Caffeine, nuts, and sugar

For the National Holiday, I decided to go to Beijing. That’s right, I thought it would be a good idea to go to a city with a population that swells from 21 million to probably 30 million during the holiday. If you haven’t heard the Chinese phrase, “people mountain, people sea” then boy you are missing out (on nothing, because people mountain, people sea is the worst). I thought I knew what it meant, but I can’t say I truly understood until my trip to Beijing this year.

Getting off the train in Beijing, I flowed through the river of people straight into the people mountain, people sea of the metro. To be more accurate, the line to get to the line to get a ticket to get to the line to get on the metro. No, there are no typos in that sentence. I waited in a “line” about 200 people deep to get into a line about 30 people deep to get a ticket to squeeze myself onto the metro to my hostel. And I loved it.

Whaaaaaaat? That’s right, I loved it. I was in Beijing, I was on holiday, and I was meeting my friend Laine. No complaints. It was raining, the metro was crammed full of people (packed like a can of sardines? Is that a real saying? If so, it was), my backpack was heavy, but I was meeting my friend on holiday!! After a long month of figuring out how to be a teacher I could take it easy, I know how to be a traveler.

On the first night, Laine and I took it easy. We ate waffles and drank coffee, bargained for counterfeit goods at Yachow, had beers at my hostel, and met up with Laine’s roommate to go out to the clubs. Side note – upon returning to my hostel I found a Chinese guy sound asleep in my bed in the hostel dorm…a bed with my stuff on it, under it, and to which the corresponding locker was taken by me… So, at 2 am I took my pajamas from behind his sleeping head, turned on my flashlight and found my way to an only semi-disheveled looking free bed.

I spent my first full day in Beijing living it up the only way I know how, stuffing my face full of delicious food. I had another cup of honest-to-god real drip coffee, nice and black, ate a buttery croissant, and wandered some of Beijing’s famous hutongs taking pictures and searching for Mexican food. And boy, was I not let down – I had a giant burrito with (yes, real) avocado! That afternoon I met Laine and we wandered our way into Houhai for happy hour at a Rastafarian-themed rooftop bar for a beautiful blue-sky afternoon cocktail.

My third day in Beijing I spent with www.beijinghikers.com hiking the Great Wall Spur, a mountain-climb up to an unrestored, almost 100% tourist-free section of the Great Wall. It was actually magical – misty and sweaty and tough, but so worth it. It was truly a treat to feel so lonely on the Great Wall. My final day in Beijing I spent mostly bumming around, reading in cafes, drinking coffee, and chatting with people in my hostel. That evening I met up with Laine again for the Purple Toad Festival at Dusk Dawn Club where we relaxed and enjoyed some (actually good) Chinese beers and live music. A perfect end to my holiday, I returned home to the Shiz the following afternoon

Tea Party with the Party Secretary

Ok, so this is a late update, I get it…. Hop in your time machine and transport yourself back in time about a week and a half ago, trust me it’s worth it.

Right around 2:30 in the afternoon on a Monday, 15 minutes before my last class of the day, I received the following text message from my Foreign Affairs Office:

Allison, please come to our office as soon as you got my message. You don’t need to teach the last lesson. You need to come to a tea party held by the province government. Wear formal and you will leave school at 3:00 this afternoon.

    Grab yo’ official Seal of China stamped tickets

And that’s how I found myself invited to the swankiest Monday afternoon event in the province with 30 minutes to put on my “formal.” So, I rushed back to my apartment (at least a full 200 meters from my school building) to figure out what “formal” I brought with me and maybe put on some extra deodorant because you never know, right?

We (2 other foreign teachers and myself accompanied by a kindergarten teacher whose only job was to make sure we got there and got home…she wasn’t invited to the party) arrived at the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stepped foot inside in my life, received tickets, and were swept into a grand ballroom stuffed with big, round tables covered in snacks (mmm snacks…). After being served tea by a pretty waitress in an expensive-looking qipao, I took a look around the room. In addition to the 3 foreign teachers from my school, there were 2 other foreign teachers from another school and 1 other foreign dude in the room. So, naturally, I was feeling pretty full of myself. I was one of the select token white people in the room, what a coveted position.

