Writing and Teaching Update (or, What I do When I’m not Eating or Playing Sports

I know based on my last few post you’ve probably been thinking I’ve been only eating and playing. And while I have, no doubt, I’ve also been busy with writing and teaching.  In fact I’ve got a few exciting things to tell you.

Writing

First, I wrote a guest blog over at mytefl.net! It was originally going to be a post for this website about how I learn Chinese culture through my English class. One of the admins (or is he an editor? I’m not sure) asked me to submit a guest post for their site and I realized this post I had already written would be perfect for them.

So go check it out! It’s actually been edited for a change, so there shouldn’t be half as many grammar mistakes as you find on my blog. (Yes, I’m aware. No, I don’t care.) Teach in China: How to Really Learn the Culture

Also, speaking of writing, I have officially finished the second draft of my book. You know, the one I wrote in a mere 20 days. It took me 6 weeks to edit it into something slightly readable. The first draft was also 500 pages. I managed to cut it down to 425 pages and then somehow added another 25 pages. God, I’m a chatty bastard.

My second draft all printed up!

My second draft all printed up!

 

I have a few first-readers reading it now to give me feedback and I’m eager to start draft three! (I’m forcing myself to take a two week break from working on my book and it’s killing me. I had arranged everything in my week around writing, and now that I don’t have that anchor I feel adrift with my new free time.)

And, I (kinda) ended up in a magazine. We had a beach picnic a few weeks ago in request of a magazine. They wanted to take pictures of a “foreigners” picnic. We hung out in the beach, played frisbee and ate good food. All while being photographed. Well, the article finally came out, though I haven’t actually gotten my hands on a copy yet. They really featured my Spanish friend Ivan with his Spanish Omelettes.

The magazine me and my friends were in. Hopefully I'll get a copy to take a clearer picture and read the article!

The magazine me and my friends were in. Hopefully I’ll get a copy to take a clearer picture and read the article!

Teaching

The teaching side of things has been going well. Not one, but THREE classes chose me as their favorite teachers (out of all the teachers that teach them this year). It was a super nice honor, and totally unexpected.

IMG_8362

The funniest thing was these classes contacted me monday and required me to give them a little write-up about myself for the higher-ups. It’s not just like, “we like you,” but an actual official thing. On Wednesday I was told unexpectedly I had a meeting. I assumed that the meeting was in response to this “award” and it would be a little award ceremony.

In fact, before the meeting I complained loudly to some co-workers about the annoying ceremony that was going into all this. “They totally chinese-fied a nice sentiment from my students,” I complained.

Then I got to the office and it turned out to be a normal meeting about final exams and stuff. They never even mentioned my accolades and I’m not even sure they knew about it. So here I was annoyed by the unwanted attention, and then annoyed by the total lack of attention. Ha!

Also, thought I’d show this brief video. I gave the students a genre of music they weren’t familiar with such as dubstep, new age, jazz etc, and they had to prepare a fifteen-minute presentation introducing the style of music. This group got reggae as their genre.

That’s the big news these days but soon I’ll have even bigger news! I’ve done a few things that will come out next week or two weeks. So you have to wait to hear about them. So see? I’ve been a bit busy besides just hanging out and eating.

Okay, there's been a bit of relaxing on the beach as well...

Okay, there’s been a bit of relaxing on the beach as well…

 

 

Categories: China, Writing | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fat Life in Xiamen

So I wrote about the fit life in Xiamen and how my days are filled with sports and active things. And the logical conclusion to all of this is that I would be super skinny and fit. But that is not at all true because of the other half of my life.

I am fortunate enough to call some amazing people my friends. One is head pastry chef at a French patisserie. Another is a manager at a French bakery. A third imports fancy goods from Spain. Even my friends who aren’t working directly for food companies are foodies. (The benefits of having a mostly European and Chinese friend group.) In fact every week we have a homemade dinner at someone’s house where we eat like kings.

Clemente makes amazing cakes.

