Trying Not to Be THAT Person

Nothing more American than watching a little league game my nephew played. I think we’ve all had a friend who went to England for the summer, and came back with a terrible fake accent. Or the totally white friend (who can’t speak another language and has never been out of the country) who says Puerto Rico with deep rolling R’s and a strong accent. Little things that make us roll our eyes and think “yeesh.”

I’m afraid I’m that person now.  I’m trying not to, but it’s hard. Last time I was conscious of the word “Shanghai.” The American pronunciation is a sharp A, like “hang” and “shang” rhyme. But the real pronunciation is a softer sound. More like, Shhong-hai.

Last time I was here I changed my pronunciation to match the American way, but this time I just can’t. It feel too wrong. I kinda stumble over saying the word now, I can’t decide between the two pronunciations and I probably sound like a douche.

And then there is the old, “In China…” I know it’s annoying to start every sentence with “in China,” but I kinda can’t help it. Like, it’s been my home for 5 years, so if I talk about anything recent it’s probably gonna be in china. I know people get bored and tired with hearing it, so I try to drop it from sentences, but I can’t do it totally. Or it’s even worse when I say, “The time I went to Thailand,” or “When I was in Hong Kong.” Douche city.

I brought back some bai jiu,  or chinese rice wine, for my friends to try. Several people tried it and as you can tell, they didn't exactly enjoy it, haha. It's an acquired taste.

I brought back some bai jiu, or chinese rice wine, for my friends to try. Several people tried it and as you can tell, they didn’t exactly enjoy it, haha. It’s an acquired taste.

And then there is chinese. I don’t wanna be that person that says chinese words, cause it’s not a language most people understand. English is already peppered with words from other languages, but it’s things we all can understand. Mi casa e su casa, and arrivaderci, are two examples that come to mind.

But chinese isn’t like that. I can even say just ni hao, which means hello, and almost no one has any idea what I’m talking about. So I have to be careful. Some things just slip out, like when I bump into someone I habitually say bu hao yi si, which means sorry. Or when a store clerk offers me something I’ve (twice now) replied bu yao, which means I don’t want it. You see, these are just common things that pop out. Like, it took me years to get out of the habit of saying god bless you, when someone sneezed in China, its taking time to stop myself from saying the things I normally do in china. But I know to reply to someone in Chinese is, yep, douchy. So I’m trying to stop that too.

Some of this stuff maybe wouldn’t be a big deal and if I was just here for 2 weeks, like normal, I wouldn’t even try. But I’m here for the whole summer (still have a moth to go *grimace*) and like any good traveler I’m trying to fit in an “go native.”

I just hope I’m not a native douchebag.

I might try to be fitting in, but I'm not stopping doing the chinese "V" in pics which I've gotten so used to doing. I got some friends to do it with me, but for the most part, people make fun of me for it.

I might try to be fitting in, but I’m not stopping doing the chinese “V” in pics which I’ve gotten so used to doing. I got some friends to do it with me, but for the most part, people make fun of me for it.

Categories: At Home, Traveling | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

No One is Staring, But Everyone’s Paying Attention–and Other Culture Shocks of Being in America

'Murica!!

‘Murica!!

So I’ve been home a few days and it’s definitely weird. Here are some of the biggest things I’ve noticed.

 No one is looking at me, but everyone’s paying attention

I’ve said again and again how much I dislike being stared at in China. What I haven’t said though, is how there is a certain freedom in it. If I speak normally and quietly people will look at me. If I scream and swear people will look at me. If I walk down the street at a typical pace, people will look at me. If I walk backwards, clapping my hands and singing at the top of my lungs, people will look at me. But despite being the center of attention, there is no judgement. They’re curious about a foreigner and how we look and act. When I sing they don’t snigger or roll their eyes. If I walk with a little bit of swagger they don’t laugh at me and say I look stupid. I’m pretty sure I could take a dump in the middle of the street and they would only look to see if a foreigners shit was different from theirs.

But in America it is different. No one stares at me, but everyone is aware of me. I have to be conscious of things like personal space (which is different in china, and something I need to readjust) I have to be aware to not sing out loud or even hum a little (or else I’d look like a crazy person) and I have to be on high alert and know where everyone is around me so I can act accordingly. A person a few paces behind me? I better notice them so I can hold open the door lest I look like a jerk. Someone two seats down from me sneeze? I better pay attention so I can say ‘gesundheit.’ Drop a tiny piece of paper? I better pick itup right away before someone tsk’s at me.

I was in a store and I accidentally clipped a ladies heels with my cart. Not rammed, just kinda nudged. I immediately said sorry and she kinda rolled her eyes at me. Then another guy nearby said to the woman, “You getting run over today?” in a friendly tone but I wanted to be like, “WTF, did everyone notice?!”

So while people stare at me in China, and I can’t be incognito like I can I’m America, I still have this new added pressure to behave properly in America. It’s a little tough being thrown back into that after you’ve been out of it so long.

Everything is BIG

This needs to be explained because to know big is to know China. Population, buildings, even the worlds longest escalator, china has it. But there is also a compactness and efficiency to it all, because they have to fit so much stuff in a relatively small place. America has the opposite problem. Every building, from the bank to Home Depot, has a huge parking lot surrounded by a huge well manicured lawn. Everything takes up so much space, it seems like an awful waste.

But it doesn’t just stop there. On my way home from the airport my dad and I stopped off to get dinner at a chicken place. They gave me a soda and the cup was the size of my head. Literally the entire length of my head. The toilet paper rolls are huge, the garbage cans are big enough to hide in, and the size of a sandwich is frightening.

Also, why do our toilets have SO MUCH WATER?! I have a western toilet in China, so I’m used to that, but I feel like the toilets in my mom have an inordinate amount of water. It’s almost obscene.