        You can aaaaalllllmost see the Party Secretary giving a speech I understood very little of….

After a few minutes, a man stood up to say a few words in rapid Mandarin with a perfect Northern accent (arrrrrrrr). I’m pretty sure his entire speech was just an announcement that the Party Secretary of Hebei Province (where I live) would be giving a longer speech in equally rapid, perfect-Northen Mandarin. To put things in perspective, Xi Jinping, the President of China got his start in Zhengding, a small village just outside Shijiazhuang (where I live and where this whole shindig took place). So… In reality the speeches I understood very, very little of (something about raising the level of something, something about friends, something about China…and Hebei…and Shijiazhuang, and friends again!) were probably kind of important. But! After the speeches there was a selection of performances which I’m told reflect special art forms of Hebei province. My favorite would have to have been the sexy, dancing erhu players…. And there was also acrobats and Peking opera, I mean it was a tough choice to pick just one favorite. So, we enjoyed performances, ate snacks, drank tea, and the party ended abruptly when the songs were done. All in all, I give the event a 4 out of 5 stars (there could have been more snacks). 

gulou
gulou:

"In other words, Tohti was actually guilty of running what readers around the world would instantly recognize as a blog. To be more precise, it was what Internet scholars like Ethan Zuckerman call a ‘bridge blog,’ one devoted, in the words of Zuckerman, to ‘building connections between people from different cultures via … online work.’”
The punishment? A sentence of life in prison.
For more on the recent story of Ilham Tohti, and its implications, see David Wertime, “An Internet Where Nobody Says Anything: Ilham Tohti’s Sentence Shows a Dark Vision for the Web of the Future,” Tea Leaf Nation / China File (25 Sept 2014)
Image: Goh Chai Hin / AFP / Getty Images

This is really important. Not just because I wrote my entire senior thesis on the consequences of netizenship for democracy in China. But yes, also because of that. This is huge for the world and not in a good way if you’re into things like freedom. 

gulou:

"In other words, Tohti was actually guilty of running what readers around the world would instantly recognize as a blog. To be more precise, it was what Internet scholars like Ethan Zuckerman call a ‘bridge blog,’ one devoted, in the words of Zuckerman, to ‘building connections between people from different cultures via … online work.’”

The punishment? A sentence of life in prison.

For more on the recent story of Ilham Tohti, and its implications, see David Wertime, “An Internet Where Nobody Says Anything: Ilham Tohti’s Sentence Shows a Dark Vision for the Web of the Future,” Tea Leaf Nation / China File (25 Sept 2014)

Image: Goh Chai Hin / AFP / Getty Images

This is really important. Not just because I wrote my entire senior thesis on the consequences of netizenship for democracy in China. But yes, also because of that. This is huge for the world and not in a good way if you’re into things like freedom. 

That time I was a guest of honor at a Chinese wedding

Sunday morning, after a night of dancing my ass off like a real dickhead – that’s British for totally cool person who is not weird or lame or crazy at all – at Mazzo, I attended my first Chinese wedding. Hauling my hungover, post-3am-fried-chicken-run butt out of bed to make myself pretty was a real struggle but man am I glad I made somewhat of an effort. Upon squeezing myself into an overcrowded van with 3 kindergarten principals, 3 foreign teachers, 1 small child, and 1 driver I was informed that the other foreign teacher at the kindergarten, Courtney, and I would be presenting a gift to the bride and groom during the wedding ceremony – and, oh yeah, could we also give them a blessing in Chinese?

My first thought was, whelp, I really wish I had thought to bring a gift to this wedding. Thankfully, the gift had been prepared for us. My second thought was, whelp, I really wish I knew how to bless someone in Chinese. Luckily there was an overstuffed van full of Chinese teachers there to give me a crash course in wedding blessings! How lucky is that? So, we crawled out of the (again, too small) van into the (entirely too bright) sunlight to be met by the wedding party – have I mentioned that I had never met the couple getting married? Right, well, I’d never met the couple who were getting married, but they had been waiting on me and the other foreign teacher to arrive so that we could get pictures with the entire wedding party… I honestly have no idea how many times I’m going to be in their wedding album, but it’s a lot. So…. Yay!!!

