Erika Doot was the Grinnell Corps Macao fellow for 2005-2006.
Erika Doot's Reports
Report 1Erika Doot
"Do you remember your first day in China?," a colleague teaching at another school asked me last week. After a few minutes, I clearly remember the first puzzle I faced when I arrived in China. My first morning in Shanghai at breakfast, I had to figure out how to shell and eat a hardboiled egg with chopsticks. I soon found out that this was a small challenge compared to those I would face in the coming days and weeks. When I arrived in Macao after spending three weeks in Shanghai, it seemed like "China-lite" because there are many more English language newspapers, menus, and speakers. Though I have been in Macao for more than nearly three months and I was in Shanghai for only three weeks, it has been more difficult to settle into a niche in Macao. I am definitely comfortable here but I have found it harder to find my place because there is such a mix of people and cultures. There are so many foreigners in Macao that my presence as a foreigner does not pigeonhole me into a certain role. While Macao is very easy to navigate physically, I have found that the mix of Eastern and Western traditions makes it quite difficult to navigate culturally.
First Weeks in China
Past Nanjing fellows have described how spending a week in Hong Kong before going to Nanjing has eased their transition into China. I had the opposite experience and absolutely loved it. Nanjing fellow Lara Galloway and I arrived in Shanghai at the end of July for a teacher training program. At first I thought that eating a hardboiled egg with chopsticks must be one of the most difficult challenges I would face, but then I had to cross the street. After living in Grinnell for four years, I got used to crossing the street without paying much attention. Crossing Yan Chang Lu outside of Shanghai University, on the other hand, is quite a challenge. The green light for pedestrians in Shanghai is not to be trusted and neither are the zooming cars with their blaring horns. One friend of mine called her mother and asked her to send a rosary; she wanted it specifically for safety while crossing the street! The fact that something as simple as crossing the street can be totally different calls attention to the fact that moving to China means a lot more than adapting to a different language system and different food. Moving to China has meant that I need to adapt to doing nearly everything in an entirely different way.
At the teacher training course in Shanghai, I got a crash-course in aspects of Chinese culture and learned techniques to use in ESL classrooms. I learned the basics of how to manage small group activities in an ESL classroom. I felt more prepared to deal with guanxi, the reciprocal exchange of favors between friends, and situations involving face and potentially the loss of face. I had a great time exploring Shanghai-I am convinced that I found the best dumpling stand in the city. I ate dumplings from the same place every day because they are indescribably delicious!
Life in Macao
After three weeks in Shanghai, I was itching to discover Macao. I arrived in Macao on a rainy night and felt like a superstar. I didn't have to wait in line to go through customs, Candy from international affairs was waiting for me with a sign with my name on it (wow!), and a black Mercedes was waiting for us right in front of the airport. Actually, there is an interesting reason that people rarely wait in line to go through customs in Macao; most passengers connect to Taiwan because no planes fly directly from China to Taiwan. Candy and I went to my apartment, where I met my roommate, Fang Quan. I found out that my roommate was leaving for Beijing the following morning, so I decided to ask her all of the important questions that I could think of. The first thing I asked her was, "How do you use the hot water?" She proceeded to turn on the faucet, which made me feel pretty silly. But, I did manage to learn where to take the garbage and how to avoid locking her inside of the apartment!
The next morning I realized that I had no idea where I live. I decided to go down to the street with a map and I walked around the block and managed to easily figure out where my apartment is located. So, I decided to trek over to Taipa village, which was on the other side of Taipa Island on my map. When I arrived at Taipa village less than ten minutes later, I realized how small Macao really is. I had a chance to see the weekend flea market in Taipa village, where you can buy everything from socks to jade monkeys. I began to enjoy Macao right away and I have had a chance to visit temples, churches, and beaches. Even though Macao is tiny, there are many things I have yet to discover!
