion School is that it's covered in murals and mosaics designed by students. Without the artwork, the school would be a drab collection of cement buildings surrounding a cement courtyard.

This week, artist Lily Yeh was at the school continuing her work with the Dandelion students on tile and mirror mosaics in a narrow path that leads to the library and more classrooms at the back of the school. She has helped the students transform the school into a work of art and has worked with them to write about their journeys through China and about their hometowns.

The students work on the mosaic in groups of 10 or so, and then rotate with their classmates. When I walk to the library, I dodge 13-year-olds smashing mirror and tile on the ground to attach to the wall. (The boys enjoy smashing the mirrors so much that I've started to wear closed-toe shoes to protect my feet from flying glass.)

More photos soon...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Beijing 6.4.2009

A good blog post by James Fallows about June 4th in Beijing. I wouldn't know what's going on there anyway, since I live about one and a half hours away from Tiananmen by public transportation.

Back to China, Back to Blogging

I'm back in China for the summer -- working with a group of six Duke undergraduates in Beijing -- and am going to try to start blogging again. The students I'm working with are teaching English at the Dandelion Middle School (蒲公英中学) and helping the school with health and volunteer management projects, as well as redesigning the school's website.

Blogging is going to be difficult thanks to the great firewall and the anniversary of Tiananmen, which has apparently inspired the government to block everything, including flickr, where I post all of my photos. But I'm going to try to post semi-regularly about life at the school and in Beijing, where we will spend the next eight weeks.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


A common sight in China: The bicycle traffic signal. (Let's hope they don't become a thing of the past with China's increasing car-owner population.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Anhui in Photos

Since I've waited a month to post something on my trip to rural Anhui, I'm going to stick to posting photos for now. I've tried a couple of times to write about the crazy, unexpected, exciting and down right funny things that happened on that trip, but every time I sit down to write I don't have enough time to do it any justice.

Xikou, Anhui -- the base of operations for a weekend in the sticks -- your average, dusty, small town in China, population 20,000.


Xikou is famous for its green tea, which was being sold by the pile in a market right underneath the window of the room I slept in. I can say with authority that the market opens at around 3 a.m. with lots of honking, yelling and bell ringing.


One afternoon I started wandering around the old part of Xikou (what self-respecting Chinese town doesn't have a new "developing" portion with buildings decorated in fake Greek-like columns?). It reminded me somewhat of the old west -- and I love the hand-painted signs on every building.


After a stop at the opening ceremony for Xikou's "Tea Culture" Festival, we stopped by the local school to meet up with our host's family. My camera was spotted by a large group of drum-beating girls, who were very excited to have their pictures taken.

Our host, Xiao Wei, introduced us to his family, who let us stay in their homes for the weekend and were all around wonderful hosts. Behind the two kids is Lao Yezi, Xiao Wei's father.

I traveled to Xikou with my friend Eliot, fellow Nanjing resident and NYU alum. While we were in Xikou, some of the English teachers asked us to speak to their classes. Apparently their town doesn't get many foreigners passing through. The kids were nervous, but there was one hillarious kid up front who kept blurting out random English phrases like, "I'm 40 years old!"

English Class

English Class

On our second day in Anhui, Xiao Wei and his friends took us out into the wilderness to climb a mountain. Because I've been in China for a while I was expecting stairs and lots of tourists. But I was pleasantly surprised by our rough drive over a river bed to the base of the mountain. I knew that without a road it was pretty much guaranteed that hoards of tourists and their bull horn equipped tour guides would be no where in sight.

The climb was pretty rough, but we took breaks on the way.

At the top of the mountain was a magnificent view...

and a monastery.


We spent the night in the monastery and woke up early for a sunrise that never materialized because of fog.

We talked to this old monk who told us the story of the monastery's fate. He told us that the temple, which was once made of iron, was dismantled during the Great Leap Forward. Xiao Wei promised to help the monk by writing a letter to the government asking for compensation for the iron.

We started our trek early and got back to Xikou in time for one last lunch with Xiao Wei's family and friends.