Clemente makes amazing cakes.

My friend Adam. When I want something he saves it for me because they sell out often. So yeah, I got a bread guy. This is a fresh baquette just out of the over. I tore into it right then and the crust was crisp while the inside was all warm and soft.

My friend Adam at his bakery. When I want something he saves it for me because they sell out often. So yeah, I got a bread guy. This is a fresh baquette just out of the over. I tore into it right then and the crust was crisp while the inside was all warm and soft.

A recent beach picnic. We had potato salad, baguettes, spanish omelettes, veggie and chicken skewers and small cakes for dessert.

A recent beach picnic. We had potato salad, baguettes, spanish omelettes, veggie and chicken skewers and small cakes for dessert.

Spanish sauage, ham and cheese with fresh french bread and chinese tomatoes.

Spanish sausage, ham and cheese with fresh french bread and Chinese tomatoes. This was just the appetizer to dinner….

...then this was our dessert.

…then this was our dessert.

I guess you could say we play hard and eat harder. (Not a lot of working hard, which is okay by me.) Birthdays are celebrated by 30 people for dinner, and frisbee practice is followed by a European sandwich with ham, dijon mustard on a fresh baguette. Even my neighbor Will regularly makes homemade pizza and invites me over for a piece or two (or three or four or five.)

Rebecca and I after frisbee practice visiting out friend and rewarding ourselves with a delicious sandwich.

Rebecca and I after frisbee practice visiting out friend and rewarding ourselves with a delicious sandwich.

Homemade Pizza! *drool*

Homemade Pizza! *drool*

Also, we go out to eat a lot. Xiamen has a much better foreign food scene than Hangzhou with dozens of foreign restaurants owned and operated by foreigners. Not the usual “foreign style” food but legit amazing foreign food at very reasonable prices.

Last Monday found us at the F Bistro, and amazing French restaurant where we got the steak tartare. Other recent international places have been Indian, Greek, American and German.

Last Monday found us at the F Bistro, and amazing French restaurant where we got the steak tartare. Other recent international places have been Indian, Greek, American and German.

Add that with the fact I still write 3 days a week, at cafe’s, where I have some food or snacks, and you’ll see why I’m not losing weight at all despite being so active. But you won’t hear me complaining! Not while there are baguettes, sausages and cakes to be eaten!

Categories: China, Chinese Food | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Fitter Life in China (With my Xiaomi Fitness Bracelet)

A few months ago I wrote a blog entry about getting fit in China. How living in China has made me healthier than I ever was in America and how easy it was to walk 10,000 steps a day.

10,000? Now that seems adorable to me. Soon after I wrote that article my $100 fitbit bracelet broke. (The charging part broke and since I’m in China I can’t replace it.) But I ended up with something better: Xiaomi fitness bracelet.

Most people go out to eat and party on a friday night. Us? We hike a mountain in the dark. (And then go drinking after.)

Most people go out to eat and party on a friday night. Us? We hike a mountain in the dark. (And then go drinking after.)

Xiaomi is a Chinese company taking the Chinese technology market by storm. (They aren’t available in America yet, but maybe soon will be.) They take the most popular products (iphones, fitbit, goPro cameras) improve them, and slash the price. For example? The xiaomi bracelet has more features than the fitbit and costs a mere $13. At that price it can break every other month and still be cheaper than the fitbit.

Still afraid of re-hurting my calf muscle I sit out playing Ultimate frisbee but go every week and throw.

Still afraid of re-hurting my calf muscle I sit out playing Ultimate frisbee but go every week and throw.

One of the best features of the Xioami bracelet is you can connect it to Wechat. Every night, around 10:30, it sends out a message on your wechat showing you how many steps your friends have taken. My friends are very active, and many of us have these bracelets. Competition, especially such a public display, is the best motivator.

Just a recent example. I'm not even in the top four despite walking an average of 14,000 steps a day.

Just a recent example of my friends totals. That’s me at number 5 despite a high step count.