Toilet paper rolls the size of my head. Only in America.

Toilet paper rolls the size of my head. Only in America.

It’s So Quiet and Empty

Maybe this would be different if I lived in New York City, but my parents live in a suburb outside New York and this place is s-o-o-o-o-o-o quiet. I used to hate the constant noise in China, but like most things, I got used to it. And I find china so 热闹 re nao, like, active and fun and exciting. I love my nightly walks where kids are skateboarding, ladies are dancing, lovers are walking hand in hand. Even at 2, 3, 4am you can find people out and about on the street, hanging out playing cards, selling BBQ, (eating BBQ). In America it gets so deathly quiet at night and I’m afraid if I go out someones gonna call the cops on me. It feels lonelier. I was walking in the downtown street of my parents hometown at 8:30 pm and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Spooky

Not even dark and totally quiet and empty. Spooky.

Not even dark and totally quiet and empty. It’s never this quiet and empty in China. 

 

We are Nice and Good Drivers

I know, when I lived in America I thought everyone drove like assholes, but the courtesy on the road is shocking to me. There is lots of waving to each other to go first, stopping to let someone enter the road, stopping at stop signs. It’s actually quite nice, like it feels like people are being courteous to each other.

I’ve also been shocked at how nice people are. On my first day I went to the bank and the guy was making small talk but it wasn’t just rote, “how are you,” he actually listened and responded. Then when I had the wrong account number he helped me out and gave me a ton of information I didn’t know I wanted (but I actually did). Then I went to a deli and ordered a bagel and stood there for about 10 minutes talking with two of the workers. It seems like everyone here is happy to chit-chat at anytime.

Chinese people are friendly and as a foreigner they will often chit-chat with me. But its more out of curiosity then friendless I think. Here in America people just seem so nice. And this is in New England where we have a reputation of being cold and unfriendly.

Listening to English is Tedious

When you live in China you ear kinda hone in on English. You know how you could be in a loud room but someone says your name quietly you always hear it? Thats what hearing English is like in China. You are subconsciously always listening for it because when someone speaks it, there is a good chance they are addressing you.

So when you come back to America your senses are overwhelmed with English and you can’t block out everyones conversations for the first days. At restaurants, on the street, in the library I can’t help but overhear what people say. And guess what? It’s boring as shit. I listened to a 10 minute conversation about two peoples favorite Honda dealer in my hometown. Yeah, 10 minutes about Honda dealers. And that was one of the more interesting conversations because at least it was a little debate.

When I overhear a conversation in Chinese I’m just proud that I can understand them, regardless of the topic. Because it’s in another language it is somehow more interesting. But most conversations I’ve overheard in English? Tedious.

A few more observations:

Paper towels are insanely absorbent. 

Americans really are fat.

There are a lot of American flags everywhere.

The sky is wonderfully blue. 

My nephews are adorable.

Oh, and the food kinda sucks. It tastes good, but after the fresh chinese diet, trying to get readjusted to the american one is tough. My stomach has not felt good once since I got here and I’m eating about half what I do normally (which maybe is a good thing).

After eating this bagel with cream cheese and lox for breakfast I couldn't eat anything, even snacks, until the evening.

After eating this bagel with cream cheese and lox for breakfast I couldn’t eat anything, even snacks, until the evening.

And all of this reverse culture shock is from someone who spent the majority of their life in America, so nothing is new per say, but rather, things I forgot. I cant wait until Jason comes next month to see some real culture shock. And soon I’ll be used to everything again and when I go back to china I’ll have to deal with getting accustomed to things again (reverse-reverse culture shock).

Categories: At Home | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Farewell Tour of Zhejiang–The Final Phase

So I’m home now. Jet-laggy and culture shocked. I’ll write about that in a bit, but I first want to write about my last few days in Lin’an.

With just six days left after my Hangzhou bash, I had finally reached the center of my onion. I had been peeling the layers down closer and closer to home, and now I had arrived at the heart of it all.

Bazzi stayed in school so he could go to my party in Hangzhou, so the next day he took off for home. He's been my assistant this year and helped me a lot. We still chat often.

Bazzi stayed in school so he could go to my party in Hangzhou (even though he didn’t like it.) The next day he took off for home. He’s been my assistant this year and helped me a lot. We still chat often.

I had dinner with different co-workers the last few nights including Mark and Diana, and Myles. (For those of you that know Myles, let's just say he was "full blown" Myles for dinner and leave it at that.)

I had dinner with different co-workers the last few nights including Mark and Diana, and Myles. (For those of you that know Myles, let’s just say he was “full blown” Myles for dinner and leave it at that.) While I don’t see them often, they are still people that have known me for almost the whole time I’ve been here and especially this semester Mark has helped me out tremendously, which I can’t thank him enough for. 

Autumn was the chinese teacher in charge of the foreign teachers when I first arrived. She gave up that job, but she's still been a good friend, and has had my back these 5 years. I'll miss her!

Autumn was the chinese teacher in charge of the foreign teachers when I first arrived. She gave up that job, but she’s still been a good friend, and has had my back these 5 years. I’ll miss her!

Then came my last little party. There is a cafe/bar in Lin’an that we have been going to for years. We call it Ping’s (after the owner) and it seemed only fitting that we had one more late night party there. So after dinner, my co-workes and I walk over. School was over and the students were gone, but several of “my babies,” are living and working in Lin’an so they were coming too.

Only, when we got to the door, it was locked and the place was dark. During the summer most shops close, but I didn’t think our beloved Ping’s would close! Luckily, like I said we are regulars and friends with everyone that works there, so we called one of them up and she came to open it just for us. We had to plug everything back in, and she actually had to go to another bar to get us drinks, but we helped cleaned up and overpaid at the end of the night, and anyway, she’s more of a friend so I hope she wasn’t too annoyed.

