Sometime in November 2001 (Way after the due date of this report)
I have been contemplating and pondering what the most appropriate way to approach my first "official" report from Nanjing should be-I've considered a Bridget Jones-esque diary with assorted tales of romance, adventure, and self-discovery (only the first of the three would be fabricated); I've toyed with the idea of creating my own children's hero "Bai Joe," whose adventures would take you from banquet to dinner table as he shouts his battle cry "Ganbei!"; I've meandered over the idea of creating a metaphorical journal poised against the market I walk by every afternoon, the ginger root standing for my wavering health, the eggplant standing for a new way to say "cheese" and the turtles representing the tortured animal inside us all; HOWEVER, I decided none of the above would do. Therefore, I propose the following: put on several layers of clothing, grab a glass of hot oolong tea, take a stool from somewhere within your home, and go sit outside near a busy expressway or industrial plant and read over the following, for I am not going to tell you about my experiences in China, I am going to take you through them as best as I can. I decided long ago, that through letters to family and friends, and upon my return stateside that I would never fully be able to describe my life in China-unless they saw it first hand. I can't afford to bring everyone here and I don't think the Office of Social Commitment or Doug would really go for that. SO I hope the following will give you at least a hint of what China is like, and if all goes well, you'll be as fascinated with the mystery and intrigue of the world I live in, day after day, as I am and want to, someday, if you have the means and a way, travel to China. (No, I am not being paid by the tourism bureau to say that.)
Before plunging into the adventure that lies ahead, I'd like to thank the Grinnell Corps program, especially the Nepal and Nanjing committees for giving me this chance of a lifetime, and Doug Cutchins for putting up with all my emails and questions. I'd also like to give special thanks to Professor Andrew Hsieh, for with the simple mention of his name we are automatically placed in the best care possible, Fang Laoshi, for being the Chinese mother I never had, the Grinnell Education Department for giving me the practical skills necessary to create my own teaching philosophy (even in Nanjing China), my parents, for letting me go on this crazy adventure, and, perhaps most importantly, my "best friend" for the year, Kasia, for without her, I truly don't know if I would be writing this report. With that said, Huanying Zhonghua!
Briefly mentioned in past reports, I am going to spend a little bit more time commenting on this SAR (Special Administrative Region) of China. Besides being whisked away to Nanjing for the year, we are given several days in Hong Kong to experience life in a Western city in the East. I was working in Hong Kong this past summer so I had the fortune of being able to pick up Kasia when she arrived on the 25 of August. It was a HUGE benefit for the both us that I had already spent two months in HK. All of the normal hassles with site-seeing and transportation were erased because I was already very familiar with how life in Hong Kong worked. This enabled me to act as tour guide, allowing Kasia the opportunity to see practically everything she wanted in the two, short, full days we had in the city. It worked out splendidly. Also, by this time, I had picked up some Cantonese-enough to get us by in any non-English speaking area or restaurant (okay so it was really very little but I am still proud of it). One of the reasons I took on the position in Hong Kong before heading to Nanjing was to enable me to experience life in another country before departing for the mainland. I had never traveled outside of the US before so being able to experience life in a very Western city in Asia seemed liked the perfect way to adjust to a different way of living and to a different culture. Unfortunately, I often think my adjustment to Nanjing may have occurred sooner, had I not been in Hong Kong for so long. After two months there, I had developed some great friendships and my own way of living in another country that I was fully comfortable with. Sometimes I think leaving Hong Kong for Nanjing was more traumatic than leaving the US for Hong Kong. All in all though, I wouldn't trade any of it for the world. Giving the Fellows time to "play," before coming to the mainland is still a great idea. I recommend that before arriving in Hong Kong, that they make out a plan of what to see and do before arriving in order to insure maximum site-seeing.
Arriving in Nanjing
Our arrival in China still remains as one of our most hilarious adventures yet. Picture it: Dragon Air Flight to Nanjing China from Hong Kong; lunch has just been served. There is a man hacking away in the seat in front of us. All of a sudden we hit turbulence:
Josh: (slightly frightened) Is that supposed to happen?
Kasia: (pause) Um, yeah. That's normal. Just a little turbulence.
The plane continues moving forward and we hit another pocket of turbulence, this time causing the plane to drop slightly.