After a quick few photos, we entered the (very, very fancy) hotel where the wedding was going to take place. The hallway to the ceremony ballroom was lined with cute/cheesy/amazing photos of the couple which was an entirely fitting way to enter into…. I don’t even know how to describe the room. The light was dim, there were lazers surrounding an elevated runway topped with lighted mushroom-umbrella structures. The room was packed to bursting with tables, at least 500 people attended the ceremony. There was a camera mounted to one of those mobile-elevated things you see at big football games that give you a better view of the action. The place was a spectacle! Completely amazing. Courtney, Dan (her boyfriend), and I were ushered to a place close to the stage (which was backed by a 20 ft-wide screen blasting romantic images like star-filled skies, hearts, rainbows, etc.).

To make a long story short, the ceremony consisted of confetti canons, a TV talk show host announcer blasting the vows out over a microphone, a very dramatic walk down the aisle to some intense classical music, tears, a video interview of the couple taken prior to the wedding describing why they think they’ll love each other forever, more tears, 2 awkward foreigners presenting a gift and mumbling some Chinese words, smoke machines, lazers, cameras, clapping, a 20 ft-wide screen projecting giant angel wings onto the happy couple, a meal that was more than 15 courses.

Basically this wedding was the greatest thing I have ever been and likely ever will be a part of. I give it a 10 out of 10. Amazing. 

Becoming one with “the Shiz”

I love my China life. It’s true, I love my China life and I don’t care who knows it. You know that scene in Anchorman when Ron Burgundy doesn’t have a mountain from which to shout about his love for Veronica, but he does have a camera and a news crew? Well, I don’t have a mountain but I do have a blog, so you can go ahead and witness me gush about how much I love my China life. 

In the 2 weeks that have passed since the first few days of classes I have figured out how to teach a room full of 60 kids with varying levels of success, unsuccessfully taught “The Ants Go Marching” to hundred of kindergartners, visited the village of Zhengding on a school publicity stunt/cultural outing (a TV camera crew followed the group of us foreign teachers as we were shuttled around the town of Zhengding), been visited by my close friend/sister Laine! who is studying in Beijing, been kicked out of a river by some fishermen, swam in a (possibly very polluted) lake in the middle of the night, sliced my toe open on a sharp rock in said lake, sliced the same toe open again on some broken class in a club, climbed a mountain in the rain with a group of Chinese English teachers and their kids, lounged at a rooftop spa sipping beer with a new friend, cooked a meal in my apartment, gone shopping and eating with my Chinese teacher, won a bunch of fake money at poker, attending a housewarming party, streamed college game day, and found my new favorite dumpling place. So yeah, I like who I am in China and I love my crazy, wonderful China life here in the Shiz. 

Now that I’m settled in (more or less), I’ll try to do a better job of writing more specifically about what I do here. Any potential TEFL teachers or perspective AYCers, stay tuned for a “day in the life” post — one thing I really wished that I’d had before coming to China to teach was an account of a normal day for an English teacher in China. Because, like, look what I’ve written above? Clearly I’m enjoying myself, but wouldn’t it be nice to know EXACTLY what you’d be doing if you came here to teach? Yeah, I thought so. So stick with me and it’ll come. 

The first days of classes…

I like who I am in China. This may seem unrelated to the first days of classes here in Shijiazhuang, so bear with me. I like who I am in China because I don’t feel the same pressures I do in America. In America there are times when I am very rigid. I like to make plans and to keep them. I don’t like when people fail to do what they say they will when they say they’ll do it. I like to live a fast-paced, organized life and it can be hard for me to change my hard-set feelings about things.

In China this all fades away. In China I know that to make plans is to ask for your plan to fall apart, so I don’t sweat it. I think, “Sure, it would be nice if everything went the way it was supposed to.” But it doesn’t bother me as much here when it doesn’t. Like, the bus to the airport is supposed to leave at 7:10 on the dot so that no one misses their flight? Oh, it’s alright if it leaves at 7:45. There will be other flights. We’re lost? That’s ok, we’ll find our way eventually. I have to pay 400 kuai for a medical exam and you don’t expect to reimburse me until about 4 months from now? That’s alright, getting that money back in four months will be like a nice bonus later this year.