How many foreign teachers does it take to plug in a speaker? 3 apparently.

How many foreign teachers does it take to plug in a speaker? 3 apparently.

It was a wednesday night, and most of my students had jobs to go to the next morning, so it wasn't a crazy late night. But it was fun to see them one last time.

It was a wednesday night, and most of my students had jobs to go to the next morning, so it wasn’t a crazy late night. But it was fun to see them one last time.

Lin'an, China

You probably think that I was getting sadder and sadder as the days went by. But I’m a traveler by nature and once I pack my bags I’m ready and eager to move on. Plus, at this point I had been saying goodbye for almost a month, and I just didn’t have it in me to keep up this sustained sense of sadness. Call me cold-hearted, but I was ready to move on.

Eating my favorite dish, tudou bing. It's a fried potato thing.

My last dinner was with my 3 co-workers that I’ve spent a lot of time with this semester. We went to out favorite place that we go to on a weekly basis (the owner is so nice she cooks us special dishes not even on the menu) Since it was my last dinner I was queen for the night and got to order anything I wanted. I often complain that my friends never want to try new things and always order the same dishes, but this time I ordered all of the usuals. Lin’an food is soooo good and I miss it already. Here I am eating my favorite dish, tudou bing. It’s a fried potato thing.

And that was that. I woke up at 3am, for a ride to the airport and 24 hours later I was landing in New York City, jet-lagged and exhausted (can’t sleep on the plane.)

After five years my Lin’an adventure is officially over. It was unexpected (I came for only 6-months, not intending to make a life in china) and it has changed me forever. It is a great place. But the road is calling and a new adventure awaits.

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

How to (Successfully) Find a School to Teach in China—and Announcing my Next Destination!

I have the signed contract and visa paperwork in hand so I think it is only fitting to finally announce where I’m going next year. (I wanted to wait till it was legal before I jinxed anything.)

Next September I’ll be teaching in the beautiful seaside city of….Xiamen.

Cake from awfully chocolate

I know, I know! If your my friend you’ve heard me say a million times I’m NOT going to Xiamen. I even said it in the comments of this blog.

So here’s the story of how I chose the new school and ended up in the city I said I wouldn’t. And I think it’s good advice for newbies deciding where to teach in china.

There is no “perfect” school in China. Every school has some good and bad qualities. While it seems bad schools are more normal, the good news is you can find a decent school in just about any city with a little research.

So the most important thing, when choosing a new school, is location, location, location. Since I’ve spent the past 5 years in southeast China I though northwest would be a good change. Like, Xi’an, home of the famous terra-cotta soldiers.

So I started looking up blogs, schools in the area and doing research. Unfortunately my research kept showing one thing: horrible air quality. In china the air pollution has gotten so bad it really needs to be a factor of where to go. I’m in one of the “cleaner” places and I have just about had it with the smoggy days. So the interior, and most northern cities were out. (Xi’an has worse air quality than Beijing just to give you an idea.)

It was about this time the chinese government released a list of the worst and best places pollution-wise. I actually used the list to renew my search. Xiamen kept showing up on the list of cleanest places but I still wasn’t sold. (Ranking 3rd in the Greenpeace China survey.) I looked on the wikipedia pages of all the cleanest cities and clicked through to the universities in those cities. Some chinese universities have great websites, with clear information in english. Others, not so much. Needless to say I looked at a lot of websites for a few months trying to narrow down my search.

The library at my current school.

The library at my current school.

I also started looking at Qingdao. A northern city, but on the coast, so the ocean breeze blew the worst pollution away. And Nanjing, a city not far from me which has been rated “best city for expats” several times. But I was looking at Fuzhou most eagerly. It had low pollution, and I have been there once and liked it.

These cities all passed the pollution test (except Nanjing, but I was still willing to look there), but then came the “city” test. I don’t want to live on the outskirts of a major city. Universities in China tend to say they are located in a city, but the truth is they are about 45 minutes away in some boring university city with no culture or local life. I’ve done the outskirts thing for 5 years, and I wanted to be in the center of things this time.

The Nanjing university was at the end of the subway line, way out of town, so I crossed that off my list. The Fuzhou uni was near town, only about 15 minutes away according to a teacher that worked there, so I went ahead and sent my resume to them. I heard back immediately from a woman who formerly in charge of hiring foreigners, but she had moved on and told me she was forwarding her e-mail to the new guy in charge. Then I never heard anything back.

Having an unresponsive employer is quite common, but also bad news in a school in China. The workers in my school tend to do everything last minute and it just isn’t the best way to operate. So I ditched this unresponsive school.

Qingdao also fell out of the running when I found out the salaries. Pitifully low because its such a nice place for foreigners to live they have a huge amount of supply for little demand (this is also the problem with Kunming, a city I would love to live in. But the salaries for university work are just too low and I’d need to work a part-time job just to support myself, which I don’t want to do.)

A friend in Xiamen suggested her school, and with nothing to lose I contacted them. They were incredibly responsive, replying only after a few hours of my initial e-mail. And they seemed quite accepting from the get-go. Within a one week period I had provided several documents requested, talked to a current teacher for an hour on the phone and had a Skype interview. I was offered the job. The package offered was quite a bit more salary for less working hours than my current school. Not bad.

The beautiful "east lake" in my current campus.  Supposedly my new school also has a beautiful campus, but I'll have to wait until late august to see for myself.

The beautiful “east lake” in my current campus. Supposedly my new school also has a beautiful campus, but I’ll have to wait until late august to see for myself.