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Me and Rebecca showing off our frisbee jersey’s at frisbee practice. (We have almost the same name and almost the same number! No, we didn’t plan it.) If you look close you will see we both have black bracelets. That’s our xiaomi bracelets. In fact, if you look close at many of my pictures with friends you will see they have xiaomi bracelets too.

And my friends are monsters! I’ve been a bit quiet on my blog recently because I’ve been just too damn busy to write. We have a weekly activity schedule that includes two nights of badminton a week, hiking, beach parties and picnics, homemade dinners, paddle boarding, archery and frisbee. Not in a month, weekly.

Badminton is my new favorite sport!

Badminton is my new favorite sport!

With this type of schedule I barely have to try for 10,000 steps. In fact, I’m on a role. I have met my goal 50 days in a row. My average is 14,000 steps a day (which is 10 kilometers or about 6.2 miles per day). And compared to my friends I’m super lazy. On my nightly update I am usually 4th or 5th with my friends getting 25,000+ steps! (That’s more than 10 miles walked in a day.) One friend got tired of always being so low on the list he started running at night and now he regularly beats me.

Even when we have a big party we do something active like batting cages.

Even when we have a big party we do something active like batting cages.

I even went out and bought sports clothes! I was doing all these sports in my regular clothes, jeans, khaki’s etc. But playing badminton in jeans just ain’t cool. So now I own sweat wicking shirts, fancy leggings and speedy shorts. Soooooo much better. (In fact I’m thinking of wearing the sweat-wicking shirts to class in the summer when it gets hot. Better than wearing sweat-soaked shirts like usual.)

Actually, I’ve been getting mistaken for a jock more and more. At the Xiamen frisbee tournament last fall (Which I sat out due to being unable to walk, much less run, with my torn calf muscle) two, count ‘em, TWO people asked me a question about frisbee strategy and play. When I answered “beats me,” they both looked at me and said “but aren’t you an expert player?” Other people have (mistakenly) asked me to join teams and stuff thinking I will help them. This is an unbelievable thing for a book-ish nerd like myself. And once they get to know me, or actually watch me play, they get over that notion pretty quick. But still, I’m pretty psyched people think I’m sporty if even just for a moment.

So it would stand to reason that with all this activity I’d be super fit and skinny now, right? Well, no. And that’s due to the other activities I do when I’m not playing sports. You’ll have to wait for my next blog post for that!

Not just life in Xiamen is active, but even when I travel I now end up doing some sports (like frisbee in the park during a recent weekend trip to Shenzhen.)

Not just life in Xiamen is active, but even when I travel I now end up doing some sports (like frisbee in the park during a recent weekend trip to Shenzhen.)

 

Categories: China | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Let’s Get Something Straight (aka: what I like about China)

When Fran and Christy came back, Fran picked me up in her fancy car. Not bad.

I smile a lot. And not just for the camera, but everyday. I like living in China, so suck it haters! 

So, just for the record, I want to get something off my chest.

I tend to be a positive person. My general life philosophy is keep the good things close, and ruthlessly cut out the bad. (I’m said I’m positive, not kind-hearted.) I maintain this attitude in all aspects of life: guys, job, hobbies, friends. And China.

Look, I like living in China. I like talking about China and I like to show the more positive side of things. This has led some people thinking I’m naive or a wumao. But I’m not. I live here, remember? I deal with the pollution, the spitting, the shitting and pissing on the streets. I deal with VPN’s to get unblocked internet and try to find open websites for my students to use. I see people shooting disgusting snot rockets at the bus stop and I walk over piles of garbage everyday.

I’ve seen the documentaries on the poorest of the poor, I know about Xi Jinping’s corruption crack-down. You don’t need to send me links to articles about Tiananmen Square, the pollution, or how some rich guy knocked down and killed a police officer who stopped him for speeding. By the time you read about something in the New York Times, I’ve probably not only heard about it from multiple sources, but I’ve lived with it. (We have news here too you know.)