Many of the great things one can discover in Macao are quite delicious. I can't say enough about how good the food is in Macao. On my block alone there is quite a variety of restaurants-Chinese, French, Indian, Macanese, Nepalese, Portuguese, Taiwanese and I couldn't forget the pizza place. The amazing variety of restaurants in Macao reflects the variety of people and cultures here. Macao is famous throughout China for its dim sum, and Mary (head of the international affairs office) treated us to a tasty array of snacks shortly after we arrived. Carl and I have fun going to eat late night dim sum with friends who work at MUST. While most teachers I know who work in China regularly crave a decent cup of coffee, Macao is full of cafes to relax in. Candy from the international office, a Macao native, has shown me some great restaurants in Macao. Candy introduced me to a Burmese restaurant in the crowded center of Macao where I go to slurp noodles at least once a week. I was hesitant to try the street stall food in Macao at first, but she pushed me to try some and now I love it. I usually choose broccoli, shitake mushrooms, and dough balls filled with crab roe. The vendor puts your choice of food into boiling brown juices next to floating intestines and liver. A few minutes later when it is ready, you can add mustard or spicy sauce to your chosen mix.
While the food and my surroundings have been very easy to adapt to, I am still learning to adapt to two especially difficult aspects of life in Macao. One very difficult thing to adapt to is the constant noisiness of Macao. Macao has been developing very rapidly since it became part of China in 1999, and the constant construction noise disrupts my sleep in the morning and my focus during classes. During my first month in Macao I experienced headaches like never before, and I am pretty sure that was due to the construction noise. When the construction noise finally quiets, car alarms and even a pack of wild dogs manage to keep me awake at night!
Another very difficult thing to adapt to is language in Macao. First of all, it is easy enough to get by in Macao using only English. My French and Spanish language experience makes it easy for me to read signs and documents in Portuguese, which remains an official language in Macao. I have a strong desire to learn Chinese, but all of my colleagues at MUST speak Mandarin while everyone in the street speaks Cantonese. I am very excited that I can finally easily distinguish Mandarin from Cantonese. But, when I learned languages in the past, it was crucial for me to practice in the street and I do not have many opportunities to speak Mandarin with strangers.
Work in Macao
The most challenging part of my life in Macao thus far has been teaching. I teach eight classes per week that are two hours long. Most of my classes have at least 35 students, so I teach over 250 students. Though I recognize all of my students, I can't remember many of their names. I teach two different levels of required oral English, level one and level three. My level one class focuses on speaking English in everyday situations-asking and giving directions, advice, opinions and so on. My level one students are first semester freshman with lots of energy, and my three level one classes are quite enjoyable. My level three class focuses on public speaking techniques-nonverbal communication, effective structuring, and attention-getting techniques. My level three students are second and third year students hoping to complete their last semester of oral English. My five level three classes are less excited about the material, which is frustrating at times but also pushes me to work harder.
I think there are advantages and disadvantages to having a curriculum set by MUST. I have more direction so planning my classes is not difficult per se, but it can be difficult to make the material excite my students. As of late, I have been trying to find more supplementary materials to make the students interested in the lessons in our books. English corner is a more relaxed and fun atmosphere to help students with their English. A few weeks ago we all enjoyed a barbecue at the black sand beach on nearby Coloane Island. I am very excited that we will be watching I, Robot during English Corner this week.
The work environment at MUST is easygoing so it is pleasant place to work. Carl and I share an office with 8 other teachers, which is fun, though sometimes I wish I had more privacy. I think that most workers at MUST would agree that we have too much paperwork to fill out. Two weeks ago, I wanted some folders and a box of pencils, so I went to office B102 where I was instructed to fill out an acquisition form. I was told that if the request is approved, I will receive my folders and box of pencils. I have yet to see any folders or pencils. While filling out so much paperwork is somewhat bothersome and seems overly bureaucratic, I do have access to almost anything I need for work. In addition, I have a great support system at work. There are a few foreign teachers who readily give us advice and have worked at MUST in past years. My main support for issues not related to the classroom comes from the international affairs office, which is staffed by Mary Tan and her secretary Candy. They not only help Carl and I with problems or questions we have, but we also have pizza sometimes on the weekend!
All in all, Macao is a very comfortable and interesting place to live. Many everyday challenges that seemed impossible at first now are no sweat. You use your hands to eat a hardboiled egg in China, not chopsticks! It is very easy now that I have figured it out, but it was a challenge at first. I am still trying to find my niche here in Macao because there are so many different overlapping cultures that the essence of the place seems impossible figure out. I feel like I am just starting to distinguish the many cultures here, and I need time to begin to navigate them and find out exactly where I fit in.
I welcome any questions or comments! My email address is still email@example.com. I love to send and receive mail-my mailing address is:
Erika Doot A408
Macao University of Science and Technology
Avenida Wai Long
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