But meanwhile another friend of mine contacted me. He heard I was looking at school’s in Xiamen and suggested his. (Okay, he more than suggested, he said I was “nuts” if I chose the other school over his.) So I contacted his school and they too offered me a job after a few weeks of back-and-forth (and phone interview and talking to another current teacher. This is a VERY IMPORTANT step in choosing a new school. You need to talk to current and former teachers to get an idea of how the administration works). This was even more money for less hours.

So I was a bit torn over which school to pick. Both had satisfied foreign teachers (about 40 at each school), both were in the same part of the city, both had decent sounding students. So in the end, it all came down to money. I chose the higher salary.

So I accepted the school in Xiamen. I had tried avoiding it, but all the things I wanted (higher salary, good weather, school with satisfied teachers) but it just kept sucking me in. And I don’t regret it. I did a lot of research over the the past year so I feel pretty solid in choosing it.

While the size of the school isn’t much different, this will be a big change. I’ll have about 40 foreign co-workers (up from the 9 I have now) and the area I’ll be in is a big area for several schools. My friend who used to work here explained it as Lin’an, but with stuff to do. I won’t have to take a hourlong bus ride to get to an interesting place, I’ll be in the middle of it. And if I want a beach it’s close too.

So that’s a long story to explain my new school, but I think it’s good to show the whole process. Some people just flit from school to school and often land themselves in a less-than-ideal situation. I’ve had it so good at my current school for so many years I’m not willing to go down in either salary, student quality or life quality. And it took a long time, and a lot of work, but I’m hoping it will be worth the effort and another 5 years goes by just as quick as it did the first time.

 

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

Farewell Tour of Zhejiang–Stage 2

Stage one of my farewell tour was saying goodbye to my friends in Shanghai. Like peeling off the layers of an onion, I started furthest away and I’m getting closer and closer to home.

Stage two of my farewell tour was all about students, school stuff and Hangzhou. I also had to deal with final paperwork of both leaving my school and starting at another. Quite a whirlwind.

My classes might have been over several weeks ago, but students still had a finals for their other classes to deal with. And while my “babies” have graduated and left campus there are still plenty others who I have become close with over the years who I wanted to say goodbye to. My lunches and dinners were packed to an almost ridiculous degree.

Pantheon and Mec! They confessed they had never had a massage, and as their teacher I consider it my duty to teach them the wonderful world of massage. But sadly, timing never worked out and they had to go home before we had time for a spa day.

Pantheon and Mec! At dinner they confessed they had never had a massage, and as their teacher I consider it my duty to teach them the wonderful world of massage. But sadly, timing never worked out and they had to go home before we had time for a spa day.

A few students from one class, which I haven't taught for a year, invited me to my favorite restaurant for dinner and ordered my favorite food. The girl with the pigtails English name is also Becky, so we call her little Becky and me big Becky to differentiate. It's the only student who's ever had the same name as me.

A few students from one class, which I haven’t taught for a year, invited me to my favorite restaurant for dinner. The girl with the pigtails English name is also Becky, so we call her little Becky and me big Becky to differentiate. It’s the only student who’s ever had the same name as me.

Shane is one of the best students in school. Whenever he texts to me begins, "Hello beautiful teacher!" I know she's about to hit me up for a favor. (When she just wants to chat she ditches the 'beautiful; line, haha) For this she was in a speaking competition and had to include a little skit. Her speech was about her dream of becoming an interpreter so I played the part of "Mary Taylor" a businesswoman from Seattle, Washington trying to buy parts from a chinese company. Shane translated between me and the buyer. It was silly and cute and she won second place!! So proud.

Shane is one of the best students in school. Whenever her texts to me begins, “Hello beautiful teacher!” I know she’s about to hit me up for a favor. (When she just wants to chat she ditches the ‘beautiful’ line, haha) For this she was in a speaking competition and had to include a little skit. Her speech was about her dream of becoming an interpreter so I played the part of “Mary Taylor” a businesswoman from Seattle, Washington trying to buy parts from a chinese company. Shane translated between me and the buyer. It was cute and she won second place! So proud.

Me and my co-worers had a meal out and ran into a birthday party of a student we all like. We got cake!

Even my ‘quiet’ nights seemed to turn into a party. My co-workers and I were just going out for a normal meal when we ran into a students birthday party! 

With a student drinking "Angels tears" and drink my friend came up with. I bought oreos for them to snack, which resulted in the cutest cultural misunderstanding I've had in a long time. One of the students opened the oreo to reveal the cream, put his tongue on it, then closed it back again and dunked it. Me and my co-worker Angus said "Ewwww, why did you do that? Just to put germs on your oreo so no one else will eat it?" The student looked confused and said, "No, it's from the commercial. When we were kids there was a commercial of a little boy licking an oreo then dunking it." We both laughed and explained in the commercial the boy licks the cream OUT of the oreo. He doesn't just lick it. We had a good laugh about that.

With Oliver drinking “Angels tears.” I brought oreos for him and another student to snack, which resulted in the cutest cultural misunderstanding I’ve had in a long time. One of the students opened the oreo to reveal the cream, put his tongue on it, then closed it back again and dunked it. Me and my co-worker Angus said “Ewwww, why did you do that? Just to put germs on your oreo so no one else will eat it?” The student looked confused and said, “No, it’s from the commercial. When we were kids there was a commercial of a little boy licking an oreo then dunking it.” We both laughed and explained in the commercial the boy licks the cream OUT of the oreo. He doesn’t just lick it. We had a good laugh about that.

Meanwhile, I was packing and cleaning out my apartment. 5 years of crap!

Meanwhile, I was packing and cleaning out my apartment. 5 years of crap!