Buses in Xiamen are rarely emoty though. This is the same bus, the same day, only 2 stops later...

The bus. Not during rush hour, or a holiday. During off-peak “slow” times. Everyday it is like this. You know that “inhumane” one-child policy western media rails against all the time? It’s not as black and white as you might think. 

There are so many problems here (as everywhere). I just don’t see the need to talk about it. If you want to find the negative articles about China, about the pollution, the worrying economy or crack-down on dissidents, there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of sources on that. It seems like not one news article can be written in a Western newspaper without at least one sentence on Tiananmen.

What there isn’t a lot of is sources for more positive stories about China. Stories of everyday life. Of the wonders and oddities of the country seen through, not a critical, glaring eye, but a positive and open eye. Stories of dating Chinese men, trying new food, seeing new things and struggling with the language. That’s the hole I’m trying to fill.

So have I “drank the kool-aid?” Well, if drinking the kool-aid means that I judge a country based on the people and the culture I have experienced rather than the actions or policies of the government, then yes. I have. I don’t want people to judge me as an American based on what our congress is doing, or what Americans have done in the past. And I’m not going to do that in China.

It doesn’t mean everything is coated in a Pollyanna sheen. I complain and get frustrated regularly. (I’m working on an article about the pollution right now.) But it’s not something I focus on, or want to focus on. Deal with it.

Becky out.

 

Categories: China, Dating, Learning Chinese, Traveling | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Forget Big Brother, Little Sister is Watching

It’s no secret that in China is a bit of a police state.More than 2 million people monitor online activity and block all mention of sensitive topics and forbidden language. People who speak out against the government are silenced, and foreigners are warned to not discuss “the three T’s.” (Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen Square.) This fear, of big brother watching our every move, has led to many rumors in the foreign community. Rumors of phones being tapped, hidden cameras in apartments and a “party monitor” in every class (a student who reports directly to The Party Director any inappropriate behavior done by the teacher.)

I know this isn’t true. I’ve talked about Tibet independence, shown “tank man” and spent two weeks talking about sex with hundreds of students and never got in trouble. China is a huge country. Even with 2 million workers trying to control just the internet, information still gets out.

But there is a dark sinister force watching my every move. A million eyes in the alleys and dark corners watching and reporting on everything I do. That force? Students.

Here’s an example. The other day, on my 30 minute break between classes, I went outside to munch an apple and read a book. Nothing thrilling. And then I got this picture sent to me:

This student was far away and still noticed me and thought to take a picture to show me. A bit creepy, but I'm used to it after so long.

That tiny figure is me. Little sister is watching, indeed.

Foreigners stick out in China. And student love to see us, and tell us what they have seen other teachers doing. I used to get updates of all the activities of my former co-workers. When they were seen at McDonalds, Walmart, eating outside the school gate I heard all the gory details.”She was eating a hamburger!” “He was with a sexy girl,” and “She buys the same shampoo as I.”

And no embarrassing moment is spared. The “excitement” of seeing a foreigner out in the wild, overrides propriety.

“I just saw Angus at the cafeteria,” one student wrote to me. “The workers weren’t paying attention to him and he was too shy to say anything so he was just standing there.”

“Did you help him?” I asked.

“No.”

Because I’m so connected to Chinese social media, I see a lot of what students write. I see what the other foreign teachers are doing, even seeing their blackboards in some instances, and I know way too much from haircuts to outfits.

“He is much more handsome!” said several students every time my co-worker Iain got his hair cut. (Now Iain is growing his hair out and several students also remark on how it is not as handsome as before, ha!)

Sometimes I'll make a comment about something one of my co=workers did in class and I'll sometimes freak them out. "How did you know, I literally did that 10 minutes ago!" It's because I've seen it on  social media.

Sometimes I’ll make a comment about something one of my co-workers did in class and I’ll sometimes freak them out. “How did you know, I literally did that 10 minutes ago!” It’s because I’ve seen it on social media. The students are never shy about sharing what we do in class. 