Josh: (more frightened) Uh, Kasia, are we going to make it to Nanjing?
Kasia: (longer pause; nervous laugh) Of course we will. (more nervous laughing)
Pause as we go through more turbulence.
Kasia: I don't think I can eat this any more.
Josh: (pause; really frightened) I don't think I want any more either.
Later after the plane has landed.
Kasia: (Sigh of relief) Whoa. We made it.
Josh: (stunned) What do you mean we made it? You told me everything was going to be alright!
(Please note much of the above is paraphrased for I don't remember the exact conversation. All characters involved ARE based on real people and any similarity is NOT coincidental.)
After gathering our bags, we exited the baggage claim area. There a woman awaited who asked Kasia, "Are you from Grinnell?" Kasia replied, "Yes." And that was it. We were quickly rushed away to an awaiting car. We soon realized there would not be enough room so we would have to take a taxi as well. There were four us at this point: the driver (who spoke no English), a woman (who we later learned was Fang Laoshi), Kasia and myself. We loaded the bags into the car and the decision to get a taxi was made. Seeing the possible situation, I told Kasia I would ride in the taxi (alone I had assumed) and she could ride into Nanjing in the car with the driver and the nice Chinese woman. It did not work out that wayâ¦at all. Fang Laoshi ended up coming in the taxi with me, and Kasia drove with the driver. I tried to gather as much information as I could from Fang Laoshi during the hour car ride into the city center. Unfortunately, as I would later learn, it was not time to talk, it was time to have a rest-a hallmark of Chinese culture.
Upon arriving to our new home for the year, we discovered that changes had been made that would alter our living situation for the year; this was a bit of a shock for we had expected to arrive and settle into the "Grinnell Rooms." There was nothing to be done at that point but after a few emails back to Grinnell, everything was remedied. (I'll talk more about living here later in the report.) We were informed that we would begin teaching in six days and so we had some time to settle and see some of the sights of Nanjing. That first night, we dined at the restaurant across the street from Xi-Yuan on pizza, French fries, chicken with beans, and two ice cold Tsing Tao beers. It was the only thing we could do at that point to remain somewhat sane. I experienced ten times the culture shock I had when I arrived in Hong Kong. Nanjing, although a very modern city in China, was not the "China" I had experienced in Hong Kong. I no longer recognized the language for Mandarin was now the Putonghua; I could no longer do anything that I normally could do without great frustration or confusion. All of a sudden I was two years old again and could not survive on my own. This feeling of shock and bewilderment would continue for sometime. It was something that I would have to accept, live with, and eventually remedy. But for the time being, all I wanted was a sign or something that would tell me that everything would be all right. It came soon enough.
School Days, Golden Rule Days: The ABCs of Teaching in China
Of all the experiences this fellowship would lay at my feet, it was the teaching element that frightened me the least. In my mind, as far as I was concerned, I had already been teaching for the past three years and a new environment and new country would not inhibit my performance in the classroom. As a teacher, I have always set high expectations for myself and my students and China was not going to change that. Although I had not had much experience or training with English Language Development (ELD), my position this past summer as Dean of Faculty for one of the Summerbridge Hong Kong sites put me in a spot where I had to quickly become the resident expert on ELD technique within the classroom. Having been engulfed by that position for two months before arriving to teach in Nanjing, I was confident of my ability to assess my students needs and plan classes that would allow them to improve their English and allow me to still experiment with new techniques and practices in the classroom. What has immerged at this point, is a teacher who at times may be frustrated and not sure of where to go yet is still learning more everyday from his students than he could from any book. These experiences inside and outside the classroom have even led me to begin questioning what exactly I want to do when I leave Nanjing-but I think that needs to be saved for a final report.
I have decided the best way to approach reporting on teaching in China is to divide it into four sections: the first day, the office, the teachers, and the students (saving the best for last).