Two of "my boys" came back to pick something up and we went out for lunch. Now they have several weeks of workinging full-time under their belts, they realize how good they had it as students. As usual they walked my back to my building and stayed by the door till they saw me walk upstairs. Though the saluting was a new thing. ;)

Two of “my boys” came back to pick something up and we went out for lunch. Now they have several weeks of working full-time under their belts, they realize how good they had it as students. As usual they walked my back to my building and stayed by the door till they saw me walk upstairs(because they are gentleman). The saluting was a new thing though. ;)

In honor of my leaving, the international office invited me to a banquet and told me I could invite whoever I wanted. I invited a few co-workers and we got to have one last meal together. These two women, especially the woman on the right, have helped me a lot over the years so it's sad to say goodbye. They said I could come back whenever I wanted, which is really nice.

In honor of my leaving, the international office invited me to a banquet and told me I could invite whoever I wanted. I invited a few co-workers and we got to have one last meal together. These two women, especially the woman on the right, have helped me a lot over the years so it’s sad to say goodbye. They said I could come back whenever I wanted, which is really nice.

The final event of phase two was goodbye to Hangzhou and my hangzhou friends with one last crazy night. It was awesome. I invited people from all parts of my life. Former students I still keep in touch with, students that just graduated, current student (sophomores and juniors), my foreign friends, my chinese friends and just anyone I have hung out with in the past 3 years joined me. There was so many people we took over a corner of the bar which made me feel like a boss.

First up was dinner where I caught up with Mark and Willy among others. Because I was so sick all semester I hadn't seen many of my friends since christmas.

First up was dinner where I caught up with Mark and Willy among others. Because I was so sick all semester I hadn’t seen many of my friends since christmas.

Some younger and older students all playing together.

Some younger and older students all playing together. Makes me so happy! 

Even my friend from Thailand stopped by to say goodbye. The last time we hung out was in Thailand so it was nice he came.

Even my friend from Thailand stopped by to say goodbye. I helped him buy that shirt in Bangkok so I asked him to wear it that night. 

One year ago I had a group of friends in Hangzhou that I saw every weekend. Some have moved away, or gotten married, but the few remaining of us got together for a group shot.

One year ago I had a group of friends in Hangzhou that I saw every weekend. Some have moved away, or gotten married, but the few of us still remaining got together for a group shot.

We shook our thang at a club, and Jo, of Behind the Wall fame hooked us up. We got bottles of booze, and a VIP seat all for free because she's friends with the manager. My students were thoroughly impressed but when you hang with Jo, you get used to things like that.

We shook our thang at a club, and Jo, of Behind the Wall fame hooked us up. We got bottles of booze, and a VIP seat all for free because she’s friends with the manager. My students were thoroughly impressed but when you hang with Jo, you get used to things like that.

Ever by my side in fun adventures, Jason was there (the blurry face), along with Tiook who is the best dancer I know.

Ever by my side in fun adventures, Jason was there (the blurry face), along with Tiook who is the best dancer I know.

These two students didn't know each other before that night. They are 2 years apart. But I had told Ryan, on the right, that he reminded me of one of my senior boys Eric, on the left. I'm glad they got to meet and they do look alike, right?!

These two students didn’t know each other before that night. They are 2 years apart. But I had told Ryan, on the right, that he reminded me of one of my senior boys Eric, on the left. I’m glad they got to meet and they do look alike, right?!

Proof I'm the worst teacher ever. Not only did a darling sophomore student get pass out drunk, but then I mocked him by taking pictures I put on we chat for everyone to see. Heh heh. But to redeem myself, this is one of my top students in all my classes, and the only one to earn 100 this semester. So I think he earns a fun night out to relax and have fun.

Proof I’m the worst teacher ever. Not only did a darling sophomore student get pass out drunk, but then I mocked him by taking pictures I put on wechat for everyone to see. Heh heh. But to redeem myself, this is one of my top students in all my classes, and the only one to earn 100 this semester. So I think he earns a fun night out to relax and have fun.

Now begins phrase three which sadly doesn’t end with a fun party, but rather me getting on a plane to leave China. I know maybe all this fanfare might seem ridiculous to some, but this place, and these people, have been good to me. I would count the last 3 years of my life as the best years so far. Even though I’ll be staying in China I’m leaving the people, and the places that have made my life so meaningful.  I think that’s with celebrating.

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Summer Plans: American Visa Edition

Time to fly again.

Time to get my passport out.

So there was one other important reason for going to Shanghai this past week, and that was so Jason could apply for an American visa. He is going to school in Canada in the fall so August in America seems logical. But getting a visa for America seems tough. According to all the word-of-mouth on the internet, they don’t like to admit young men who might not leave.

So he prepared several papers, got bank statements, health check, certificates from his job, I wrote him a letter of invitation and he had all his Canadian stuff to show that he would definitely leave America at the end of august. We even did a mock interview where I tried to think of questions they might ask him. He also looked online and found from others what questions they had gotten. Armed with a pile of paperwork and ready for anything, he went to the embassy by himself.

This is how it went, as he later told me…

The guy asked him what his job was, why he was going and what he was going to do. (All in Chinese btw, even though it was an American.) Then, stone-faced, he typed into the computer as the minutes ticked by. Jason was ready for more questions, to show his paperwork etc, but the guy turns back to him and says, “Have a Good Trip!”

Yep. That was it. All that prep, all that paperwork, none of it was not necessary. But the outcome was just what he wanted, so ultimately it doesn’t matter.

Which leads me to my summer plans. As you might have guessed I too will be in America. Jason’s not just going to be floating around by himself, but he’s coming to visit me! We’re gonna do the whole east coast thang, and hit up all the major cities. He’ll meet my friends, see my hometown, and I’m going to force him to eat American chinese food which I can only assume he’ll hate. But the thing I’m most looking forward to is talking Chinese. In white bread New England, Chinese is not a language many know (and few chinese people are around). So we’ll get to talk shit about people right in front of them. Heh heh……

We're planning on taking all sorts of cheesy tourist pictures in America, so we started practicing in Shanghai. This is the "handsome chinese man" pose guys like to do.