And not only is our every action being reported to our students, but a wider audience pays attention as well.

“Long xiao bing?” a boy said to me while we both got off a bus. I looked at him and he was definitely not a student. And he called me by my chinese name. How did he know that?

“Wo zhi dao le ne?” I asked. Do I know you?

“No,” he said. “But I know you!”

It’s creepy for sure. But after all this time it’s a creepy I’m used to. No one means the spying and gossip maliciously. They don’t mean to embarrass us or make us feel stupid. (That’s an unintended affect.) They are just genuinely curious and interested in our behavior inside and outside the classroom. Like seeing a panda in the wild after only seeing them in zoo’s before.

 

 

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

The Pressures of a Culture Not Your Own

Living in another culture makes you change more than just your habits.

Living in another culture makes you change more than just your habits.

Because I’m a foreigner living in China, people often say how lucky I am to not be chinese. They don’t mean it in a negative way, but usually when some pressure is building and they don’t like it. Like, pressure to get married.

“You’re so lucky to not be Chinese. I’m only 25 but my parents are already giving me so much pressure to get married and have a baby.”

Or

“You don’t have a car? Oh, your so lucky to not be Chinese. I need to buy a car before I can find a girl willing to marry me.”

As a foreigner I don’t need to abide by customary rules here. I can stick my chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice, disrespect elders, not eat all of the food given to me at a banquet, give a clock as a gift and all that rudeness will be forgotten with a simple “she’s a foreigner, she doesn’t know.”

And I have said it many times, especially in regards to marriage and filial piety. Many of my friends and students are miserable in their life choices, but it pleases their parents so they continue. “Glad I’m not Chinese!” I told my gay friend when he said he would marry a girl rather than come out to his parents.

But do I really escape the pressures of Chinese culture? The answer is no. Maybe I din’t have as much pressures, but living in a culture, and taking the time to understand it, kind of adds pressures that you never expected to crumble under.

I remember, even in the beginning when I knew very little of China, my ex would carry the bags after shopping. In China the men always carry bags, from shopping to purses. My ex fell under that pressure pretty quickly, because if people saw us walking, him with no bags and me with one or two, they would clearly disapprove. “What’s wrong with him?” you could hear them thinking. So he would carry the bags.

Or my age. In Hangzhou, I started lying about my age. Because the aunties on the street who would talk to me made a big deal out of me being over 30 and not married. I’d have to sit through conversation after conversation about all the single guys they knew who I could marry. (In China, being over 30 and not married is culturally verboten. You are seen as a freak or something is “wrong” with you.)

I find myself falling into this mind frame more than I’d like to admit. When I meet a single guy over the age of 28 I’m always on alert. “What’s wrong with him?” I find myself thinking. Cause if he was normal and cool and funny, he would have been married off long before.

But I hate that way of thinking! And kick myself every time I do it. Maybe the guy just likes freedom, maybe he is fighting his own culture wars and insisting that he does things in life in his own terms. I should be giving him the benefit of the doubt, but usually my first thought is suspicion.

And I’m not the only one. Recently Jocelyn over at Speaking of China wrote how the fact that she didn’t have a car to drive home for Spring Festival brought her to tears. She’s American and in America, owning a car is not at all a big deal. If you had to take a plane, or train back home for Christmas and had your parents pick you up at the station, not a problem. No one would think less of you. But in China, car ownership is a bigger deal. It’s a sign of success. Or if you don’t have one, it is seen as a sign of failure. And her reaction, her tears and frustration, was a reaction to culture pressures. Chinese culture pressures. I don’t blame her at all because I know how she feels.

Even the different local cultures affects me. In Hangzhou, on the bus, people were very stingy with giving up their seat on the bus. Only for a very decrepit person who could barely walk, would they do it. As a result, I found myself being stingy too. But here in Xiamen it is totally different. People pop up to someone with even a hint of age. Children as old as 10 gets seats immediately (even though many times they don’t want to sit.) People here are much more generous with seats on a bus, and as a result, I am too.