The First Day of School
We were asked to arrive at school on Monday, the 3rd of September at 7:30am for the opening ceremonies. I had no idea what this meant. All I knew was that I had to get a picture of Kasia and me on the front steps of Xi-Yuan on the first day of school (Mom had been taking pictures of me on the first day of school for as long as I could remember and this was one that I didn't want her to miss.) Fang Laoshi met us at the school gate and we discovered that we were allowed to park our bicycles inside the school grounds. We were then ushered to a room on the second floor of the school, and placed in the front row, with the school officials. Soon, the Chinese National Anthem was played and the opening ceremonies began. The principal spoke as well as the head boy of the school. At this point Kasia and I were introduced with our Chinese names (Within the first day of being in China, Fang Laoshi sat us down and we worked out Chinese names for ourselves. My last name being Blue they decided to call me "Lan Tian"-both in the first tone-this means Blue Sky. Let's just say everyone was super excited about my new name, including me.) So the principal announced my name and I had to stand up and wave to the students in the room. Now it was not a very big room so I could not understand how we were being introduced to all the students in the building. I later learned that the entire ceremony was being broadcast over a closed-circuit television system. Go figure. From that point on, I have been greeted in any and all of the following ways-Mr. Blue, Mr. Lan, Lan Laoshi (laoshi meaning teacher), Lan Tian, Blue, or, my new personal favorite, Blue Sky.
After the opening ceremonies, we were sent home to have a rest before our first set of classes that afternoon.
The Office and Our Classrooms
Having read some of the past reports, I was expecting a small office with a few bookshelves that would serve as the library, and one very large classroom that one of us would use, the other teaching in the students regular classroom. As I have learned from spending four months in China already, never assume anything and things that appear to be rudimentary are often the mot difficult. Fang Laoshi brought us up to the fifth floor of the administrative building at NDFZ and showed us our classrooms-one large classroom that had been officially divided with the construction of a wall right in the middle of the room. Great! We'd be teaching right next to one another. She then took us two doors down to the office, which at this point was under mass construction. The office had now doubled in size and consisted of two rooms, one that would serve as an office and the other as a library. There were workers busy constructing built-in bookcases into the walls. It was quite a scene. And there were about three huge boxes, covered in dust and dirt that held the contents of the library. It was at this point that we were informed that we would be putting the library together once the construction was completed. I made the silly mistake of mentioning how I had worked in Burling and would love to catalogue and organize the collection. Me and my big mouth. About a week after school had started we were able to get into the office and begin organizing. With the assistance of one of the woman who works at the school, we got all the books unloaded and then set to work organizing them. It was at this point that we decided since it would be an English library we would take all the Chinese books and put them into storage. We also noticed that we had very few children's picture books-the books that our students could most easily comprehend and understand. (BLATENT PLEA: IF YOU HAVE ANY CHILDREN'S BOOKS LYING AROUND COLLECTING DUST AND NOT BEING READ PLEASE SEND THEM TO US! YOU MAY EMAIL ME FOR THE MAILING ADDRESS! ANY SUCH BOOKS WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED!)
Soon all the books were in place, couches and arm chairs were delivered, the water cooler was installed, and our remote for the air conditioner was brought in. We were in business. I usually do not plan lessons in this room but rather I go to sit and have a rest or to write letters. It's a most pleasant environment to be in.
For those of you who have read the above or who have received emails from me, you have certainly seen the name Fang Laoshi or perhaps Fang Hong before, but I feel it is necessary to elaborate a bit. Fang Laoshi is our personal savior and Chinese mother in Nanjing and anywhere else we might travel together. She one of the Senior III English teachers at NDFZ. She has taken us under her wing, helped us get adjusted to life in China and has opened her heart and home to us whenever we need it. She is our primary contact at the middle school since her English is quite stellar. Other teachers include Nancy (her English name of course), Romeo King, and anyone else who likes to hang out with the foreign English teachers. They have been most helpful in answering our questions and welcoming us into the school community. We teach a group of teachers every Thursday morning, or at least we are supposed to. This class seems to get cancelled frequently or simply forgotten. We talk about issues that the teachers are interested in and we try and introduce new vocabulary and information about the United States. It's a great opportunity for us because not only do we get to share about our country but we get to discuss the parallels within Chinese culture and tradition.
The administration and the middle school has also done everything it can to make us comfortable. My favorite administrator is Principal Chen. She does not speak English and I do not speak Chinese, but she insists on speaking to me and Kasia in Chinese. And surprisingly, like Harry Potter's uncanny ability to understand snakes, I am able to decode and comprehend Principal Chen's Chinese. She is one of the few people who can talk to me in Chinese and I understand 80% of what is being said. Not bad considering I can barely ask how much something is.