We’re planning on taking all sorts of cheesy tourist pictures in America, so we started practicing in Shanghai. This is the “handsome man” pose Chinese guys like to do.

Unfortunately for me though, Jason visiting is just a small part of my holiday. I’m going home for the entire summer, almost 2 months. Despite doing nothing, and spending very little money this semester, it all disappeared in doctors visits. (I recently calculated and realized I spent more money on doctors visits then I made this semester. Yeesh. But the good thing is I had the money and it isn’t detrimental like the American healthcare system.)

So I’m going to be broke, in America, for the summer. Not a recipe for fun in a place I don’t really want to go to in the first place. I know, I know, family and friends. And that will be fun for a few days. But what do I do after that? Mooching off others gets tiring (for them and for me) so I’m going to stick near my parents house for the first month until Jason comes. Writing and studying Chinese should fill my time.

It’s the first time I have been back to America in two years, and the first time in five that I have stayed so long. Usually I go for three weeks total. In the past I have been able to go to America and then do some traveling in China afterwards. But not this summer. We’ll see how it works out. At the very least I’m expecting some major reverse culture shock.

It's not just my students packing up and leaving, but me too!

It’s not just my students packing up and leaving this summer, but me too!

But some good will come out of it. I can catch up with what Americans are doing and saying. I teach American culture, but the truth is I have no idea what real culture is these days beyond what my friends talk about on Facebook.

I can also get used to seeing Americans and listening to English. I used to be able to pick out a foreigner from a mile away, just based on the way they walked or the clothes they wore. But I lost that ability years ago, so time to get it back. Also, I’m hoping to improve my english. Sounds silly but my “big words” are long gone. The other day in Shanghai I couldn’t remember the word I wanted to say so instead I said “Its a word that sounds like epicenter!” (It was epitome.)

And I’m gonna eat a lot of steak…and Ben & Jerry’s. And bagels with cream cheese and lox.

So anyone got any fun summer plans, like traveling? (Which will make me totally jealous.) Let me know in the comments!

 

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The Shanghai 1933 Slaughterhouse & Puzzle House

The entrance of the 1933 Slaughterhouse.

The entrance of the 1933 Slaughterhouse. Art deco all the way!

On Saturday we went to two different “houses.” One was a 1933 art deco slaughterhouse (no, not just a catchy name. A literal former slaughterhouse) and the other was a room where you pay someone to lock you in and figure out puzzles until you free yourself.

We first went to the slaughterhouse. Billed as the last slaughterhouse on earth (and the largest in the East), anyone with even a slight interest in architecture should check it out. It’s free to walk around and look at the flow of the building which has been rightfully called “escher-esque.”

It was built pre-communist era, with help from a British architect. The building itself was made from concrete from England and was built with both east and west ideals. According to the literature, the outer ring of the building, where the cows would walk up a series of “air bridges” before they were slaughtered at the top, is made western style, with “umbellate columns” supporting the massive weight of the structure. The walls are 50 cm wide, but hallow inside for a natural cooling effect, even in the broiling summer.

The middle atrium has swirling spiral staircases (which workers could use as escape routes if the animals panicked) and was made with feng shui principles. The atrium was built with special openings, to let in light, unique windows to maximize air flow and the directions of the windows were thought to allow the animals spirit to leave easily when it was killed.

Ever the mature ones, Hannah and I were imitating cows the whole time we were there.

Ever the mature ones, Hannah and I were imitating cows the whole time we were there.

This place is truly a maze of thin walkways, random stairs and, most impressively, “air bridges” that seem to have no rhyme or reason. The bridges are at different lengths and heights to control the animals, and keep them in an orderly pace. We could see a place we wanted to get to but it would take us several minutes to figure out how to get there.  A few times we got lost, and ended up at dead ends just trying to get out.

The cows just "followed the light" to their deaths.

The cows just “followed the light” to their deaths.

The stairs were often the most confusing part.

The stairs were often the most confusing part.

At the time it was built this place cost 3.3 million silver dollars. (I have no idea how much that is in todays dollars, but I think it’s safe to say it was a shit ton.) It fell into disrepair for a long time, then was renovated in the late 90′s and is now an art space. Fashion shoots come here for photograph sessions and walkway shows, there is a ferrrai owners club and a few cafes to sit down in after you’ve finished walking about. This place could contain twice or three times as many shops and still feel quite desolate and empty. That’s how big it is.

1933 Shanghai slaughterhouse

On the third, or was it fourth, floor you suddenly run into a Russian tearoom which is in stark contrast to the quiet, colorless feeling of the slaughterhouse.

On the third (or fourth?) floor you suddenly run into a Russian tearoom which is in stark contrast to the quiet, colorless feeling of the slaughterhouse.

The inner atrium stairs were beautiful to look at and acted as a security measure for the human workers if the cows got out of hand.

The inner atrium stairs were beautiful to look at and acted as a security measure for the human workers if the cows got out of hand.

After that, it was time to have some fun (in an air conditioned house of course). Time for the puzzle house! I think this is a popular thing worldwide, but it was my first time going so I had a lot of fun. It’s a puzzle house where you, and a group of friends, get locked in a dimly lit room with only your brains and a flashlight to help you. (You have to leave your wallet, keys and phone outside in a locker.)

Mr. X Puzzle house in Shanghai.

Mr. X Puzzle house in Shanghai.

You have 60 minutes (which is shown on a big clock) to figure out what to do and how to solve the puzzles which leads to further clues and ultimately, your escape.