And I find myself admiring friends who buck convention. Like the couple where the woman is older than the man (crazy in China) or my friend who is mid-30’s and still single by choice. Or anyone who is divorced. I really admire them because I know how hard it is. And how much shit they have to deal with on a daily basis from a culture that dissaproves of their actions.

I’ll admit that part of the freedom of traveling is not being constrained by the rules of culture. There is a freedom of coming to a new place and just kind of blundering your way through things. But as you get more involved, and as you get a deeper understanding, things change. You slowly, and almost unconsciously, begin to adopt the unwritten rules of the culture you are living in. It’s not good or bad. It just is.

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

The Oldest Piece of Clothing I Use Everyday

Let’s get into the “way back ” machine.

The year is 1996. I’m a mere sophomore in college, on a European backpacking adventure with my college roommate Amy. There have been three Wallace and Gromit short films, stop-motion animation done by a Aaardman Animation, a studio based in England. They aren’t very popular in America, but as a film major, specializing in animation, I had seen and loved all the animated shorts. I was a HUGE Wallace and Gromit fan and happy to discover all sorts of Wallace and Gromit merchandise while traveling in England.

I bought a black shirt with Gromit in a yellow rainslicker. (From the short The Wrong Trousers.) That was almost 20 years ago. It’s now lying on my bed next to me as I type this. This shirt has outlasted my marriage, traveled to more than 20 countries, and helps me sleep at night.

In 1996, the shirt, my friend Amy and I got free champagne from the gondolier as it was his birthday. He was drunk as a skunk and crooned us all kinds of songs as we paddled around the canals.

In 1996, the shirt, my friend Amy and I got free champagne from the gondolier in Venice as it was his birthday. He was drunk as a skunk and crooned us all kinds of songs as we paddled around the canals.

I don’t know quite why this shirt survived so long. It’s not especially attractive or high quality. It’s compact, and I love the picture which might be one of the reasons it came with me when I traveled around the world in 1999-2000.

Me and my shirt painting a didgeridoo in the Australian outback in the year 1999 or 2000.

Me and my shirt painting a didgeridoo in the Australian outback in the year 1999.

It was one of the items of clothing I had washed in Indonesia in the year 2000. To make sure the clothes didn’t get mixed up, the washer woman put a small colored thread in each item of clothing to mark the owner. That thread is still in the shirt 15 years later.

The piece of thread identifying the clothes as mine.

The piece of thread identifying the clothes as mine.

 

As time went by it got thinner and softer. I have trouble sleeping when there is any light in the room, and I don’t like sleeping masks. One morning, as the rising sun began to trickle into my bedroom, I reached out for a shirt, grabbed this one, and covered my eyes with it. A habit was born and in 2005, long after it was no longer wearable, the shirt came with me to China to help keep the light out of my eyes.

The shirt now.

The shirt now.

I haven’t worn it in years, but I use it daily. I don’t need to use this shirt to cover my eyes, but I prefer it over others. And it has become a sort of trigger to tell me it is time to sleep. (I wouldn’t go as far to say it has become a security blanket, I don’t bring it with me when I travel and I sleep just fine. But it does make me feel better when I have it.)

What the oldest piece of clothing you still have?

Categories: China, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Expat Life of Constant Goodbyes

Toi Anite, On ne t'oubliera jamais.

Toi Anite, On ne t’oubliera jamais.

Being an expat means your group of friends is constantly revolving. Being an English teacher means July is filled with tears and goodbyes and September is filled with hello’s. But in Xiamen, my friend circle includes more that just teachers which means they can leave at any time of the year.