Recently we were invited on a mini-holiday with the teachers from NDFZ to Suzhou and Shanghai. This was one unforgettable experience for all of our teacher friends were in attendance and wanted to make sure that we were safe and secure at all times. This meant that we were walked across streets, arm in arm, with either Nancy or Fang Laoshi, they took money from everyone so we did not have to deal with restaurant bills, they gave us business cards with the name and number of the hotels where we were staying in case we got lost, and, my personal favorite, I was not allowed to stray out of sight while shopping unless I made it explicitly clear where I was going and when I would return. Being a child for the weekend was definitely an amusing experience (and much appreciated).
I have been keeping a teaching journal since day one of classes for my records as well as for use in my teaching portfolio when I return to Grinnell and I have loads of stories and little bits about the humour and frustrations that go along with teaching in an ELD environment. I have my initial impressions from my very first classes with the students. I will include these here and follow each entry with an up-to-date reflection and summary of what is currently going on.
Junior I: (September) I have three sections of Junior I students (11/12yrs). These students have received English training via their Chinese English teachers and, for the most part, have never taken a class based around conversational English or American culture. These students have a limited vocabulary and basic speaking skills. These students will more often than not be able to write in English fluently and use grammar and syntactical structures better than a native speaker, but most will not be able to engage in simple conversation. As far as instruction goes, these students will work on diction, projection, and life-skills English, such as a friendly conversation, ordering food in a restaurant, or buying a pair of shoes at the store. Some exploration into English juvenile literature and traditional stories may occur, but only on the surface level of character, setting, and plot.
(November) Most of the above still stands true. These students do not have a text so I have a fairly free range of what topics that I can cover. We have reached the point where they are comfortable in the classroom and with me so we are able to get more done. These students have been working on rooms of the house, objects in a house, and location. I created a model house on a wall in the classroom and we have subsequently been spreading out to create a neighborhood ,with common stores, services, and the like. We will be adding a network of roads soon so we can also incorporate directional terms. I also hope to throw in The House on Mango Street and, by the end of term 1, I hope to have increased their vocabulary of common terms. Actual conversations at this point are difficult to engage in due to a lack of vocabulary.
Junior II: (September) I have two sections of Junior II (12/13yrs). These students have just completed their first year of conversational English with last year's teaching fellows. Once again the grasp on technical English is overall strong and their speaking skills are definitely higher than that of the Junior I students. These students are prepared to enter into more intricate dialogues and usage of English. Once again, however, diction and projection must be emphasized before going into any deep material. A wider range of material can be used for discussion such as English magazines, newspaper articles, and higher level stories such as fables and moral stories to engage in more meaningful dialogue and debate. Junior II students are also at a level where individual expression can be used as a tool to get students interested. One thing to be aware of is these students have just had two fellows last year and they may compare the classes; it is important to establish the course separate of last year's class but try not to cover material they have already explored or if they have explored it take it up to the next level.
(November) I have been cursed by the "Game Syndrome" left my Jason and Ann. Fortunately, I am beginning to tackle this with more engaging classes. It took quite some time to get this class motivated and going in the proper direction. After two months of struggling to find direction, I think we all are finally on the same page. We are currently discussing sports (yes I am learning a lot) and next we will do a brief unit on food. But, the highlight of the term for me will be the end, when I introduce the much anticipated unit on Harry Potter. Many of my students have read the text in Chinese so I am looking forward to working with this common knowledge base to expand their English skills.
Senior I: (September) I have two sections of Senior I (15/16yrs). Some of these students may have had English conversation classes for two years in JI and JII but there is no conversation class in JIII. Also many of these students will have just transferred to the school from other local schools so for them English conversation as a class will be a foreign concept. These students are very close in their abilities with Junior II because they have taken a year off from conversation. However, these students have a broader vocabulary and range of knowledge enabling them to engage in higher level thinking exercises such as debate or speech, independent research, and higher level text, such as primary source material, non-fiction pieces, and adult English novels. This group will also need to work on diction and projection but it will be included within their lessons and not a separate skill to acquire. These students must be treated more as young adults than as children in order to work best within the classroom.
