Ahhhh Book List!!!

Here are the books I’m bringing with me. I’m not bringing any guide books because they always stress me out, and I’m not bringing any Mandarin Chinese phrase books because I’m absolutely hopeless.

(You didn’t hear me say that, ladies and gentlemen. I can learn anything I put my mind to, I just can’t do it before I fly out tomorrow.)

Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (for all my relatives who still call Chinese folks “Orientals”)
Close Kin and In the Coils of the Snake, Clare B. Dunkle (parts II and III of The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, which was recommended to me as a younger, more third-grade-appropriate version of Twilight)
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (by the author of The Remains of the Day, because I should read more fiction)
China, Regional Studies Series (thanks, Jackie! :))
The CAFE Book, “The Sisters” (this is how we’re doing the Daily 5 next year)
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart (a Battle of the Books book!)
Lost on Planet China, J. Maarten Troost (I hear he’s a funny travel writer like Bill Bryson)
Shutting Out the Sun, Michael Zielenziger (about the Japanese hikikomori, people who never leave their rooms or homes… This is the biggest, heaviest book and I’m halfway through, so I shouldn’t bring it… But I want to so badly!!!)

I’m worried because so many of the books are library books, therefore hardcover, therefore heavy. I’ll have most of them in my carry on, so here’s hoping they don’t add too much weight…

Photo 89


What am I saying — of course I’m going to wind up waking up in the middle of the night and shuffling books around, taking some out and putting more in. Ahh!


24 Hours to Go!

At this time tomorrow, I’ll be on my way over the Pacific Ocean on my way to Seoul, Korea, en route to Beijing, China! I’ll still miss you, ladies and gentlemen, but are you ready to go on an adventure with me?!

(Here’s hoping you say yes! If not, whatevs, I’ll see you on the first day of school!)

I’ve been away from this site for a while because I’ve been busier than I thought I’d be this summer. Part of that has been because I’m trying to get ready for our new reading program next year.

Teacher books for Daily 5 and Balanced Literacy!

Holy cow, teacher books for Daily 5 and Balanced Literacy!

Some of the time was spent visiting my fantastic parents!!!

With Mom and Dad at Pike Place Market

With Mom and Dad at Pike Place Market

And the rest of the time has been taking care of getting stuff together for my trip! A lot of time has been spent talking to various doctors about my migraines (you know, headaches that make me seem spacey and forget how to talk when I’m teaching).

Today, I finished up the host gifts I’m going to give to the family that’s taking care of me when I’m in Taiwan at the end of my trip. Host gifts are important because they show your appreciation for the family that’s letting you stay in their home. Here’s hoping they like mine!

Cherry preserves made from cherries picked at Toby's mom's house. Very serious business.

Cherry preserves made from cherries picked at Toby's mom's house. Very serious business.

Little sachet stuffed with lavender and spearmint

Little sachet stuffed with lavender and spearmint.

Face Steam -- you boil it, then sit in front of it and it's supposed to do lovely things for your complexion and sinuses. It fits inside the nice gift bag.

Face Steam -- you boil it, then sit in front of it and it's supposed to do lovely things for your complexion and sinuses. It fits inside the nice gift bag I sewed from scrap material.

Anyway, I fly out tomorrow. It’s a 13-hour flight, so I have a ton of books packed (typical). Our first few nights in Beijing we’ll be staying here, at the Crown Plaza Sun Palace. Mom and Dad, I know you’re reading this and if something horrific happens, you can reach me at 010-6429-8888.

Our room. Seriously?

Our room. Seriously?

I really can’t think of anything profound or exciting to say. I’m so grateful as always to the CE folks for making this trip possible! I’ll leave you with the quote that’s on the door of our classroom:

“There’s so much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out.”


Culture Shock, Hong Kong (1994)

Before I became involved with my CE trip to China, I have to admit I didn’t have any clue where Hong Kong was. I knew it was part of Asia, but that was honestly about it. (I’ve mentioned before how absurd it is that I’m allowed to be a teacher with my highest level world history class being a 10th grade world culture survey course.)

Hong Kong is on the southern part of the Chinese mainland. You can see it in the lower right part of this map:

Knowing so little about Chinese history, I didn’t understand why Hong Kong was separate from China when they seemed to be part of the same country. The short version is this: After many years of trading with Hong Kong, in 1856-58, the British tried to take over Hong Kong because they wanted to trade opium more freely. In 1898, the British signed a 99-year lease for Hong Kong, which included 232 islands in the South China Sea.

The British government was renting the land from China, but because so many European people wound up living in Hong Kong, the area is commonly seen as more Westernized than mainland China, which didn’t let many Westerners in until the 1980s and 1990s.