The latest casualty is my friend Anite. I met her a few months after I first arrived at frisbee. She and some of her other friends were the ones who invited me to archery, fun parties with homemade food and night hikes. Since I started hanging out with her I have explored new parts of Xiamen, and made friends with a whole new group of people. She’s French and was in China for two years on a work program set-up by the french government. Her program just ended and Saturday night we had a big part at the batting cages to say goodbye. Sniff. Sniff.

About 50 people gathered Saturday at the batting cages to say goodbye to Anite.

About 50 people gathered Saturday at the batting cages to say goodbye to Anite. Not pictured: batting cages.

This constant saying goodbye to people quickly becomes a part of an expat’s life. And as a result I think it makes all of us a bit more zen about relationships. When you meet someone you kinda never know how long you will be friends with them. Perhaps just for 6-months, like Anite and I. Or perhaps 4 years, like a former co-worker of mine from Lin’an, who is now in Xiamen with me. The point is, you never know.

As a result, I think expats form a different kind of friendship than other people. You learn quickly to just open yourself up to a new person. Back at home friendships start slow. It’s hard to break into a group of established people and things start slowly. A few chance meetings, then maybe a coffee or occasional lunch and then regular chatting and hanging out. But with expats I feel like the whole process is condensed.

You open yourself up quicker. You forgo the usual waiting periods of propriety and start inviting them to do things right away. The normal questions, such as “what do you do?” are replaced with asking about where they are from and how long they have been in China. Truth is I had no idea what Anite did until after her final day. She told me she had her last day at work and I was like, “wait, what do you do?” In almost 6-months it had just never come up. We were too busy just being friends and doing fun things.

Anite was one of the ones to invite me to do fun things like archery. She was pretty bad ass at it too.

Anite was one of the ones to invite me to do fun things like archery. She was pretty bad ass at it too.

I guess you could say being an expat has made me much more Buddhist. Don’t be sad about the past and miss all the people you met, don’t fret about the future and all the people you will have to say goodbye to. Just pay attention to the now. Don’t be shy or coy or you might miss an opportunity for a great friendship, no matter how short. After all, that’s what most travelers and expats look for, right? Change, experience, seeing the world and meeting the people in it. Goodbyes are a big part of that.

So bye Anite. I’m really sad that you are leaving. But I’m even more happy that we met.

Xiamen life

Categories: China, Traveling, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

My Chinese Students Draw Themselves

Like most things in China, getting your schedule and class list is a last minute thing. Despite it being prepared months ago, I didn’t get my schedule until three days before class started. And I only got it that early because I bugged as many people as I could. (If I didn’t bother anyone with several e-mails I would have gotten my schedule the morning before class started. Sigh.)

Even after the first week of class I still haven’t gotten a class list. Something about it not even being in the computer system. But I’m required to take attendance everyday. So what to do?

I gave my students a piece of paper and told them to write down their name and student number. Then I gave them three minutes and said “draw a picture of yourself.”

I was curious to see how they would react to it. They don’t do things like that in class here. And I was afraid if I gave them too much time, like 5 minutes, they would take out their phones and copy a picture from the internet. I’ll admit I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

Some students had some trouble with it:

Three tries, obviously not happy with it.

Three tries, obviously not happy with it.

First was realism. Then minimalism.

First was realism. Then minimalism.

Perhaps a bit too shy to go for it.

Perhaps a bit too shy to go for it.

I like to think the expression on this face was the students feeling of frustration of drawing.

I like to think the expression on this face was the students feeling of frustration of drawing.

But some students just went for it. Even though they giggled at how bad their drawing were, and they tried to shy away from me in embarrassment when I collected them, I think they did a great job and I saw their unique styles shine through.

Teaching English

Teaching English

Teaching English

Teaching English

Teaching English

Teaching English

Teaching English

I got the idea from a Lynda Barry book called Syllabus. The book is her class syllabus for when she taught writing. The book has a ton of ideas for sparking creativity and I’m going to try to sneak some into class this semester. These students aren’t used to foreign teachers, and our “wacky” teaching styles. They were a tough nut to crack last semester (especially compared to my babies from last year). But I think after one semester I’ve broken them in a little and they feel a bit safer doing unusual things and saying unusual things.