(November)These students have been given a text to work from and that I am supposed to teach from. This seems to have heavily influenced what we do in the classroom since I must cover the first three unit by the end of the first term. This is frustrating and goes against my own personal classroom philosophy but I can not argue with what I have been asked to do. Therefore, much of our time has been consumed by the text. Fortunately, I am now reevaluating the text and how we use it. This is leading us into a unit on autobiography which will get them speaking and thinking out loud in English. I am very excited to see what they come up with.
Senior II: (September) I have two sections of Senior II (16/17/18yrs). These students, like the JI have just come off of a year of conversational English. These are the highest level students. Their English comprehension level is high as is their speaking and writing abilities. This class needs to be treated as adults, setting high expectations to insure work that is clearly forcing them to reach their maximum potential. These students will debate, present arguments, analyze text, and perhaps even engage in conversation about life and the world around them. This class could be the most challenging to plan because these students will not put up with a poorly executed or planned lesson. I expect them to be the most honest about my teaching and really work with me to plan their class.
(November) These students are by far the most difficult for me to work with since I have little experience with this particular age level. They also have a book that I must teach from but I have been using it very loosely with them. Although they are difficult and complain the most about work, they all seem to be into the newspaper project we are working on. We are going to produce a newspaper that can be read and easily accessed by the lower level students. This class is also taking part in a pen-pal exchange. My best friend from high school is an English teacher at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. We are eagerly waiting for the first batch of letters to arrive.
That pretty much gives a comprehensive view of the classes as I see them. As far as teaching them goes I do not believe in classes that fail or bomb. You can always learn something from a class no matter how well or how poorly it goes. And although there have been frustrating classes, everyone has given me a new insight and a new way to look at teaching. I have been struggling with the idea of conversation English, for this is what I am supposed to be teaching. Unfortunately, in order to have a conversation you must have the necessary vocabulary and terminology to engage in a coherent dialogue. Therefore, I think this first semester is gearing the students up to engage in conversation next term. One last thing: every Wednesday afternoon we have English corner at the school. This means that for 1 hour we are bombarded with Junior 1 and Junior II students (the others are apparently too cool for us) asking us questions about our favorite foods, colors and favorite things about China. It is definitely one of the more amusing parts of my week.
Part II- Day after Day
I have been sending monthly emails out to family and friends that chronicle some of my more daily, comical occurrences here in China and it is from those that I will draw many of the idiosyncrasies that compose the China that I have come to know and â¦.like immensely. Love at this point in the game is still, possibly, attainable but still hovers off in the distance. I was thinking about what makes up one's day to day life in China and I have decided that the only way to get everyone to see this clearly is have Doug fly you all out here. Just call his office, he'd be more than happy to help. Well, he could direct to a good travel agent. Seeing as though the odds of that happening seem slim, particular since this part is even later than the first partâ¦but from the Chinese perspective I still have another six weeks. And they wanted me to appreciate the culture and really become a part of my environment and that is just what I have done. But everyone back in the States is still running on this "deadline" theory. I have a little secret: from what I can tell there are no timetables, schedules, or definitive answers anywhere in China. Buses leave when they are full, and classes are cancelled as I am writing lessons on the board. I've grown to accept it and I am thinking with this year marking 15 years of the Nanjing program, its bound to happen soon at Grinnell too.
But, alas, I digress. Time to move on to my day in lifeâ¦
The Dorm- Or fondly re-titled "PLEASE DO NOT SPIT ON MY FLOOR" or "Yes, I too need to use the sink" or "It's 3amâ¦why are you yelling in my home!"
Soâ¦one may sense a little pent up hostility in the above words. Please they were only hostile when I first yelled at my "beloved" floormates, or ..erâ¦mumbled them under my breathe, and here are simply conveyed for a bit of humour. For, as Kasia mentions, without the ability to laugh we'd have left a long, long time ago. I reside on the 17th floor of the foreign student's dormitory at Nanjing University. We like to call it Xi-Yuan because that's its name. Kasia and I live right next door to one another. My room is very comfortable. Upon my arrival I was a little skeptical about my bed, which is for all intensive purposes a bit hard, I have grown to love and don't want to adapt back to a Western model. After spending the summer in Hong Kong without constant email access, I am delighted to be hooked up whenever I want now. I actually probably spend too much time connected but its my one source of up-to-date English print news. Thank goodness for the New York Time and Chicago Tribune. I guess some explanation is necessary about the titles of this section.