I got most of my information about Hong Kong’s history in Culture Shock! Hong Kong, by Betty Wei and Elizabeth Li. The library surprisingly only had the 1995 version, so it was printed while Hong Kong was still a British colony. The book was reprinted in 2008, so I would like to read that version and see what’s different now that China/Hong Kong is back in control. If you visit the Wikipedia page on the history of Hong Kong, you can scroll down to a section that shows what has changed and what has remained unchanged after 1997.

Tomorrow marks the 12th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. The 99-year lease ended on June 30, 1997, and the handover ceremony took place the next day.

According to most of the encyclopedias I checked, it seems that Hong Kong mostly takes care of  its laws and governance, except for its army. So even though China is technically in charge, most decisions happen right in Hong Kong under a policy called “one country, two systems.”

This leads me to an interesting fact that Mr. Chan pointed out to me — in Hong Kong, three banks are authorized to print Hong Kong dollars, the currency of Hong Kong (which is different from the Chinese yuan).

So you might have two bills that are worth the same amount of money, but allegedly they could look completely different! I’m interested to see what this looks like in person — I worry that I might get confused…

Although this is admittedly a highly simplified view of a complex region, I always appreciate any corrections or feedback on points I may have gotten muddled.


Postcards from Tomorrow Square

James Fallows is brilliant. I first heard about this book on Fresh Air, and it has been a thoroughly investigated, thoughtful account of life and business in China. And of course, it was a great read because Fallows is an irreverent, fun writer.

All of Fallows’ essays are online, but I enjoyed reading them all in one place.

I was saddened to discover many of my bookmarks fell out of the pages I marked for quotes. The ones that remained wound up not being the quotes I was looking for. Here’s an important, one, though, which I pull for my friend who said, “You’ll have to tell me what you think of China, because I hate China.”

Almost everything the outside world thinks is wrong with China is indeed a genuine problem. Perhaps not the most extreme allegations, of large-scale forced organ-harvesting and similar barbarities. But brutal extremes of wealth and poverty? Arbitrary and prolonged detentions for those who rock the boat? Dangerous working conditions? Factories that take shortcuts on health and safety standards? Me-first materialism and an absence of ethical values? All these are here. I’ve met people affected by every problem on the list, and more.

But China’s reality includes more than its defects. More people are far better off than they were 20 years ago, and they are generally optimistic about what life will hold 20 years from now. This summer’s Pew Global Attitudes Project finding that 86 percent of the Chinese public was satisfied with the country’s overall direction, the highest of all the countries surveyed, was not some enforced or robotic consensus. It rings true with most of what I’ve seen in cities and across most of the country’s provinces and autonomous regions, something I wouldn’t have guessed from afar.

One of Fallows essays, “China’s Silver Lining,” which is about pollution in China, is directly related to an article about climate change in this week’s Economist. I love when the books I read actually help me understand complicated current events!


I’m not quite ready to reflect on the school year yet, in case you’re wondering why I’m not writing about my kids. That post is coming, and I wish my students in summer school all the best! (Today’s their first day)



My students deserve mad props for dealing with the crazy hot weather (hot for Seattle, at least). As I’m writing this at 6:41 AM, it’s already 63 degrees outside. Some folks are predicting temps in the mid-90s, and there’s a heat advisory in effect until 6 tonight.

Despite this, and despite a looming summer vacation, my students have been extremely focused and tolerant. We had no lights on in the room all day yesterday (to prevent generating more heat), which I worried might be distracting, yet we had great lessons in reading and math, plus we made big progress in our Storypath. The only crisis we ran into was our ELMO kept overheating…

The up side is that I’ve had a chance to test out my moisture-wicking China travel clothes:

What a lovely dress!

What a lovely dress!

I love this dress from Title Nine!

I know you’re tired of seeing my mug in these posts, but I’m still trying to figure out the whole business of posting student work, so you’re stuck with me for now.

In other China news, it’s the 20th anniversary of the protests / massacre in Tiananmen Square, and CNN has this report (thank to Ed for the link). James Fallows also has an interesting article about Internet access in China. A few people have asked me how I feel about visiting China because they have concerns about their human rights record and their policy on the media. My response has been that I’m not yet well enough informed, and I’m interested to see what it’s like when I’m actually there.

Off to school!


Sick Today

I’m home sick today (I hope you’re being kind and respectful in my absence, ladies and gentlemen!), so I’m using that time to catch up on reading and do more research for my trip to China.

We in the Puget Sound are fortunate to have two fabulous library systems, the Seattle Public Library and the King County Library System. I especially love the fact that since we moved, our local branch is fewer than ten blocks away and I can have all my book holds delivered there.

I amused by the “similar books” function on the SPL site. I know that Google and other search engines can sometimes misinterpret your search’s intent with humorous results, but I’ve never had it happen on the library’s site before:

One result of my "China guide" search

One result of my "China guide" search

Truck by Donald Crews? Really, this book is the key to being a sensitive tourist in China?