In China I don’t feel the need to rush or cram or hurry or schedule every minute. So, when I was told that instead of teaching kindergarten I’m teaching mostly 5th and 6th grade with some kindergarten classes thrown in for good measure, that was alright with me. I would find a way to make that work. When I was told I only needed to observe classes for the first week of school I thought, “Alright, happy day!” And when I walked into my very first class ever to learn that the Chinese English teacher I was supposed to observe was not there that day and I would have to present a lesson on my own…. Well, then I’d just have to wing it.

In China there’s always a way. It might not be clear at first (or ever), but it all works out. It can only get better from here (and if we don’t get anywhere, here’s pretty good too).

Since arriving in China 9 days ago I have….

  1. Eaten soup for breakfast (with frequency)
  2. Been an amBOSSador
  3. Met a club promoter
  4. Not paid for alcohol
  5. Been in a cake fight at a club
  6. Bought “one of everything” at a McDonalds*
  7. Made Chinese friends over KTV
  8. Not paid for alcohol
  9. Passed (hopefully?) the TEFL exam
  10. Moved from Shanghai to Shijiazhuang
  11. Befriended a couple of Chinese college professors
  12. Gotten a Chinese physical**
  13. Discussed the pros and cons of various towel options with a Chinese saleswoman
  14. Made friends with the owners of the fried chicken shop across the street (hi, Candy!)
  15. Eaten chicken heart…on purpose
  16. Been gifted a lamb kabob by a 10 year old Chinese boy (thanks kid!)

  1. *there were only 3 available menu items
  2. **Chinese physicals are suuuuper invasive FYI….

Still to come…

Being an English teacher

My #AYC “hashtag” essay submission

#newfacesoldplaces

#willworkforfood 

Since packing my bags just over two years ago after spending four (of the somehow longest yet shortest) months of my life in Shanghai, I have been in a near constant state of scheming my way back to China. I could be an au pair, a grad student, a teacher, a street sweeper, an international (wo)man of mystery – it didn’t matter to me, I had to have my baozi fix, my jiaozi fix, those salty-oily-amazing “one of everything please” danbing… Xiaolongbao were calling my name. Biting into a fresh roujiamo was slowly working its way into my dreams… Don’t even talk to me about the eggplant. Seriously, eggplant, who knew you were so delicious? You are a consistently underrated vegetable. Full disclosure, I am not 600 pounds (but it sounds like I maybe could be, right?). #Sorrynotsorry, I just can’t help myself. I mean, would you look at this stuff?? Would ya just look at it??

Mapo Doufu, Yuxiang Qiezi, Gongbao Jiding on my 8/25/2014 return trip to Alliance Global Ed students’ preferred Sichuanese restaurant, PangGe, just outside Fudan U.

#ThanksAYC for bringing me back to China, now it’s my turn to give something back to the country that has given me so much (to eat).

The Layover

CMH-ATL-ICN-PVG

Everything was duty free and nothing hurt
I am: legend, groot, your father, duty free
Riding in cars with duty free saleswomen
When Harry met a duty free saleswoman

Clearly, arriving in Seoul after 20 or so cumulative travel hours has left me with many wit and much brainpower. So it seems like a good time to restart the blog.

Status: ICN smells like sweat, duty free perfume, and the distinct aroma of an Asian market’s mix of dried up critters that are sure to increase virility tenfold. Of the snacks that departed with me from Columbus, half a bag of peanuts and a five hour energy remain - the situation has become dire. In the jungle of duty free Fendi/Louis/Prada a lone cafe is spotted. I am parched. Stranded without Korean money, clearly the only solution is to buy “4000 units” of Korean currency worth of evian water on my BoA card with absolutely no idea what the conversion rates might be. Bold move. I HAVE NO IDEA WHATS GOING ON. This is compounded as I try to swerve around a Korean cultural center reenactment of some kind of royal family parade. It may be a duty free jungle/trap but ICN has style. Between the melatonin mixed with airplane coffee and perplexing lack of any actual night time atmospheres, my body is extremely confused. I’m probably tired?

Here’s hoping I don’t fall asleep in the terminal…

See ya soon Shanghai!