Kasia and I "live" with a group of Chinese business students who are in there 30s and 40s. They like to make a lot of noise at 3am, 6am, and any other time when I am sleeping. They also enjoy spitting in the hallway, often causing me to lose my footing and coming close to breaking my ankle. They also like to stare at me as though I don't belong on this floor or my favorite is the stare I get when I enter the bathroom because why would I have to use the bathroom? I don't know. That's just how things work. Now for sometime, Kasia and I thought they were transient and would be moving along soon like ancient nomadic tribes. Unfortunately, recent news from Kasia has confirmed our biggest fear-They are here to stay for the entire year. It took a lot for me to type that. I must be up to step number 3 in my 12 step-program. I am looking forward to the time when I can speak enough Chinese to ask them to be quiet if I am sleeping and to find out what they really are doing here. Part of me does not buy the business student thing. I think its supposed to be part of the China experience and somebody is paying for them to "enhance" my stay.
Besides our floormates, things at Xi-Yuan are great. I have heat now which after the dialogue I had in November with the front desk seems miraculousâ¦here take a look:
Me: (Shivering and very cold) Is there heat now?
Woman at desk: No.
Me: (pause, bracing self for the worst) Will there ever be heat?
Woman at desk: No.
Me: (in my head and in Cantonese) AIYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
Needless to say three weeks later the radiator in my room which I knew was not a touch of Chinese decorating is functioning. Also when it was warm, I had airâ¦too much as a matter of factâ¦take a look.
Setting: COOL COOL DAY, inside Josh's room it is freezing for the air is still on. It is controlled by the remote control the nice FM woman has.
Me: (miming out the remote control for the air con)
Woman: (I think in the middle of putting out a fire in a room down the hall) Mayo.
Me: (translating in head "Don't have.") Mayo?????
Woman: Dui (yes)
Me: (in my head and in Cantonese) AIYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
After nearly a month of trying to remember to ask for the remote I finally remembered but she did not have it and it did not appear that she would anytime soon. I came back into my room, ready to put on more clothing and looked up at the air con. It was at this point I realized it had a chord coming from it. I followed the chord and realized it was plugged into the outlet. I laughed hysterically and pulled it out. Over a month of complaining and neither Kasia nor I had thought to unplug it. Oh well.
There are lots of other foreign students in the dorm, some of whom have become our close friends. There is going to be another tangent here but it will be worth it. My parents a long time ago told me I had to take Spanish because it would be more practical in today's world. Fine, but I had wanted to take French. Seven years of Spanish language courses later I come to China to discover that most people I come into contact with are Francophones. One from Quebec, a few from France, and did I mention that the customs form at the China Post is in French and Chinese? Anyhow, these people are the ones we met when we first arrived and have helped us tremendously get adjusted and helped us communicate when we were Chinese-less. We have also been fortunate to make friends with (here's where Mom and Dad score some points) a Spanish Spanish professor at Nanjing U. Another completely awesome person. It is nice to know that when you get a craving to speak or hear English there are plenty of people around.
In a nutshell, living here in like living in a college dorm. Except the idea of self-governance and quiet hours is completely thrown out the window.
The Market: Save the Turtles
Just down Shanghai Lu and a right turn down the first main street is the market. This has got to be one of my favorite places in China. All cities have all sorts of markets but I feel as though this market is my market. They sell vegetables, fruit, dofu (tofu), meat, pork, chicken, crabs, shrimp, eels (which will be deveined for you right on the sidewalk while you watch, and anything else you could possible imagine, including one of my favorite creatures-the turtle. The below is taken from an entry I made to my plan on the 9th of October:
I went to the market today and as I was walking there a man passed me with a turtle tied in a red plastic string (as though to close a cake box or tie papers together). He was carrying the poor creature by the ribbon. And although certainly not as cute as my turtles it was indeed tragic to think this turtle was going to be dinner. I continued on to the market to buy my soybeans (at less than 30 American cents for two kilograms what have I got to lose) to discover my regular vegetable woman did not have any. So I searched high and low and came up with none. I fear they are going out of season. On my return home I passed the turtle man again to discover he had untied the turtle some and was sitting on the curb with the turtle on this newly created leash. Part of me wants to believe he bought himself a new friend and was taking it for a walk. The other part reminds me I am in China and subsequently he bargained for the turtle at the market and is now going to try and re-sell. And believe me, no one wants a used turtle.