Truck, by Donald Crews

Truck, by Donald Crews

Well, at least the search engine has good taste — Truck received Caldecott honors in 1981.

Speaking of children’s media, I checked out a few DVDs to help me get my brain wrapped around the basics of Chinese.

Early Start Mandarin Chinese with Bao Bei the Panda

Early Start Mandarin Chinese with Bao Bei the Panda. Volume 1: Colors & Animals

Dance & Learn Chinese with Mei Mei

Dance & Learn Chinese with Mei Mei

Chinese For Kids, Beginner Level 1

Chinese For Kids, Beginner Level 1

I’ve gotten off to a very slow start. Very slow. Learning languages is extremely difficult for me, but I’m up for the challenge…

Now off to make more tea and nap.


Learning and Unlearning China’s History

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’ve been filling in my basic knowledge of Chinese history using some questionable methods.

I was serious when I said in an earlier post that I had absolutely NO background on Chinese history. I never covered anything regarding China in my World Studies class in 10th grade, which was my only class that covered anything outside of the US (It should also be noted that I never formally studied any history later than WWII, which is another discussion for another day). So, I’m rather ashamed to admit, while irreverent, this video gave me a pretty good starting overview of what I needed to research further, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

I’ve been searching for as many voices as possible in my quest to understand more about China. The challenging part is that I don’t know the stereotypical Western version of China’s history, so when I find the alternate, non-mainstream books, they assume I already know the basic stories. Which I don’t. So I’m extremely lost.

For example, I found an interesting book on women’s perspectives of the Cultural Revolution that claimed to basically blow the lid off the victim/victimizer perspective that most Westerners hold… but I didn’t know anything about the Cultural Revolution, so I didn’t know what perspective the authors thought I held.

I got a better idea of what the mainstream history was from Wikipedia, which I’m sure has all sorts of people rolling around in agony — using Wikipedia as my primary source of Chinese history!? Horrors! But where else can I find a brief, broad overview of China outside of a high school history book?

Recently, my friend and fellow teacher Garrett blogged about issues regarding Asian American men and masculinity. Again, I didn’t know what I was “supposed” to have as a stereotypical view of Asian masculinity. I am starting with zero views or opinions on most of China’s history and culture. The only stereotype I was aware existed was that of the Asian as a model minority / strong student. I did not know a single person of Chinese American descent until I moved to Seattle, and at that point in my life, I obviously did not expect them to represent an entire population.

This feels markedly different from the unlearning I’ve had to go through in my perspectives on people of other ethnicities or socioeconomic groups who I already had preconceived notions about.

I’m in no way complaining — if anything, I’m embarrassed of my lack of knowledge and only wish I could learn faster. I hope sharing this process offers some insight into how I’ve started to try to better understand a nation and a people from basically a blank slate. Please push back if I’ve inadvertently done or said something offensive or insensitive. My ignorance is never an excuse for unsavory behavior or comments.

In order to have a broader understanding of China’s history and people, I’ve been surprised to find I actually have to teach myself the one-sided stereotypical view of Chinese history first so I can understand enough about the basic situation. Then I immediately have to unlearn the standard story by ferreting out traditionally silenced viewpoints. If you have an alternative strategy for me, I’d love to hear it. This has proven to be exhausting, but definitely well-worth it… I’ll keep you posted as I progress…


CE Introduction

The CE folks wanted me to submit an introduction about myself, so here’s what I sent their way:

Shannon Houghton is thrilled to bring her experience in China back to her students and colleagues at Wildwood Elementary School in Federal Way. Shannon, who received the St. Ignatius award in Seattle University’s Master in Teaching program, is finishing her second year teaching and coaching track at Wildwood.

A Michigan native, Shannon came to Washington in 2005 to join Federal Way’s AmeriCorps team, which changed her life’s path from newspaper reporting to teaching. This year, with fellow teachers Siobhan Chan and James Brown, Shannon started Wildwood’s Math Team, which has a proud and devoted following of 3rd-5th grade students.

Shannon is the 2009 Wildwood Teacher of the Year, and thrives on finding innovative ways to inspire student achievement. When she’s not at school, Shannon loves to do Pilates, play board games, softball, and volleyball, and go on adventures in Seattle.

To follow Shannon and her class, visit https://mshoughtonsclass.wordpress.com. She will update the site throughout her preparations and trip. Thank you for joining us on this journey!

Here’s the photo I included:

Ms. Houghton

Ms. Houghton

I don’t think I fully realize the enormity of what I’ve gotten myself into. I met up with some fellow SU teachers tonight, and they were all thrilled and supportive (honestly, where would I be without them?), but I just can’t believe I’ll actually be going to China in less than four months! My parents are excited, but nervous, as they always are before I travel. Mom and I have been diffusing this anxiety by discussing important pre-trip purchases, such as shoes, cameras, and moisture-wicking clothing. 🙂