The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Everything I need to know I learned in Tongliao

I have now completed one full week of teaching 126 darling first and second graders...

...many of whom speak nary a word of English...

...and miss their mommies...

...who shoot projectiles at each other (and me) with rubber bands...

...and pat me on the bum to get my's not dirty, just eye level... I guess I have my work cut out for me.

I continue to be charmed by the majority of my students. Some of them have the cutest little faces I've ever seen on a 6/7 year-old Chinese child and want nothing more than to hold my hand and kiss me on the cheek. However, my first week has yielded much of the not-as-charming side of the classroom.

Given the fact that many of these children know little more than "hello," I've had to start at the very beginning. That means ABCs, 123s, and a few PleaseShootMe's from their teacher. It's not that their little minds aren't ripe little sponges ready to absorb anything and everything I have to throw at them, it's that what they're throwing back at me includes (but is not limited to) paper airplanes, sour pusses, and blank stares. I don't mind starting at the beginning; Lord knows I'd rather teach them the alphabet than prepositions and diagramming sentences.

The first order of business was to assign each student an English name of their own. I came to each of my 5 classes armed with a stock of about 200 common English names, and posed my question to each of them: "Do you have an English name?" which I received one of the 3 following answers:
  1. "Yes, my name is _______."
  2. ::Shake of head followed by pointing to the English name they wanted on my list::
  3. "Meiyou." ("Screw you, Whitey.")

Just kidding - number 3 just means, "I don't have one." So I proceeded with the handing out of names for the first several of my classes, choosing what I thought were the nicest names from my list, trying to fit them to their owners' overall auras as best I could for having known them for a matter of minutes, admittedly without giving any thought to which would be the easiest for the kids to say. I managed to name a few Jakes, Mikes and Amys, which I think were good choices, but I shall forever feel guilty in retrospect about the poor souls I named Chloe, Gloria and Laura. My bad.

I think Clay actually has the best story about assigning the English names, so here it is, lifted directly from his own blog: "...a short, liberally proportioned boy stood up and stated that his name was "Buick". Ok, so that wasn't so much a story as a sentence, but a great one nonetheless; it totally made our day. Those of the Chinese tenacious enough to name themselves don't always choose names so much as words they like, resulting in monikers such as "Nike," "Wind" and "Michael Jordan". There are also a couple boys named Katie and Emily, but at least they picked actual names.

Seeing as kids of this age respond well to rhythm and singing, I decided that the first thing I would actually teach would be the Beatles tune, "Hello Goodbye," which now begins every class of mine, complete with corresponding hand motions and gestures for emphasis. The majority of my kids are quite comfortable with it by now; I even occasionally catch some of them singing it to themselves during my lessons...granted the lyrics often come out sounding something like "I done no wyoo seh goodbye I say hello..." but I'll take what I can get.

I soon discovered that most of the children were more than willing to scream the alphabet song at the top of their lungs as well - a slightly different version than what us American kids grew up with, but not without the traditional Twinkle, Twinkle tune. I amended my own singing to match theirs, and feeling confident that their enthusiastic rendition of the ABCs indicated that most of them could likely read and write with some degree of comfort, I then challenged each of them to spell their English name out loud to me, dangling a sparkly sticker in front of their faces as incentive. I was disappointed to find that few of them could do it, and most of them struggled even when repeating after me as I pointed to each letter on their nametags. Turns out that parroting a tune is one thing, but producing the words and letters on their own is quite another. I have therefore spent all of my classes since then working on the alphabet and the pronunciation of the letters, the thought behind that being that even when they pronounce words incorrectly in the future, they can at least then spell the words to make themselves clear, which is precisely what many of the adults here do in order to communicate with us foreigners.

So in between the various alphabet games I've come up with, I've had my hands entirely full trying to keep the kids from crawling all over each other and hopping out of their seats to roll on the floor and hit each other with whatever their grubby little paws grasp first. Kids will be kids, and they're often fired up when I come in because I obviously don't hold them to the same disciplinary standards as their Chinese teachers - not because I don't want to, but because I can't communicate any sort of threat to them at all. By now I've gotten the message that I can and should strike them when they're naughty, but I can't bring myself to hit them - that much of the American in me stands firm, and if it means they misbehave a little more because of it, so be it. In one of my angrier moments, I actually found myself grabbing one of my pupils firmly by the cheeks to get him to look me in the eye, at which point I shuddered inside at the horror of what I'd done, realizing that in the States I'd have been fired over less before class had even ended. I'm not above steering a kid by the arm to a different desk in order to separate him from his dueling partner, but it'll be a desperate day indeed when I strike a defenseless child, tempting though it may be when physicality is the one language I know to be universal.