Irregardless, I love going on a nightly walk down to the market street to watch the people, pick up a baozi (steamed bun with filling), and just take in the city that has become my home. On Thursday, I go with the intent of buying at least one new VCD. My collection is steadily growing and I pay about 1 US Dollar for new releases from the statesâ¦and I get to keep them. (Yes, even Harry Potter.)
Eating Out: The Duck's Blood Incident or Why we frequent 2 restaurants out of the hundreds in the city?
There are three restaurant right next to our building that have English menus. (We have just discovered another couple of Korean restaurants that do as well but that was a recent development). Having no cooking facilities we eat out for every meal. (Needless to say, this once wanna-be chef is itching to get back home to a kitchen where he can cook and bake to his heart's content.) For the most part we go to two of these three restaurants. For a short period of time we decided to be adventurous. Kasia studied super-hard all of the food characters for food we did not like and food we liked so with her guidance we could eat off of a Chinese menu. Unfortunately, something went horribly wrong one day and we have been sticking to our old familiars. Soon, however, we will venture on for we now know the names of our favorite dishes and are getting really good explaining things through mime. But the incident goes like this: Kasia and I went into the restaurant and looked at the menu. Kasia decided on soup and I wanted some form of dofu. We knew the character for dofu so I picked one and went with it. The strange character that was next to the dofu neither of us knew but we had decided to be adventurous so I went with it. Soon, my dish was served and there was the dofu, along with some other congealed something or otherâ¦that was a deep red. Deep down I knew what it was. I had dreaded this moment for sometime because I knew it would come. It was Duck's blood. Kasia, trying to remain positive, told me that maybe it was a different type of dofu. I said I didn't think so but I would try it. With a quick scoop of a chopstick I inserted it into my mouth and swallowed. I did not want to know what it tasted like. At this point a friend of ours from the Hopkins center came in and looked at our table, turned to me and said, "Do you know what you're eating?" And I said I am afraid so. I didn't eat much more. I picked out the dofu but I was already turned off from the whole dining experience. That was nearly two months ago. I've come along way. Look I'm even talking about it. I still shudder when I pass the tubs with the Duck's blood in the market but soon I will be able to stand proud and get a T-shirt that says I tried Duck's Blood. Okay, probably not.
Banquets: Bai Jiu Bai Jiu Bai Jiu
Banquets in China are great, particularly if you are male. You get first dibs on the food and you are expected to eat for the entire length of the banquet, which could be over two hours. You are also supposed to drink from the time you sit down until the time you hobble away from the table. What do you drink? Rice Wine---Bai Jiuâ¦.it tastes slightly better than rubbing alcohol and is sooooo potent that the glasses look like thimbles. But it is proper etiquette if you are a man at a banquet that you drink, especially if you are the guest. My initial intake was quite low. I could barely take back half a thimble. But in time I grewâ¦I excelled and I am now at a record 5 or 7â¦.both Kasia and I lost countâ¦me because of the alcohol and Kasia because she was too busy laughing at me. We were bombarded with banquets like wild fire at the beginning of the year, averaging two banquets or free meals twice a week for the first four. Now there has been a lull. But with Andrew and Jim coming in January we expect we may get to attend a few more:^) The thing to remember about a Chinese banquet is that there is going to be more food served than you would ever imagine. Before a banquet it is good to fast. Don't have lunch. Don't have dinner the night before. Just don't eat. Then, when at the banquet it is necessary to pace yourself. We made the amateur mistake at the beginning of diving in once the table was filled with dishes. BIG MISTAKE. Once a dish is emptied, three more are put out to replace it. The only time you know you are in the clear is when the fruit is served. This became a signal to Kasia and I because we would be so full yet the fruit would be no where in sight. Once you see that, though, you are safe.
