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.
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.
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).
Still to come…
Being an English teacher
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).
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!
Even as I write this blog post, I can’t believe I only have one week left in China. There’s still so much I haven’t seen or done. Instead of dwelling on the wish-I-could’ves for this blog post I want to look back on all the things I have done!
1. I’ve traveled in 6 provinces through more than 10 cities and seen countless beautiful scenic spots and cultural landmarks.
2. I’ve tasted almost every kind of meat you can think of: beef, chicken, pork, fish, rabbit, pigeon, goose, duck, yak, mutton, cat, dog, horse, bullfrog…and a lot of strange vegetables too.
3. I’ve mastered the “asian squat” …Anyone who’s used a squatty-potty knows what I’m talking about.
4. In addition to being able to read and write Chinese fairly well, I can ask for directions and understand them to some extent, order dinner or drinks, and casually converse with my teachers and roommate. On that note, I placed pretty well in a Chinese speech competition and performed a miniature play with my classmates.
5. I’ve pretty successfully taken care of myself living on my own in a foreign country for 1/3 of a year.
6. I successfully avoided dying in a tragic traffic accident! I know I’ve written about Chinese traffic before, but being one of three people jammed into the back of two-seater rickshaw (basically a motorcycle with a seating area strapped onto the back of it) has given me an entirely new perspective on the dangers of Chinese traffic.
7. I’ve made a lot of friends and memories I will never forget, and fallen in love with a foreign place and it’s people.
Compared with the first few entries I made on this blog, its hard to image myself as the same person who left America all those months ago. I still miss real American desserts (and good ol’ American cheese), though I found some pretty decent cookies at a bakery in Dali, and coffee has proved to be more readily available here than I though it would be, though it’s fairly expensive by Chinese standards. Despite all of this, I’ve found that I like eating giant family-style dishes made with questionable ingredients off of tiny dishes that have been washed and repackaged a thousand times by factories for use in restaurants. I even kind of like the terrible-tasting, cheap beer as long as I’m surrounded by good people.
One week left! Look forward to: final exam, closing ceremony, KTV, saying goodbye, and returning to ‘MERICA.
There are few things cuter than a chubby little Chinese baby so bundled up in poofy coats and pants they can hardly walk or put their arms down. At least, there would be few things cuter if that poor baby’s butt wasn’t hanging out of it’s “split pants”. Something I think I’ve yet to really touch on from my time in Shanghai (which is quickly coming to an end), is the prevalence of “split pants” on babies and toddlers in China. The idea itself is pretty practical, you know, split the baby’s pants down the behind and they can “go” whenever they need to, no problem. But in practice, this concept is slightly more than disturbing. You haven’t truly been weirded out by Chinese people until you see a grandma holding a little boy up over the gutter and poking at his bits and pieces to try and make him pee…or poop…or whatever she was going for. Its safe to say this is one Chinese custom I will never be used to.
A couple weeks ago, Alliance took us on a field trip to experience a bit of traditional Chinese medicine culture. A doctor specializing in Chinese medicine taught us about “balanced” bodies, meridians of energy within ourselves, hot and cold food and their effects on our bodies, and the differences between how Chinese and Western doctors examine and treat patients. Which was neat and all, but then we got to hit each other and needles were brought out, and that’s when the cool stuff started to happen. Apparently, in traditional Chinese medicine culture, if it hurts when you massage something, that’s great! Hit it harder and more often! I would not recommend a traditional Chinese massage. Those of you reading this that know me, know that my knees are…a bit odd. As in, they snap, crackle, and pop like rice crispies every time I bend. I chatted with the good doctor about my problem, and he did his best to fix it. By sticking a needle in my hand, in that fleshy place between your thumb and pointer finger, right where its joining the hand. I’m still not sure exactly how that was supposed to fix it, but I can say that acupuncture is weird. And a little painful.
Just over a week ago, Thanksgiving came and went in Shanghai without much fuss. Oh, other than meeting the boyfriend’s parents for the first time. In a foreign country. Which was pleasant! Not surprisingly (surprisingly?), they’re a lot like him. We took a jaunt out to an Italian restaurant downtown, ate pizza and pasta and gave thanks in the most out of the ordinary way I’ve ever done it.
With only a couple weeks left here in Shanghai, I’m half thankful its almost over and half depressed about it. I’ve said it before, but I like China so much more than I ever thought I would. The people are friendly, the scenery is beautiful, and the food is cheap. What more could a hungry Midwestern girl want? (cheese, cookies, and coffee, but you can’t be too picky, right?)