a transplanted life in China 


earthquake April 20, 2013

Published on April 20, 2013, by in Chengdu, China.

A 6.6 earthquake struck Sichuan at 8:02 this morning, centered in the Lushan area near Yaan, which is 90 minutes by car from Chengdu.





My 15th-floor apartment started shaking just after 8 AM this morning – the dog panicked when the tremors grew stronger. I was just getting ready to go out, but instead we escaped the apartment and walked all the way down using the stairs. I saw other people crowding into the elevators and thought – what idiots, that’s the last place you want to be in an earthquake.

People stood around outside, in the streets and on sidewalks, for about an hour, until the fear of strong aftershocks subsided. I watched a TV mounted outside the gate to an apartment complex, to find out where the quake happened; it was initially reported as 7.0.

There were no live pictures on the TV news after I got home, so I went to my IELTS job to mark writing exams for a couple of hours.

As of now, 56 are confirmed dead, and there’s extensive damage in the quake zone. You can read more here:



image_update_5138d0d98629d3da_1366442725_9j-4aaqskearthquake damage


on a clear day

Published on April 14, 2013, by in Chengdu, Photography.

view from 15 3

shadows from above

A recent morning was so clear and beautiful after an overnight rain that it was like waking up in a new city. When I went for an early-morning walk with the dog, the sky was such a deep blue and the air so cool and fresh, I was reminded of Tibet. One forgets that the mountains that rise to the Tibetan plateau begin west of the city. My brain took such a hit of oxygen that I became dizzy and light-headed. I took some photos from my 15th-floor window to celebrate the occasion.


moments of clarity

Published on April 4, 2013, by in Uncategorized.

zhen jiao蒸饺  zhēng​jiǎo steamed dumplings, Chongqing


The title “moments of clarity” occurred to me a couple of months ago during my winter break, when I did indeed have some clarity, since there wasn’t much else to do except sit and think. Since it’s been a long time between my blog posts, I wish I had some of that clarity now. As I recall, said moments of clarity involved a sense of peace, and in general a clear idea of what I’m doing now in my life.

In January I rented an apartment in the International Gardens complex, about 5 km from where I lived before at Sichuan University. It’s a compact one-bedroom, perfect for me and the dog, on the 15th floor or an elevator building. No more stairs up and down five flights several times a day. I’m actually much happier here; living in the middle of a university campus, I rarely ventured into the outside world, and our little enclave of foreign teachers lived behind a high fence with an alarmed gate and security bars on all the windows. Now, I’m in the middle of the busy city, in a much more residential area, with a completely different feeling from the internationalized area around Sichuan U.

I’m enrolled as a student at the Southwest University for Nationalities, a 20-minute walk from my apartment, and I have 12 classes of Chinese each week. Since I was unable to renew my work visa, I got a student visa instead, hence the shift in focus from teaching to studying. I’m only teaching four class period a week at ILTC at Sichuan U., but I still have my income from being an IELTS Examiner for the British Council.

Funny, when I became a student I considered myself to be on sabbatical from teaching, but my life now is just as busy as before, and will soon become busier – more on that in a moment. If it hadn’t been for the book Super Freakonomics, however, I wouldn’t have known what “sabbatical” originally meant.

A Jewish statute recorded in the Bible required creditors to forgive all debts every sabbatical, or seventh year. For borrowers, the appeal of unilateral debt relief cannot be overstated, as the penalties for defaulting on a loan were severe: a creditor could even take debtor’s children into bondage.

Hmmm, come to think of it, sabbatical must also relate to Sabbath, or the 7th day on which we rest. Indeed, in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary, “sabbath” comes right before “sabbatical:” 

“A period of time when sb, especially a teacher at a university, is allowed to stop their normal work in order to study or travel. “(from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”)

In the coming months, I will begin a masters program in Teaching English for Academic Purposes. Since the program is by distance learning (online), I will most likely remain in Chengdu – on a student visa – for another year. It’s highly likely that I will also study toward a DELTA certificate (the Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults) concurrently.

I’m actually looking forward to being a full-time student for a year. As I mentioned, the sabbatical only refers to taking a break from teaching. I’ve now been a teacher for close to 8 years, and while there are many things I enjoy about it, there are many aspects that I find frustrating. When you reach a certain point in your life or work experience, you realize that you’ve reached a plateau; in order to go on to higher-level teaching jobs for better money, higher qualifications are required. In many ways, this is an ideal time in my life. I wonder if I will still feel that way after beginning my studies.



build a tower

Published on January 15, 2013, by in Teaching.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while; as usual, however, life got in the way and it was delayed. I’ve now done this team-building activity with two different classes, and it proved to be a lot of fun.



TED2010 Talk



The Marshmallow Challenge was created by Tom Wujec, and he describes the activity in a TED2010 Talk [click photo above to view video]. The object of the activity is to enhance group and cooperative learning skills through creativity, planning, trial & error, and problem-solving as a part of a team. It involves building a tower using dry spaghetti, tape, string, and marshmallows. As a bonus, the extra marshmallows provided snacks for instant energy.




Here are some of the photos from my English for Academic Purposes class as they constructed their towers. As it turned out, the students fell in love with the red clothesline string I provided, and used way too much of it. Oh well, I’m not one for strictly following instructions anyway. A few of the students also chose to snack on the spaghetti (uncooked) afterwards, which I didn’t recommend.




After the towers were completed, a committee of judges used a tape measure to determine which one was tallest. Prizes were awarded for height and creativity – one tower was shaped like the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai. During the activity I played a mixture of pop, disco, and 70s R&B music for inspiration. If you try this activity with your class, I also recommend allowing about 10 minutes at the end for clean-up ( a lot of tape gets stuck to desks and spaghetti pieces litter the floor).



 great group work, but a little too much string.



 the crowning touch – marshmallow with a heart.


 Marshmallow Challenge title Slide

 Click here to open/download the PowerPoint 2010 instructions for the activity




night sidewalk

Published on December 23, 2012, by in China, Photography.


 blurred night view, busy sidewalk near the Bell Tower, Xian, November 2012