It was really fun, and quite adrenaline rushing even though nothing bad happens to you if you lose. (No ‘bomb collar’ as one of my friends joked.) As you solve puzzles things in the room change, like the lighting, and new panels opening up. One time, when we figured out the clue of 4 clocks, we heard a loud clang and looked around the room. We noticed a door with bars had slid open and we could see a crawlspace through it, but we had to solve another puzzle before the bars would open.

You need at least 8 people to participate (we had 12) and before you go everyone gathers at tables marked with your "mission number" (aka room number.) It was very exciting.

You need at least 8 people to participate (we had 12) and before you go everyone gathers at tables marked with your “mission number” (aka room number.)

We were successful, with a few minutes to spare (our exit had us climbing up a big metal tube to the roof). Winners get their picture taken for the wall. I was very exciting.

While both of these “houses” are very different from each other, they are both fun in there own ways. The slaughterhouse was free, the puzzle house costs money, but if you find yourself in Shanghai I suggest trying out both!

Categories: China, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Farewell Tour of Zhejiang

With classes over and a few weeks remaining before I leave for the summer, I’ve wanted to see my friends one last time. I’ll be changing jobs, and moving to a new part of china so it’s time to start saying goodbye to everyone here. I’ve dubbed my month of goodbyes as Becky’s Farewell Tour of Zhejiang. (Zhejiang is the province I live in.)

The first stop in my farewell tour was Shanghai. Shanghai used to be just a big city I caught the airplane from. Yet over the past few years I somehow ended up with a lot of amazing friends there. I usually go visit several times a semester to see them, but with my health problems this semester I couldn’t travel at all. So this was the first, and the last time to see them in months. And some friends are leaving China, so I had to say a real goodbye to them.

Jason and my co-worker Angus came with me to Shanghai. Our first night we went to a Canadian smoked meat restaurant in honor of Jason. He's going to school in Canada next fall so I thought he should try some Canadian cuisine. It was amazing food, btw.

Jason and my co-worker Angus came with me to Shanghai. Our first night we went to a Canadian smoked meat restaurant in honor of Jason. He’s going to school in Canada next fall so I thought he should try some Canadian cuisine. It was amazing food, btw.

Wendy, my former rascally student, now lives in Shanghai so we spent the first day with her.

Wendy, my former rascally student now lives in Shanghai so we spent the first day with her.

Wendy works for a fancy chocolate company. She treated us with a trip to one of the companies restaurants. I'm not a fancy person and usually just as happy with cheap chocolate the some fancy brand. But I'm changing my tune after going to this place. I ate only a few bites of each desert, but it was unbelievably good, and I'm dreaming of the day I can go back.

Wendy works for a fancy chocolate company. She treated us with a trip to one of the companies restaurants. I’m not a fancy person and usually just as happy with cheap chocolate as the fancy brand. But I’m changing my tune after going to this place. I ate only a few bites of each desert, but it was unbelievably good, and I’m dreaming of the day I can go back.

In Shanghai at Kaiba

Hanging out with Nick and Ben is pure joy. I love these guys.

Despite them having to work the next day, we went out for impromptu KTV.  I met Nick several years ago in Kunming, and he's leaving China this summer after being here for 4 years. I'm gonna miss the bastard. Ben (on the right) is my "bestie" and not a day goes by when we don't chat a little.

Despite them having to work the next day, we went out for impromptu KTV. I met Nick several years ago in Kunming and he’s leaving China this summer after being here for 4 years. I’m gonna miss the bastard. Ben (on the right) is my “bestie” and not a day goes by when we don’t chat.

The next night was with, what I refer to, as the Shanghai KTV crew. Everytime I come to Shanghai we hang out and sing till the wee hours. I became friends with the group because of Ben, but they have welcomed me with open arms from the first day, and I always have a good time with them. And with this group, what happens in the KTV room, stays in the KTV room. ;)

The next night was with, what I refer to, as the Shanghai KTV crew. Everytime I come to Shanghai we hang out and sing till the wee hours. I became friends with the group because of Ben, but they have welcomed me with open arms from the first day, and I always have a good time with them. And with this group, what happens in the KTV room, stays in the KTV room. ;)

Even Jimmy, the boy I used to babysit, was able to join us. As was Wendy.

Even Jimmy, the boy I used to babysit was able to join us. As was Wendy. KTV two nights in a row is fun, but hell on the vocal cords!

We spent all day Saturday with the amazing, creative and fun Hannah. Hannah always comes up with cool things to do (like painting, helping at an orphanage amongst others) and this trip was no exception.

We spent all day Saturday with the amazing, creative, cool Hannah. Hannah always comes up with unique things to do (like going to temples, painting, helping at an orphanage finding secret clubs amongst others) and this trip was no exception. The stuff we did was so unique and interesting it deserves its own post, which I’ll write about soon. 

Me and my friend Alex on Saturday. All I seem to do in Shanghai is laugh. It's a good thing.

Me and my friend Alex on Saturday. All I seem to do in Shanghai is laugh. It’s a good thing.

We ant for professional laughs later in the night, as Comedy Central's Ari Shiffir performed at a local comedy club. He was quite funny, but being in a dark, cool room at midnight was too much for my tired little body and I kept falling asleep.

We went for professional laughs later in the night, as Comedy Central’s Ari Shiffir performed at a local comedy club. He was quite funny, but being in a dark, cool room at midnight was too much for my tired little body and I kept falling asleep.

Saying goodbye to my Shanghai friends was easy. I see them irregularly anyway and our friendship is used to distance and time between visits. Next stop on my Farewell Tour is Hangzhou, where I’ve made dozens of friends over the past years I see more regularly. Saying goodbye to them will be tougher. But then that will be nothing compared to my final party in Lin’an with the people I’ve seen on a daily basis for years.

I’m grateful for this time to see everyone again, but sad that I have to say goodbye.