You can see, then, how I negotiate a very thin line between making English class a fun time to look forward to (which is what I want; otherwise, these kids won't want to learn) and teaching with an iron fist, holding the students to the same (miserable) disciplinary standards as the Chinese. I did bring one of my Chinese colleagues named Apple (I would laugh if it weren't for Gwyneth Paltrow and her fruity offspring) into each of my 5 classes once to translate so that I made my expectations quite clear to the little devils. Those classes were no less than doubly efficient, which was humbling as a new teacher, but I think that by now it's quite obvious that I have as much to learn as my students.

Don't think for a minute that my new post is without rewards, though. Since becoming teacher to my 100+ tiny disciples, I've enjoyed countless visits to my office by various of my students...mostly little girls, but that's no small wonder. I get clobbered with hugs and kisses following most of my classes, and on a good day I'm lucky enough to have my fingers manicured with pink sparkly stickers. And you can see for yourself how cute they are...

The thorns on any rose outnumber the blooms by far, but they don't stop it from being beautiful!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Hate it or Love it

I had a lovely weekend, really. Quite relaxing and yet productive. Productive, of course, involving the purchase of 2 new pairs of shoes, a shirt, and various articles of jewelry. You see, I had to make sure I was appropriately dressed for our first party on campus!

Ben and Adam decided (on the behalf of the rest of us as well) to host a party in their apartment for the English-speakers on the staff here at the school, and it was quite a success, I have to say. In fact, the word of our shindig spread to the point of the school's cameraman showing up and videoing a good portion of the shenanigans. It made me a little uncomfortable, to be honest, as I felt more as if I would show up in the police blotter the next morning rather than as part of the next collection of amusing things the foreigners did. That's just college conditioning, though, as there are no longer rules governing our drinking, and a strong knock at the door after 10 pm will never again be an evil, blood-sucking RA.

So we took it upon ourselves to introduce the Chinese to our way of partying. They entered the atmosphere to be welcomed by an assortment of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, snacks, music, lots of sitting around, and of course, a big fat beirut table. Drinking here seems to be mainly a male sport (in which case I've disgraced myself many times over by now), and there were plenty of the Chinese variety in attendance Saturday night, but we were a little perplexed to find that very few of them headed for the fridge when they arrived. Even Dean Zheng was abstaining, which was the weirdest part, him being the baijiu buff. He eventually asked me if anyone was going to host the party, to which I replied that in America, our parties are very casual and that you can kind of just do whatever you want. After a couple seconds of discrepancy-detecting silence, I decided to ask him how a Chinese party would go, and he said that at the very least, the host would stand up and announce the beginning and end of the party, in order to make the guests feel welcome and all. Aaaah, I see. So I discreetly relayed this information to Ben and Adam, suggesting that perhaps they acknowledge this bit of culture, which they proceeded to do... and what followed was no less than a feeding frenzy wreaked upon the beer.

Ok, it wasn't quite like that, but people did revel a bit more freely following the official beginning of the party. As for me, I enjoyed educating (corrupting) those present in the ways of the American party. We taught a number of them how to play beirut, which was amusing, to say the least, especially when they realized that they had to actually drink the beer in which the ping pong ball had just landed. Aha! Bet you didn't know there were so many uses for ping pong balls! You thought you held the power, getting people drunk with dinner-time toasts...well, two can play at that game, Mr. Generic-Chinese-Name! DRINK!

Needless to say, more than a couple people left the party (at 10 pm) a little buzzed. I'll consider this my small and indirect revenge upon the icky Mr. Woo of Grassland Drunkenness fame. No, he wasn't at the party - that's because he doesn't even work here! Glory be. Salena told me the other day that he was just a college classmate of Mr. Shan (the president of the Hope group). She also said, "I dislike that man." Word, girl.

Alas, as I sit here in my office basking in the afterglow of a pleasant weekend, I also suffer. You see, tomorrow marks my first official day teaching the 1st and 2nd grades here, and I have yet to be offered the privelege of an actual schedule of what the @#&! it is I'm supposed to do! I've asked at least more than a few times today, and Crazy-in-the-Corner (my pet name for the bipolar head teacher who sits across from me...she's nuts) tells me that "maybe" tomorrow I'll have one.


Even cooler is how as head English teacher for the Primary School, you understand about 25% of the words coming out of my mouth! Sorry, I must have forgotten to turn on my subtitles - sucks how the dialogue and lip movement never match up in kung-fu movies, doesn't it???

Martial arts fantasy aside, as I walked into my office this morning, I was greeted by giddy shrieks and a gaggle of primary school kids wanting to hold my hands and ask me my name. I'd seriously never seen them before - they just did it like precious little Chinese trained monkeys. I guess they were just excited to finally catch a glimpse of one of their foreign teachers. So the first half hour or so of my day was spent telling my name (in Chinese - Dai An Na - and English) to a continuously-rotating contingent of small visitors. I was lucky enough to receive kisses on the cheek from a number of them, also completely unprecedented. Looks like the rugrats will be my best teachers in the ways of Chinese culture. Interesting to note was the kids' reaction to me vs. their reaction to the other 3 Americans in my office (who are Clay, Pat and Mike, if you'll recall); they were noticably more hands on with me, as far as I could tell. I'm willing to bet that their vision of their foreign teacher was likely that of a young female, as that was the profile of the teachers of the year prior to our arrival. I'm probably what they expected...and let's be honest: those 3 guys are dead funny-looking. ;-)

So I'm admittedly apprehensive about my first day on the job here, but judging from the welcome I've already received from these kids, I have a feeling I'll be alright.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Love Yurts

Since you last heard from me, I have been treated to a truly authentic Inner Mongolian grasslands experience. Of course, by authentic, I mean capitalizing (if you'll forgive the word) in the most communist of ways on the vulnerable foreign tourist soul. Although if the experience hadn't been watered down somewhat, I might not be so much, how do you say...alive right now. But I digress from the delight that was my day in the grasslands on Sunday.

I should preface this story by relating to you the fact that we were recently visited by 3 Chinese-American high schoolers from Chicago - all cousins, one of whose fathers is friends with the president of the school here. So they were here on a brief exchange to check it all out and hang with the students here, tell them about American high school, etc. Grace (chill chick), Jonathan (stoner) and Shaun (can't hold his licquor). We all went out to dinner with Dean Zheng and Mr. Woo (not sure what his title is other than "important") the night before our day in the grasslands. Given their tender age of 17, they weren't quite prepared for the extent of alcoholic beverages at their disposal during a typical dinner here, and the 2 boys made the mistake of trying to keep up and then some...resulting in a brief altercation between a prematurely drunk Shaun and a not-amused-by-lame-high-schoolers Courtney. I won't go into detail because it wasn't in actuality a huge deal - just amplified by the booze, as booze is wont to do. Instead, I will allow you to pause for a brief moment of silent awkwardness now.

Ok go.


Oooh, that burns. Ok so the point of that piece of info is that there was some tension in the group for a while, but apologies were made and we're cool now. It just made for an interesting evening at the expense of the teenagers' dignity.

Needless to say, no one was at the top of their game the next morning at our 5:30 AM departure time, Dean Zheng and Mr. Woo not excepted. We enjoyed a sedate (read: hungover) 2 hour ride to the grasslands, 2 hours north of Tongliao. Myself feeling great and well-hydrated (seriously), I gazed out the window the whole time at the passing scenery, most of it unpopulated, save for a few roadside communities of gas stations, restaurants and little shops. I'm pretty sure that we drove the one and only road that traverses the area between...well, anywhere round these here parts. As a result, it was bone-rattlingly bumpy at times on the not-so-paved stretches, eliciting some grumbles from my fellow travellers. I, however, was content listening to my iPod and taking in the increasingly hilly countryside, sprinkled here and there with patches of (mutant) sunflowers, goats, cows, and/or ducks/chickens/miscellaneous fowl. Just as I found myself settling into the pure serenity of it all, convinced that I really was witnessing the simple life at its best, we drove by a dude walking down the street talking on his cell phone. Honestly, is nothing sacred??? ...This coming from the girl who continues to have residual twitching cell-phone-thumb...I do actually find myself occasionally reaching for that phantom phone...