Shopping: A Self-Esteem Check
I will make this brief but shopping can be traumatic if you are not prepared for it. In this instance I refer to store or department store shopping, which I have had to do because I did not bring enough warm clothing. I am an average size guy, typically wearing mediums from most major clothing stores in the US (And I should know because I've worked clothing retail). But in China, I walk into a store and I am not even allowedâ¦I am serious here the saleswoman will not even allow me to look at anything under an XL. Some of this has to do with size differences but there are many Chinese youth who I pass daily who are a great deal larger than I am so I'm not so sure about this size theory. This has resulted in my getting some larger clothing and wasted, depressing afternoons of attempting to lift my spirits. But that is the only down side to shopping in China. Shopping on the street, at markets, anywhere is great fun because you are allowed to bargain and this is something I said I would never do but have grown accustomed to. After being asked to pay the most outrageous prices for things I have turned to bargaining. I can now do this in Chinese instead of with the calculator game which helps but still does not give me the Chinese advantage. I will always pay more for things because I am a foreigner. And I am okay with that but I will not pay 140 Yuan for a teapot that is not worth even 30. (Yes, these are actually numbersâ¦the man asked for 140 for a teapot, I told him 20, he raised his hands in the air, I walked away, within seconds he had called me back and was wrapping the teapot, purchased for 20 Yuan, still too much but I wouldn't do much better .) I've become harsher with bargainingâ¦I think it has to do with my love of shopping and getting a good deal. This has led me to create my teapot collection which I will add to every time I travel. I am up to 6 really awesome teapots. And the year isn't even half-way over.
A brief play by me entitled "Doctor Doctor" based upon my visit to the doctor's office:
Me: (hack hack hack) I am coughing all the time, my chest hurts, and I am having difficulty breathing.
Doctor: What color?
Me: What color is what?
Doctor: The bleeding...fresh...old...
Me: No. Difficulty BREATHING....
Doctor: OH. Let me have a listen.
Few minutes later
Doctor: Have you be tested for TB?
Me: I don't have TB and I am sure I have been vaccinated.
Doctor: Well, I still want to rule it out. In China, TB has not been irradicated.
Me: (Flash to my hallway were the dirty, disgusting business men continually spit on the floor) Ugh.
Doctor: So we will do a PPD skin test. Is that okay?
Me: I guess so.
The insurance company worked really hard to help me find a doctor and they have been continually checking up on my to see if I am okay. It wasn't TB. It's probably just pollution or what foreigners kindly refer to a "China Cough."
Bicycles: A new way to ride
Before coming to China, the last time I had been on a bicycle was probably my sophomore yearâ¦.of high school. I was a little unsure after I saw all of the bike traffic but I figured I'd give it a go. I discovered that there is nothing more incredible than riding your bicycle in a bustling city. Particularly, a city that has special bike lanes, bike left hand turn lanes, and anything else you can imagine that could help you ride. I even have to pay to park my bike. It's only 2 Mao though (the are 10 Mao in 1 Yuan). I can't wait to get back to the States so I can go buy my own bicycle to use. Yeah.
An American Abroad
I wanted to briefly mention before I conclude (FINALLY) about what it has been like to be an American abroad when your country is at war. To tell you the truth, its not something I have thought to much about since the events of September 11. Kasia and I wrote an article for the Scarlet and Black and that can be viewed at: Scarlet and Black, Volume 118, Number 3, Sep 21, 2001, Opionion. Since that point though, I simply try and following the news. I definitely getting the feeling of belonging to the a country though. Something I had never really felt before. Here, I suddenly become the authority on America and their policies as though I am receiving some special news bulletins or something. Fortunately, I am usually just as ill-informed as the people who ask for my opinion so I get out without revealing much of anything. At times, that can be frustrating withholding your true thoughts and opinions but that's why there are two of us here. We are able to talk about all of this behind our closed doors. I knew before I left the States that things would be different upon my return. But I was a different that I thought I'd be semi-familiar with. When I return to the States this coming July, I will be entering a very different country from the one that I left and it will certainly take some adjusting to. But, I do still remain connected to many people back home, to help give me the Stateside perspective. But just like China, it's going to be one of those things I won't fully understand until I am in the heart of it.
Well, that's it. I'm done. Oh sure I could go on for pages more but for now I think that is plenty to take in. If you have any questions or desire to see pictures or anything, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
OKAY OKAY OKAY ZAIJIAN