I feel so grateful that Ive been able to meet such amazing people who want to spend time with me. I must have done something good in my past life to deserve them.

I feel so grateful that Ive been able to meet such amazing people who want to spend time with me. I must have done something good in my past life to deserve them. 上海朋友们我会想你们。

 

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Student Gifts Over the Years

Since I need to box my crap up and ship it down south (“to where Becky?” I hear you ask. I’ll announce my new China home soon I just want to wait till I have a contract in hand till I consider it official.) I’ve been cleaning up and throwing out a lot of crap.

I came to china with only a backpack and a rolling bag and somehow I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff since then. I like cleaning house, downsizing and getting rid of “stuff” and in my extreme cleaning, I’ve come across a lot of gifts from students over the years.

There are very few of these I’m actually going to keep, so I wanted to immortalize them on my blog so in the future I can remember them even if I no longer own them.

Gifts from students

That wire, guitar-playing man on the left has a pen bucket next to him. I used to keep pens in him, but its a bit…unwieldy, so it’s staying behind. The teddy bear on the right is actually a plush book cover on a journal. Really cute, but, not so practical (I favor a simple black notebook for writing). You can’t see in the back, but there is a picture frame in a bicycle. I have another crazy picture frame like it (the glass is precariously set on a rocking chair) but I don’t actually have any pictures to put in it, so out it goes. The Starbucks frappucino jar has blue sand and glow in the dark dots on the outside. Inside a student wrote a really sweet note. I took the note out, but the jar wasn’t fully cleaned out and the bottom of the lid is totally molded. So out it goes. And the fish bowl has dozens of homemade stars and origami cranes and other paper folding. I’ve been keeping it for years, adding new origami when students gave it to me, but it is so dusty these days out it goes.

Gifts from students

Okay, these are my “fancy” gifts. None of these are being thrown away, but some of them will go back to america for me where I’ll store them for the future. Like the big, beautiful wooden box which has an amazing calligraphy set inside. It’s quite big and heavy for shipping, and my calligraphy isn’t quite good enough to use it right now. So I’ll save it for the future. Also, the opera figurine I love, but don’t really have the place to showcase these kinds of tchotchke. So I’ll save it for the future. The snow globe, a meaningful gift for reasons best left unsaid, will go in the trash, but the teapot, a recent gift from Color, and the hand, a gift from my friend from Israel, will come with me. As will the bead bracelet that a monk gave me when I stayed in a monastery. I wear it quite often.

Gifts from students

There’s nothing I like better than a homemade gift, which my students learned about me. The little foam creatures and giraffe will come with me. I have a hard time getting rid of homemade gifts. As will the box of 105 wishes from class 105. The little piano though, a music box with my name and a wish engraved on it, will be going into the circular file. It’s very sweet and I like it, but it’s just kinda more “stuff” to clutter up my room.

Gift from student

I’m not throwing this away! One of my babies, who I always caught drawing during class time (which I then encouraged him to continue) just gave this to me. I’m gonna find a nice frame and hang it on my new wall.

Calligraphy for Dragon

This was also a recent gift from one of my favorite students.  It’s the character for ‘dragon’ (my chinese name) and she said that if I “ever had financial troubles I could sell it for money” so I’m going to guess that it was expensive? Anyway, it is beautiful and she had it commissioned for me in honor of graduation. This will also take a proud spot on my new wall of my new apartment.

As I’m cleaning up the place I’m finding things that I kinda stopped noticing years ago, like a faded picture a student gave me four years ago that was on a shelf, or little trinkets from my japanese friend that left three years ago.

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The End of an Era

A typical classroom view from the teachers podium.

A typical classroom view from the teachers podium.

Today I taught my last class at Zhejiang Agriculture and Foresty University. It was 2nd year students from Survey of English Speaking Countries. I still have paper work to submit, and all the annoying bits of teaching but that’s it…I’m done with class.

I started in the fall of 2009 and since then I have taught:

Oral English

Book Club

Advanced Video

Basic Writing

Listening/Speaking

British and American Culture

British and American History

History of English Speaking Countries

British Culture and Society

Newspaper Reading

Western Culture Through Movies (a class of my own design)

Class Pictures

All in all I’ve taught 2,224 hours of class to a whopping 1,200 students!! (Even I had to double check the math on that one because it is unbelievable to me. But it’s true.)

This school has been good to me, the students have been good to me and Lin’an has been good to me. But five years is a long time and the road calls. I didn’t expect to be here for so long in the first place. I didn’t know I would like teaching, much less be good at it. And yet I do. It’s one of the main factors I have lived in China so long for.

Where will I be going next? I’ll still be in China but stay tuned for more details. For today is not about thinking of the future, it’s about appreciating the past. Thanks to everyone I’ve taught for the past 5 years. Even you shitty students (and there were plenty of those) taught be something. So thank you all. It’s been fun.

The best classes were when I made the students do the teaching.

The best classes were when I made the students do the teaching.

The worst classes were the day before a holiday. Most students wanted to catch a bus home so class was quite pathetic those days.

The worst classes were the day before a holiday. Most students wanted to catch a bus home so class was quite pathetic those days.

I never once but a student, and yet the beginning of every new class started like this. Like they were too scared to sit too close to me and I had to force them into the front rows.

I never once bit a student, and yet the beginning of every new class started like this. Like they were too scared to sit too close to me and I had to force them into the front rows.

Arts and craft in college? Yeah, well these guys don't get much opportunity to do anything even slightly creative so if I could throw in an artsy activity it was better.

Arts and craft in college? Yeah, well these guys don’t get much opportunity to do anything even slightly creative so if I could throw in an artsy activity it was better.

Last speaking class of the semester is always a party.

Last speaking class of the semester is always a party.

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