After a stop for breakfast in what appeared, much to my chagrin, to be a small city of sorts, we drove a bit longer into the hills and arrived at an isolated cluster of yurts scattered in a small valley. A yurt, for those of you ignorant enough not to know, is like a circular tent, Mongolian style. Back in the day, they would have been made of yak skin, and from what I understand, they were more or less mobile to suit the nomadic lifestyle. We were introduced to the 2005 version, however, complete with concrete foundations, synthetic exteriors and karaoke systems. My favorite part was the ladies' and men's yurts, which had not only the universal bathroom symbols on the outside, but porcelain western-style plumbing on the inside. This amused me to no end, having spent far more time squatted over holes in the ground in Beijing than I ever would in the Inner Mongolian grasslands... Hey, they've clearly got their priorities in order, first and foremost being the waiguoren's excremental experience. I won't complain.

Our grasslands hosts humored us with plenty of time to take inordinate amounts of pictures before shoving us by the butt onto some of the sorriest looking horses I've ever seen. First of all, they are far smaller than their American counterparts, though likely just as strong - I saw a few of the locals galloping through the fields at top speed, an interesting sight when the rider is about as big as the steed. Though I gave my horse a few encouraging kicks to the haunches, the fact that I was being led on a leash by a local guide made top speed a white-knuckling...walk. I enjoyed it thoroughly, though. I fancied myself the absolute picture of idyllic pastoral life, if only for 20 minutes, trying to ignore the veritable groans of the horses under their riders of sasquatchal proportions, relatively speaking. The fleet included (but was not limited to) at least one asthmatic horse and one bleeding out of open wounds to its shoulders with scores of flies gorging themselves upon the raw flesh. I was seated atop this sad animal at one point, trying to sympathetically bat away the flies, which was a losing battle. Poor thing was a couple trots away from glue.

We were led about halfway up a pretty substantial hill through grass and wildflowers about shin height, at which point we dismounted and climbed the rest of the way up the [for the story's sake we'll say] mountain on foot. It got rockier the higher we went, full of brambles and thorns, man-eating spiders, grasshoppers flying thick as shrapnel, and the abominable snowman.


HAHA abominable snowman - what the hell is that??? Sorry, I just cracked myself up.


Atop the "mountain," we enjoyed some of the cleanest breaths of fresh, breezy air we'd had in quite some time. The view was immaculate, with the cluster of yurts below us on one side, and a deep valley on the other side of what we realized was actually a rim that we'd just climbed, which circled around the aforementioned valley. That was a horrible description, but stay with me.

Getting back down the mountain was actually much harder than the ascent, what with those pesky sudden bursts of gravity getting in the way. I escaped with only a cut to my left heel, fortunately, which is impressive when you consider the fact that I had an abominable snowman in hot pursuit.

We had lunch in the karaoke yurts once back at the bottom of the K2ImeansmallInnerMongolianhill. I can confidently say that the grasslands cuisine is not something I would readily repeat, as it consisted of a heaping plate of wiggly jiggly mutton pieces as its centerpiece, flanked by various other unidentifiable delicacies. Seeing as the ever-present pijiu and baijiu made themselves immediately apparent, a number of our party opted instead to cure their hangovers with a liquid lunch. Having sweated out most of the moisture in my body, however, I declined and picked at bits and pieces of potato and pepper and whatever didn't contain goat entrails. I can therefore recount with perfect lucidity the unequivocably SHITHOUSED state of aforementioned "important" Mr. Woo (dressed in fatigues and dress shoes), and how he dragged me to my feet by my armpits and insisted on twirling me around the yurt to canned karaoke music, eventually hugging me, squeezing my butt, planting a sloppy kiss on my cheek and announcing that he loved me. Charming.

Molestation by member of school faculty: check.

During our post-lunch horseback ride, Tina, one of the few Chinese English teachers along with us, proclaimed something to the effect of, "Diana, you are such a beautiful girl, but sometimes you look so tired." Sorry, Tina, but being Mr. Wooed tends to have that effect.

Though I was desperately trying to continue enjoying myself, my day was quickly descending into sunburned and sweaty exhaustion. After Mike bought the beautiful embroidered Mongolian vest right off the back of his horse guide, the day was concluded as a success, and we made our way back to the bus, only to find our bus driver drunk and passed out in the front seat. Not about to let him keep us from the air-conditioned comfort of our apartments back at the school, several amongst us immediately offered to drive, seeing as this guy was in no condition to do so and we were fearing for our lives. Luckily, we had a spare. Driver, that is. Mind at ease, I settled myself into a pool of my own sweat and dozed my way through the ride home. After a day like that, everybody yurts.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Office Spaced Out

I believe the last time you checked in with me, I was divulging the sordid details of my wild and crazy nights on the town. No such news today. I write out of sheer boredom. Yesterday we were summoned by Dean Zheng at 9 AM for a tour of our offices, as class for Junior Middle School Grade 3 and above starts tomorrow. I, however, along with my primary school colleagues (Clay, Mike and Pat), do not start teaching until the 21st. Bearing that in mind, you can imagine our confusion when the 4 of us primary school teachers were dumped and abandoned in our office, the rest having gone on to other buildings. Turns out we were expected to be in the office all day for normal hours, 8:00 until 11:30, and again from 2:30-6. Who knew?

So there we sat at our empty desks, looking in one drawer and then out a wet rag, rinsed and repeated...stared at the wall a little...stared out the window every once in a while to mix it up...then lunch time at long last HUZZAH!

After lunch we moved the desktop computers our apartments were furnished with to our desks here, so I have now thankfully been blessed with the gift of Internet to pass the time. It's not even like I can do some lesson planning except for abstract brainstorming, because as the 1st and 2nd grade teacher, I'm expected to coordinate my lesson plans with the grammatical English teacher, who has yet to show her face in the office. I don't even have a copy of the textbook. For now I suppose I'll content myself with deep and meaningful instant messages, blog entries, email, my iPod and my book. Oh and because it's ridiculous and a girl gots to get her gossip. I also never knew I could sweat this much sitting still...

We continue to be wined (read: beered) and dined though, which is fun without fail. Our original companion in Beijing (other than Dean Zheng), Sunny, has returned to campus with interest in us to spare, so he took us out last night to a great little joint. As usual, we were toasted into drunkenness, though last night marked our first sighting of a Chinese keg! We are usually given the massive bottles of beer that are standard here, but last night a (plastic not so much a keg as cooler with a tap) keg was brought in and we were served our beer in legit beer steins, which made for a nice reprieve from the usual double shot-sized glasses that tend to be on the tables of restaurants here.

And today, back to the rat race, so I guess I'd better go rat. Or race, as the case may be.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Banana Proves Spicier Than Anticipated

True to my word, I return to tell the tale of opening night at "Banana," Tongliao's newest nighttime hotspot, and spicy it was indeed! The very thought of it makes me blush.

Before making our appearance at Banana, we all went out to dinner with none other than the tailor (Liu Kai) who fitted us for our uniforms and his girlfriend. He's an adorable little guy who obviously wants desperately to improve his English, so he has jumped at the chance to hang out with us. But who wouldn't? So far, his English abilities are broken, at best, though dinner was filled with repeated choruses of "We are friends" - his favorite phrase, it would appear. His girlfriend didn't say much, though I have a feeling her English is nearly as good as his.

On to Banana - it was a little smaller than our regular disco, having only one level instead of two, and felt more like a lounge than a full-blown club. When we arrived, the guy relaxing on the nice leather furniture was quickly shooed away by the management to make room for us (we're VIP 24/7, if you recall). The beers were in our hands faster than you could say "pijiu." The entertainment going on when we got there consisted of a guy on stage by himself attempting to rock the crowd with his soprano sax. I'm guessing they're not familiar with Kenny G's reputation. To his credit, everyone seemed to enjoy him, even when the power blew out (multiple times). We were then treated to 3 dancers in beads and feathered headdresses who proceeded to perform some kind of mangled Indian dance...I think (give me a break, this is about 5 beers into the evening for me). Following that nonsense, another woman strutted out onto stage wearing a man's dress shirt, necktie and ::gasp:: a thong. The boys squealed with delight and the 3 of us girls stood there like deer in headlights. I'm quite sure I'm too young to describe what the young lady on stage did next. I'll let you try to make out what she looked like by the end of her dance from the photo. At least more will be left to your imagination than was to mine.

With that image burned into my retinas, we retired to the VIP room behind the stage and were ecstatic to find a full menu of cocktails and licquors we recognized in ENGLISH! Compared to the pijiu, they were expensive (a whopping $3 each, on average), but I have to admit, I was feeling pretty good with that Singapore Sling in my hand. After sampling probably half of what was on the menu between all of us, we took a spin on the dance floor, which was littered with glow sticks and crazy-head-shaking Chinese people. The handful of us who had ventured onto the stage there were immediately shoved into the middle. I guess our moneymakers were deemed worth the shaking by this particular crowd. After what seemed like less than an hour, however, the amount of people on the dance floor, which was packed at first, had thinned to less than 20, a phenomenon of the Chinese club I have yet to understand. The evenings peak fast and die even faster, which is a pattern us Americans could do without. I don't think they're ready for this jelly. We'll fix that, though.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Further Shenaniganery in Tongliao City

Well, since my working situation has not yet changed, I feel no need in particular to recount the many stimulating hours doing nothing in the recruiting office underneath the Goldleaf Mall. I can, however, let you know what I'll be doing in the near future, as our teaching posts have been officially assigned. You're looking at (the blog of) Tongliao's newest 1st and 2nd grade spoken English teacher! I've been blessed with a gaggle of some of the tiniest tinies I have a feeling I will soon appreciate all the time I spent with my nephews and niece this summer. I really got a sweet deal too, as I only teach a total of 16 lessons a week at 40 minutes each. Do the math - that's not a lot of work. Plus, I get weekends off and a 5 day break every month (a privilege not granted to my colleagues teaching in the high school BWAHAHA they only get the 5 day break every other month). AND I'll be off for a full month starting January 14. Oh yeah the other sweetass perk is I don't start teaching til the 21st, whereas the high school teachers start the 10th. Awwwwwww damn. I rule.

So that's the sort of logistical update, I suppose. I have a couple of interesting stories about our adventures during our free time, though. The other day, those of us in my recruiting group (Clay, Jacob and Courtney) spent a bit of our day off in the city looking for a place to get facials. That's no typo, we really found a place to get facials - all of us...but not before mistakenly (or maybe not...) wandering into the "No Light District," and yeah that is what it sounds like. Pretty damn sketchy. Seeing as all the beds in the places were all out in the open inside each little shop, I don't think any of us will be patronizing those establishments.

Feeling just a little dirtier, we found a place to get facials. The girls inside brought the 4 of us upstairs to a room with beds lined up, hospital style, and we were all facialed together right there at the same time. For one hour and 20 yuan (about $2.50), I laid there and got the crap pounded out of my skull and who-knows-what rubbed into my skin. It felt nice, but it's certainly not the relaxing, steamy, pore-opening experience one gets in the States. Towards the end, the girl facial-ing me put this vapor-emitting contraption over my face...I guess it was just a water-mister thingie, but it was cool and smelled funny and for a few minutes I was sure that it was scary death gas. I survived, though, no worse for the wear, and emerged from the place with a face soft as a baby's butt.

Yesterday, on another day off, all 9 of us were summoned to meet none other than the President of the Communist Party here in Inner Mongolia. We basically waited for him to arrive for like, an hour and a half, and spent the 15 minutes he was here seeing the school's promotional video and taking pictures with him, but I thought that was worth mentioning nonetheless. He's kind of a big deal. I stood right next to him for the picture. I guess that makes me a slightly more communist big deal, bwahahaha...

Speaking of big deals, tonight we plan on attending the grand opening of a club called Banana in the city. I spotted it some time ago, with its huge lion's head growling over the doorway, with the word "Spicy" in neon lights. Don't worry, it's not that kind of club - they let us look inside. They just probably don't know what spicy means...maybe they meant "hot." Either way, we plan on taking our big deal selves up in that joint and making it the trendy new spot where all the foreigners go. We're very excited. I even bought a couple new clubbing shirts here in honor of the occasion (for about $10!) so I'm slutted out Chinese style instead of American. So I'm sure you'll want to hear all about it, and with that, I'll peace out right here and get ready!