I’ll let you know in 15 weeks how my grand scheme worked out.

 

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Lantern Festival: Such a Pretty Name for Such a Loud Day

The Spring Festival holiday officially ends on the 15th day of the lunar new year, with the Lantern Festival. This is a day when you look at beautiful lanterns, answer some riddles written on lanterns and eat a special food called tang yuan.

And oh yeah, fireworks.

I think y’all know by now how much I hate fireworks. I’ve been complaining about them since my first Spring Festival in China. Miraculously, this year in Xiamen, it wasn’t so bad! Sure, there was a barrage on New Years Eve at midnight, but I was up and everyone went to watch them. There were a few the next day, but aside from some asshole setting out 3 loud fireworks, every 10 minutes at 1am one night (ensuring you got no sleep), it was a quiet Spring Festival.

But today, during Lantern Festival, the world outside was exploding. I was trying to teach class and had to talk over the constant barrage of firecrackers somewhere in town. When class ended, the fireworks were still going off. I went back to my room and tried to watch an episode of House of Cards but the fireworks were too distracting. I looked, and saw smoke not too far away, and thought I should go look.

“But when I get out there I’m sure they’ll stop,” I thought to myself. 5 minutes….10 minutes….15 minutes later they were still going strong. At 20 minutes I paused Netflix, grabbed my shoes and headed out to see what was going on.

This is what I found:

My first stop was a nearby park where I thought they might be setting them off. I didn't see any in action, but I saw evidence of it.

My first stop was a nearby park where I thought they might be setting them off. I didn’t see any in action, but I saw evidence of it.

As I headed to the central part of town I saw smoking piles showing I was getting closer.

As I headed to the central part of town I saw smoking piles showing I was getting closer.

Following the sound of firecrackers echoing off buildings, I finally saw people moving towards the explosions. I followed them.

Following the sound of firecrackers echoing off buildings, I finally saw people moving towards the explosions. I followed them.

Bingo!

Bingo!

Call me an overcautious parent but I would not let my kid walk around in the remnants of firecrackers that literally stopped exploding 30 seconds before I took this pic.

Call me an overcautious parent but I would not let my kid walk around in the smoldering  remnants of firecrackers that literally stopped exploding 30 seconds before I took this pic.

Fireworks in Xiamen, China

Fireworks in Xiamen, China.

Fireworks in Xiamen

I tried to avoid walking on the wrappers of the recently exploded firecrackers lest one happened to go ff. But seeing as every sidewalk was blanketed in them, I couldn't avoid it.

I tried to avoid walking on the wrappers of the recently exploded firecrackers lest one happened to go off. But seeing as every sidewalk was blanketed in them, I couldn’t avoid it.

I counted almost 2 dozen street cleaners quickly sweep the street after each display.

I counted almost 2 dozen street cleaners quickly sweep the street after each display.

I took a few videos and I’ll try to edit something up to show you, because being in the midst of all this way absolutely crazy. But also totally fun.

At night I ate the special food of the holiday called tang yuan. These are glutenous rice balls with some sort of filling on the inside. Traditional flavors are sesame paste, red bean and peanut sauce. Modern flavors are strawberry, blueberry and I found a new line with tea flavors like jasmine and chrysanthemum.

Fruit flavors!

Fruit flavors!

You boil them in water and the outer glutenous rice layer gets all warm and chewy while the middle gets soft and liquidy. Sooo good.

Gooey, drippy peanut butter type sauce in the middle of my tang yuan. Sweet and chewy.

Gooey, drippy peanut butter type sauce in the middle of my tang yuan. Sweet and chewy.

So I had an interesting Lantern Festival. Turns out most of Xiamen was quiet with my district having the “honor” of all the firecrackers. And I’m glad I got to experience it. But can we stop now? Puh-leeease?!

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments