How to Teach English in China and Not Loathe Yourself

Teaching English in China is known for many thingThere is a way to be a successful English teacher in China without going crazy. All you need is two ingredients. s, but having a fulfilling, enriching life isn’t one of them. In fact, most
English teachers end up down one of two paths: they grow to hate themselves, and their job, more and more. They get angry at Chinese things, and basically just talk about how “dumb” China and Chinese people are. They turn nasty, they turn cranky and go eat at McDonald’s waaaay too much. Basically, they burn-out and the only solution is to leave.

The other path is the party path. With lots of free time, an elevated social status and an easy life at their fingertips, English teachers tend to party away their time, drinking all night, having fun all day and wake up 10 years later thinking “what have I done with my life?”

I’ll admit, back in Hangzhou I thought I was a bit of an oddity because I didn’t fit into these two categories. The more I live here, the more I like it, and I have never felt burnt-out, or tired of my life here. But then I moved to Xiamen and met other “successful” teachers like me. People who liked living in China, found enjoyment and growth and meaning in their daily lives even if they have been here five, ten or fifteen years.

And I realized we all had two things in common. The two secret elements of teaching English in China without hating yourself. And now, I will pass them on to you…

Follow your passion

It’s a cliche, I know, but it’s essential for life in China. Truth is, for most teachers in China, our job is not our passion. Of course there are some, but very few teachers in China have grown up wanting to be teachers or go back to their home country and teach as well. No matter where you work in China, private or public school, elementary or college kids, there is always the element of “dancing monkey” hanging over your head. And foreign teachers can’t go very high in the chain of command. We start at a higher salary than new Chinese teachers, but within a few years they can outpace us and get promotions and more duties and responsibilities. With few exceptions foreign teachers can’t.

So to be a successful teacher you have to find your own passions and your own hobbies and do them. You can’t rely on your job to give you growth and satisfaction. (And I say this as a teacher who really loves teaching.)

For me, traveling and writing, has always been my passion and now badminton is added to the mix. One of my friends has found a passion in Ultimate Frisbee and building up the Xiamen team. Another plays music, another began learning yoga and is now training to be a teacher. Also several people have come here with the purpose of learning the language and really immerse themselves in all things Chinese.  This is what I mean by following your passion. It’s no coincidence that these teachers have been in China for years and are happy here.

Jen Yoga

My kick-ass friend doing yoga. She never did yoga before coming to China but now does it everyday, teaches several classes and is studying for more certification. This weekend she’s helping to organize more than 100 people to do sunrise yoga on the beach. She has found her passion and going with it!

You don’t even have to come to China already knowing your passion. Many of us have found it thanks to opportunities that opened up for us in China,. I mean, I’ve always been into traveling and writing, that’s why I came here originally, but this crazy badminton obsession passion only came about after friends invited me to play in China. And I’m not alone. My friend who plays Ultimate Frisbee is also obsessed but he admits that if he stayed in America he never would have gotten into it because he’s just not a natural jock. It was being in China, where the sport is less established, that gave him an opportunity to make a difference.

And the truly happy teachers usually have several passions. A main one, and then some secondary ones that are almost as important. For me, writing and badminton are battling it out for top billing, with traveling coming third. My yoga friend has recently started boxing, and my Ultimate Frisbee friend is passionate about learning Chinese and writing as well. Having too many passions will just dilute you and your time, but having 2-3 serious ones seems average for the happy teachers.

Be Self Motivated

Of course, finding your passion doesn’t help at all if you don’t have motivation. That’s why the party path is such a common one: it basically falls into your lap. You can be a total annoying douche and you’ll still get invited out regularly for dinner and drinks. And if you have no motivation for doing your own thing, then you’ll get sucked into that easy life.

I spend a lot of time writing, even missing events if they conflict with my writing schedule. Things can fill up my time, so I make writing a priority so I feel like I'm not wasting my time.

I spend a lot of time writing, even missing events if they conflict with my writing schedule. Things can fill up my time, so I make writing a priority so I feel like I’m not wasting my time.

I’ve known teachers who had their own passions but lost it because they had no motivation. They arrive all gung ho talking about writing, or learning the language, traveling the world, yet a few years later have done nothing because they’ve been “busy” (aka partying ) and broke. Or they just got too lazy.

Xiamen is especially bad for this. It’s an amazing sub-tropical city ringed with beaches and coffee shops just begging you to laze away the day. And the people in Xiamen are really good about arranging events like arts fairs, African nights, sporting events and the infamous beach parties that you can have a full and varied life while actually accomplishing nothing.

Look at these girls, don't they look sweet and cute? Don't be fooled. They are stone cold killers and could shoot any of you with their lethal archery skills.

My friends are especially troublesome. They love organizing activities every night. And they are healthy, active and fun activities (like hiking, swimming, archery etc). I find myself getting sucked into it but always take a step back to focus on writing and badminton.

You have to set goals and work towards them. It means you have to turn down bar invitations (or go home early), it means you can’t sleep late, or waste all day on the internet. You need to have goals and stick to them yourself. No one is gonna hold you accountable and your close friends will probably do everything they can to (unconsciously) sabotage you.

That’s it. The big secret revealed.

It’s that simple.

I know this sounds like basic information, just general life stuff in fact, but it’s absolutely critical for life in China and yet so many people don’t do this. I have a few friends who are incredibly motivated and do a lot of stuff, yet have no real passion. They like the things they do, but not love them, and after a few years here they are feeling dissatisfied. The same goes for people with passions but no motivation to pull it off themselves.

Teaching in China isn’t a punishment or a chore. It’s a choice and usually not an easy one. So if you come here you should see it as an opportunity for self growth, not as some prison sentence you have to survive. By following these two steps you can make your time in China so much more meaningful and life-changing than you can imagine.

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Settling in a Routine when you Hate Routine

I know I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog recently. It’s not because I stopped doing things, or because I’m tired of writing. It’s also not because I’m so busy I don’t have the time. It’s more than now my life has a schedule and an order that repeats week after week.

Yep, the girl that hates predictability had settled into a routine. *shudder*

I blame badminton. I now play three weeknights each week and as a very efficient person, I have figured out the best use of my time. I go a few hours early, eat at one of four restaurant, then drink tea and write for an hour (at one of four cafes) and exactly at 7:25 I walk to badminton so I have time to change and warm up.

badminton in China

Xiao He is my closest friend that plays amazing badminton. Much higher level than anyone in my group. Sometimes, if I beg hard enough, he’ll come play with us.

The two weeknights I don’t play badminton I have tutoring late in the day, keeping me home. Daytime is also routine. Monday and Wednesday are my writing days in which I spend 2-3 hours in a cafe editing my book. The other three days I have classes.

Basically, I know exactly where I will be every hour of every weekday. This is so un-Becky like.

I hate is routine. As a wanderlust soul I hate having an obligation, even if it is to myself. I hate knowing what this week will be like, and next week, and the week after. I’ve always resisted it.

But I really love what I’m doing now. Playing badminton and writing are my passions and I’m organizing my week around them. I don’t want to change my routine because I have found it to be the most efficient routine possible, and efficiency has always been important to me.

Still tea drinking even though I haven't written about it.

Still tea drinking even though I haven’t written about it.

For instance, I chose those four specific restaurants before badminton because they are good for one person, and the food they serve is suitable before badminton (I can’t eat anything too heavy, but I need to fill up). I write in my journal because I need time after eating to digest a bit, and writing is the most efficient use of that hour. Every now and then, to try to “mix things up” by trying a new restaurant or new cafe, but it always leaves me disappointed (I feel too full, or the cafe isn’t comfortable or too expensive).

I feel super lame doing the same thing every week, but the stuff I do is so satisfying. My weekends are open, and I keep them free which gives me some semblance of free will, but come Monday-Friday I’m the easiest person to stalk. I’m even beginning to recognize the construction workers I see getting off work as I am walking to badminton, because we pass each other several times a week at the same time.

Luckily I’ve made sure, by choosing my job, that my life won’t fall totally into routine forever. My semester is only 16 weeks long (I’m more than halfway through right now) so soon class will be over and I’ll need a new routine based on my new schedule.

So while this schedule is super conducive to badminton, and my life right now, it’s not incredibly inspiring for writing on this blog. I’m not having a lot of new experiences or learning things about the culture. I’m writing, a ton, over at my badminton blog (please check it out!), just not here. So syck with me. I’m quiet now, but this time will pass and soon enough it will be all “blah-blah-blah,” again. Just once I end this frustrating, yet perfect, routine.

Weekends are still free to do fun and crazy things. My friend Uno opened up a new spa and we went to the opening to support him. It's the best massage place in the city.

Weekends are still free to do fun and crazy things. My friend Uno opened up a new spa and we went to the opening to support him. It’s the best massage place in the city.

 

One weekend I played an extra day of badminton and went to a pizza party afterwards. Perfect day.

One weekend I played an extra day of badminton and went to a pizza party afterwards. Perfect day.

Still supporting my frisbee friends, but I don't go watch them as much as I used to.

Still supporting my frisbee friends, but sadly I don’t go watch them as much as I used to.

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

Book Review: The Empress of Bright Moon

empress of bright moon coverI consider myself to be a discerning consumer. I’m not highbrow, but I like shows that treat me like an intelligent person, like House of Cards or Game of Thrones, not things like dumb sitcoms or cheesy soaps.

Or so I think. I recently realized when it comes down to it, every show is basically a soap opera. Sure, House of Cards might be a “political thriller” but it’s basically a soap. Game of Thrones? Same thing. So I guess what I actually like is strong, well developed characters, in a rich and detailed world going through a lot of crazy shit. (Think about it people, that’s exactly what every good show boils down to.) Now, enter my book review….

Based on the true story of Empress Wu (the only female empress in China history) The Moon in the Palace, written by Weina Dai Rendal, is a richly researched, thrilling story set in ancient China. Just my cuppa. The main story starts with Mei’s youth (Empress Wu’s younger name) to her entry into the palace. The second book Empress of Bright Moon, covers the rest if her story with the rise and fall of a woman in the palace, and all the crazy shit drama that goes with a woman in power in ancient China.

As it’s a story about a woman, everything is from the woman’s point of view, and the female experiences. (A point-of-view you don’t get a lot, but I like.) Yes, there are bigger picture things going on with China and the world, but for Mei her whole world is the palace, first the outer area where the concubines wait to be chosen, and then the inner area where they are there to serve the emperor. Both are confining, small worlds (they aren’t allowed out and can’t walk around freely) but there are enough dramas and battles to be waged indoors.

And for women, the battles are with lies, wit, actions and getting the more powerful man to protect you publicly. Man, it must have sucked to be a woman back then. Although men weren’t spared their own political drama’s. Without giving too much away, Mei’s lover becomes emperor but quickly finds himself usurped by his uncle with no real political, or personal, power. Man, it must have sucked to be a man back then.

Another thing I really liked was the detail. You can tell Weina spent a lot of time researching this period. (In this interview at the Speaking of China blog she told Jocelyn it was ultimately 10 years of research.)  But just like a pro athlete making a sport look easy you don’t think too much about what must have gone on to get these seemingly easy results. Weina doesn’t bog the story down with unnecessary descriptions. She tells just enough to make sure you have a crystal clear mental image, but aren’t distracted from the story at all. As a writer myself I know how hard that is to do. (And I’m a bit jealous of the apparent ease in which Weina, a non-native speaker, pulls it off!)

As with all historical novels based on real people, you know the end of the story. She was empress (and a good one), so you never actually fear for her life. But that doesn’t mean the story isn’t exciting. I read the two books in just a few days because it’s an interesting story, in a classy soap opera way: lies, betrayals, deaths, secrets, love affairs. All the good drama.

I know summer is coming and I could see this as a perfect summer book. The kind that makes you skip going in the water with your kids because you wanna find out what happens next.

Categories: China, Writing | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Three Things I’ve Learned From Walking 10,000 Steps Everyday

Hey, remember a few months ago when I wrote about walking 10,000 steps everyday for 100 consecutive days? Well, guess what? I’ve kept at it an now have passed 183 days! (Actually I’m at day 225, I had internet problems and couldn’t update my blog for awhile.) But day 183 was the big day I was waiting for. Why? Because that’s half a year.

IMG_6493

So I have now walked 10,000 steps everyday for more than half a year! Everyday getting up and going out. Every day, walking for about 2 hours even if I don’t feel like it. Everyday of sometimes walking back and forth in my friends living room just waiting for that buzz from the bracelet to signal I have hit my daily goal (I’ve done that 3 times now).

And in that six-months I’ve learned a few things:

The steps are a small thing that lead to big changes

This step goal was a goal all unto itself. I didn’t have weight loss goals or fitness goals. I just told myself 10,000 steps everyday (the recommended number for staying healthy), and that was it. But I noticed a mind shift and it has ended up changing a lot of things.

Such as? To get to 10,000 I had to shift some of my daily patterns. I’ve gotten off the bus a few stops early, and walked the rest of the way, taken the stairs instead of the elevator, choosing to go to a store a little further away just for the steps.

I quickly realized that one big powerhouse session to try to get 10,000 steps wasn’t helpful. A few times I was lazy all day, hiding in my house, figuring I could just get my steps in one evening walk. Yet every time I did that, the walk was exhausting, took hours, and was always less steps then I had anticipated. I would end up walking for hours around my neighborhood and not even reach my goal.

But, If I just did a few little things during the day to increase my steps, then I found I could easily accomplish my goals during my normal activity. And then I noticed that even when I had already reached the daily goal, I still continued with the extra activity (like taking the stairs instead of the elevator).

10,000 is my goal, but my daily average is actually 15,000 steps a day which is 10km (6.2 miles).

10,000 is my goal, but my daily average is actually 15,000 steps a day which is 10km (6.2 miles).

It gets you out of the house 

I also said yes to a lot of activities I might have skipped because I knew I needed the steps. Luckily I live in an active city, with active friends, and there are often hikes, or Hash House Harrier walks so I have lots of opportunities. But my weeks are busy and by the time the weekend rolls around I’m tired and just wanna stay home. Knowing that I had to go out and get my steps anyway motivated me to participate in more hikes and activities in my city, leading me to be more social.

I’m a natural introvert and live in a subtropical place. Sometimes I just want to hide in my house, with the a/c on avoiding everyone and everything. But knowing that I have to get dressed and go out no matter what has made me more active socially.

So happy to see the checkpoint.

There was that time I walked 25km at night. I finished my 10,000 steps goal before I went to bed that night!

Annoying Things are Less Annoying 

This semester I started teaching in a new classroom which is 25 minutes away from my apartment. My last classroom was 5 minutes away. I use to be able to wake up late and basically roll out of bed and into the classroom. If I forgot something it was no biggie as I could just run back home during the break. But not with the new classroom. I have to wake up earlier, prepare and leave on time if I am to make it before the bell rings. And it’s hot here, remember? After a 25 minute walk I arrive dripping in sweat and cranky. Not pretty.

My friend offered me a bike to use (It would be a 10 minute bike ride) but I declined. Because that 25 minute walk counts towards my steps. Walking to and from the classroom, and adding a walk to a restaurant for lunch and I have reached my goal by noon. So I’m actually grateful for the distance.

It’s changed my mind on other things. The nearest bus stop seems light years away from me, but I know it adds to my steps and I stopped caring about the distance. And walking the four flights to my apartment is a tiring chore, especially late at night when I’m worn out. But it’s steps and I know they add up, so I’m okay with it now. It’s not like I skip up four flights whistling dixie, but I don’t curse every step like I used to.

Although Some Things are More Annoying

Walking 10,000 steps a day isn’t all convenience. It requires planning, it requires thinking about it everyday, and sometimes I have had to change my plans just to get it. When I was traveling recently, I know that travel days were a real problem. If I took a long flight or train ride during the day it would be impossible to get my steps (I walked in circles around a train station once just to get more steps. With my luggage. It wasn’t fun.) So now I schedule planes and trains later in the day so I have the morning to get my steps in.

IMG_6342

Scheduling my train for later in the day put me smack dab in the middle of this nightmare this past holiday. If I had left early I would have missed this mess. But I would have also missed out on my goal for the day.

I’ve also had to leave my friends and fun hangouts at 10pm just because I still have a few thousand steps to go. And worst of all it means that for half a year I haven’t had one lazy day where I stay home all day in my pj’s. Sometimes you wanna stay home in your pj’s! And when I was sick, the last thing I wanted to do was go out. The only way I could convince myself to leave was to go to Walmart to do shopping. Several times I walked up and down every aisle in Walmart just to get enough steps.

At this point, I’m not quite sure when I’m gonna stop it. Should I go a full year? I guess at some point I’ll be forced to miss my goal like, if I break my leg, or have an unavoidable 16 hour plane ride (or, if I lose my bracelet).

I’m naturally lazy and having this small accountability, and goal, really does change my mentality and pushes me to get dressed and go out. I’m not getting super fit, nor losing a ton of weight because of this goal, but it insures that I get up and go everyday, and to me that’s worth it.

 

 

 

 

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

Happy Easter from China

Happy Easter from my little bunnies to you.

Teaching English in China

Teaching english in china

Teaching English in China

Teaching English in China

Teaching English in China

Teaching English in China

Teaching English in China

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

Sometimes You Just Don’t China

Spring festival is the biggest holiday in China and a really good chance to dig into and participate in Chinese culture.

So what did I do? Got a buttload of KFC and played board games with foreigners all night. Cause sometimes you just don’t China.

Chinese New years

A bunch of laowai siting around eating KFC, ignoring all the cultural things around us. And we were okay with that.

I mean, I’ve been here for seven years. I’ve learned the traditions, I’ve followed the fun. My door still has last year’s 对联 (rhyming couplet) around the door, I’ve watched the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, eaten dumplings, spent my nights outside watching fireworks. I’ve even spent the holiday in a teeny, tiny village in the countryside, the only foreigner to have been there in remembered history.

For the first several years, I wanted to do everything Chinese. I figured I only had a short time in China and I wanted to learn and observe as much as I could. I rarely ate western food, stayed away from foreigners, dated guys who couldn’t speak English and generally took every opportunity that was given to me. And it was awesome.

But now this is my life. The holiday isn’t a new cool, cultural experience for me anymore. I’ve done the traditions before and I’ll do them again. So if I don’t want to for once, then so be it. I’m not gonna feel guilty about it.

Because I did used to feel guilty of not China-fying every moment, wanting to justify myself if I was at, say, McDonald’s “I haven’t eaten western food in months! I’m not the type of foreigner who relies on McDonald’s!” I would want to tell every patron around me. I hate when foreigners come to China and don’t take advantage of living in a different culture, and I never wanted to be one of those people.

But now? Fuck it. If you judge me for eating at a McDonald’s, or sitting with a bunch of white friends during the biggest holiday, okay. It doesn’t affect me or my life, so judge away.

Cause sometimes you just don’t China.

 

 

 

Categories: At Home, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Art of Taking Pictures of Yourself While Traveling Alone

One of my favorite pictures of myself taken by a stranger. I have found success asking others to take pictures for me, and you can too!

One of my favorite pictures of myself taken by a stranger. I have found success asking others to take pictures for me, and you can too!

For the past four years now, I have traveled almost entirely alone. In fact, I insist on it, refusing any invitations or requests to travel from other people. (I’m kinda bitchy like that.) On my own I’ve been to several countries, and all parts of China and I have never had any major problems that I couldn’t deal with myself.

Almost.

You see, there are still two problems I have when traveling alone. One is going to the bathroom when you have all your luggage with you, and the other is taking pictures of yourself, your whole body, when at an interesting place.

Everyone can take a selfie, but sometimes a selfie doesn’t accomplish what you want. So what to do when you want a picture of you but don’t want to take a selfie?

Here are some tips:

Find the Selfie Queen

You know that annoying young girl taking 100 million pictures of herself drinking at Starbucks? Ask her to take a picture for you, especially if your camera is your phone. She will not only know how to work it, but she’ll know the best angles and places for you to stand. She’ll even notice the light and position you out of the shadows. These Selfie Queens have spent countless hours making sure they know how to take a good picture of themselves, so use their knowledge to let them take a good picture of you.

Selfie Queen

This selfie queen is perfect if you want a picture of yourself drinking at Starbucks.

Even Better, Find Her Boyfriend

This is the guy that has taken 100 thousand pictures of his girlfriend being cute in the snow, cute at dinner, cute when she is just waking up. His muse is his girlfriend, but she is a demanding muse, and through her tantrums and pouts at bad pics, he has learned a thing or two about taking pictures of people. Wait till he is finishes taking pictures of his girlfriend and then ask him to take one for you.

Selfie Queen Boyfriend

Look for the Person with the Nicest Equipment

If you are at a tourist destination, chances are there are several other people around who are happy to take your picture. No one has ever refused a lone traveler looking for some help. But, the ability of these tourists vary greatly. If I can’t find a selfie queen I prefer to ask people with the nicest camera, assuming that they care a bit more about photography and composition then the average phone/camera user. These are aspiring amateur photographers and they might even feel proud that you asked them to do it.

See that guy using $3000 equipment to take a picture of a reflection of a leaf on the snow? He's a good candidate to take a picture of you.

See that guy using $3000 equipment to take a picture of a shadow of a tree on the snow? He’s a good candidate to take a picture of you.

 

Think Creatively

Sure, we all want a picture of ourselves standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, but what about some more creative, interesting photos of yourself? Find a reflecting surface and stand in front of that, or use your shadow falling across something interesting to show where you are. While technically a selfies it doesn’t just have to be your big face in front of something. You can take some more unique pictures of yourself by yourself while out and about.

Taking pics while traveling

Don’t ask the Waiter

I don’t know why, but I have never had a good picture of me taken by a waiter. They seem to stand back as far as they can, and take the biggest, widest picture possible usually getting a finger, or a piece of clothing in the way. You think they get asked all the time to take pictures of a group of friends eating together, and yet every time a waiter takes a picture, it always needs to be edited to make it at all worthwhile.

Could the waiter have gotten any further away?! And what's with that big purple thing at the bottom of the picture?

Could the waiter have gotten any further away?! And what’s with that big purple thing at the bottom of the picture?

Ask the Person to Take Several

Most people tend to naturally take at least two or three, but if they don’t, ask them. It’s free and easy and there is really no reason not to. You blink, maybe you move your mouth weird. One picture almost never works. Get them to take several.

In a cooking class in Thailand I just passed my camera to another participant and told him to go crazy as I made spring rolls. Now I have the whole process on camera and I even used it once to remind myself how to make it when I did it at home.

In a cooking class in Thailand I just passed my camera to another participant and told him to go crazy as I made spring rolls. Now I have the whole process on camera and I even used it once to remind myself how to make it when I did it at home.

Always, Always Check Your Picture

Sometimes you feel a bit imposing when asking others to take pictures of you, so when they hand back the camera you put it in your pocket immediately, thanking them. I’ve done that a few times and it has always gone wrong. Make sure to check the photo and if the fault is you, blinking, or a strange look on your face, usually the person is happy to take it again. (In fact, most people feel a responsibility when taking a picture of you and usually ask “is it okay?” when handing back the camera.)

If the fault is theirs, bad composition, holding the camera strange, then just say “great! Thanks!” and hang back and wait until they leave and ask someone else to take a picture again.

At a recent professional badminton game I asked my friend to take a picture of me standing in front of the court. I was thinking it would be a great profile picture for my badminton site. As it was my friend who took the picture, I trusted her and didn't check. When I finally looked, long after we were out of the stadium, I freaked out at my poor friend. But really I have no one else to blame as I should have known better and checked immediately.

At a recent professional badminton game I asked my friend to take a picture of me standing in front of the court. I was thinking it would be a great profile picture for my badminton site. As it was my friend who took the picture, I trusted her and didn’t check. When I finally looked, long after we were out of the stadium, I freaked out at my poor friend. But really I have no one else to blame as I should have known better and checked immediately.

Sometimes You Just Need to Live Without the Picture

Sometimes, none of these tricks work. Maybe you are totally by yourself with no way to set the camera timer, or maybe that perfect picture you want is just a bit too difficult to ask a stranger (specific composition, or something in which you would have to move far away and it would take time). Then you just go without.

Everyone loves to have some nice pictures of themselves in cool places, but really, pictures should be an afterthought. We don’t travel just for the pictures. We travel for the experiences, for the feelings for the chance to see these things with our own eyes. So if you can’t take a picture of yourself standing in front of a beautiful mountain view, or standing admiring a piece of art, so be it. You got to walk in the mountain yourself, and you got to look at the piece of art with your own eyes. That’s the important part. The picture is just gravy and isn’t necessary when it comes down to it. So, if you have a good idea for a picture of yourself but no method to do it, then just let it go and move on.

Sometimes you just have to forget sticking your face in every picture and just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Sometimes you just have to forget sticking your face in every picture and just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

As for the other problem I have, going to the bathroom with my luggage, well, I’ve just learned how to use a squat toilet while keeping a 20 pound backpack on and hope that I can raise myself without support and don’t slip. So far so good. But if you figure out a good hack for dealing with asian squat toilets with all your luggage, please let me know.

Categories: China, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Being a Teacher is Worth It

Besides going to mountains this winter break, I had another accidental theme: Seeing my students. I’ve been teaching for so long, and with such a large number of students, that it just figures they are now spread all throughout China and I’d bump into them from time to time.

This trip I kept tripping over them everywhere I went. My first stop in Hong Kong is proof of that…

One of my “usual’s” that I have visited for years is Danlee. Danlee was a senior my first year of teaching and my time as her actual teacher was short. Just one semester. But I will never forget her class because of one incident. Let’s take the way back machine to 2009….

I was standing, teaching current events to her class. It was my first semester and as a natural introvert I didn’t quite know how to control a class. Her classmates, seniors who didn’t even need to come to class, much less listen, were gabbing away. I was too shy to ask them to be quiet, but with Danlee in class, I didn’t have to worry.

“Would you all STOP TALKING and listen to the teacher?!” She said bolting up and glaring at her classmates. They listened to her and remained quiet the rest of the semester.

After graduating college she went to Hong Kong for her masters and has lived and worked there ever since. She’s really busy, but we chat often and I don’t consider a trip to Hong Kong complete without seeing her.

Teaching English in China

I had another surprise in Hong Kong though. As I was on the train, looking at my Wechat Moments, I saw a former student had posted some mundane picture about going to the gym. But she had geotagged it, and it said “Hong Kong” so I immediately wrote to her and asked her if she was in Hong Kong. She was! And so was another of her classmate, both getting a master degree. So of course we made plans to meet.

Teaching English in China

They graduated in 2011 and we haven’t seen each other in years so we did a lot of gossiping.

Then there was Hangzhou, my last stop of my trip. Most of my former students are there and while I only had a two days, I called up a few of them and got to see some of my babies again.

Teaching English in China

These are the guys I used to write about constantly. The students I taught every semester for four years. The ones who are far beyond my students. They graduated a year and a half ago and it’s been a year since I have seen them last.

We ate dinner together, and then did KTV. One of the boys even sang REM’s “Losing my Religion,” a song I introduced to them in 2010 or 2011. (I couldn’t believed he still remembered it!) We had so much fun during KTV, singing funny songs, and songs that have meaning to us, and for the last few songs they just put on some cheesy k-pop an we all got up and danced and laughed and forgot about the years and distances between us.

KTV in China

Afterwards they all insisted in walking me back to my hostel, as they used to do on campus, and I reminded them of another time when we all walked together. It was my last year in Lin’an and I had been really sick. I was slowly getting my health back, but still weak and some of them would accompany me on my slow nightly walks.

One night, all my boys came to walk with me, eight in total and they were spread around me, a few in the front, a few next to me and a few behind. I thought nothing of it until we walked by a group of my freshman students whose jaws dropped and they gave a slow wave at me marveling at the handsome guys flanking me like a security detail.

So of course what did they do when I told them this story? They decided to flank me again and be my guards. Elaine, the sole girl that joined us, pretended to be a crazy stalker fan and they blocked her from seeing me.

My security detail!

My security detail!

Living in China

Then when we got back to the hostel, they made me wait as they lined up in formation. I felt like a queen entering her castle.

Then we said our sad goodbyes and gave each other one last hug. They insisted at waiting at the bottom of the stairs while I went up. I would have called it silly, but during their 4 years they did the same thing, walking me to my building and refusing to leave the entrance until I walked out of sight. Little do they know it has always been hard for me to walk away from them like that.

teaching in China

I’ve always liked my job, but now with years under my belt I am reaping benefits I didn’t expect. Not only do I have a lot of new friends, but I get to see them grow up and change and deal with problems and tackle life. And I feel proud. I’m not their mom and had very little to do with their accomplishments, but I watch them and feel proud nevertheless. I know this is something every teacher must go through and it’s awesome. It’s just awesome.

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

My Silent Traveling Companion

You might think I traveled alone this holiday, as you see I had a room for one, bought one train ticket and had no one else in my pictures. But that’s not true. I didn’t travel with another person, but I didn’t travel alone. I traveled with someone very popular, someone who kept me warm when I was cold, and never complained when we hiked all day in the rain. That someone? The Harbin Jacket.

You see, despite my hearty New England upbringing, Xiamen has made me soft. Winter in Xiamen is in the 60’s, which means a light jacket, maybe a sweater, nothing more. No need for hat, gloves, scarves or especially a warm winter jacket. When I moved here I threw away my very old winter jacket assuming I’d just buy a new one when I needed it. But I’ve never needed it. Not in Xiamen. None of us do. So none of us have winter coats.

But, we have to leave the warm embrace of Xiamen sometimes, and one of my friends had to take a trip, in the winter, to Harbin. Harbin is in north China, near the tippy top, and is known as the coldest city in China, with averages way below zero (in both Fahrenheit and Celsius).

So she bought herself a warm winter jacket and The Harbin Jacket entered our lives. Since then, whenever any of my friends needs to travel somewhere cold, we use this jacket. After all, there is no reason to spend a lot of money for a jacket we use for just a few days. And my friend is nice enough to share.

So the jacket has some amazing adventures. As the traveling partner of the jacket I was lucky enough to have some adventures with it. It played a big role in my trip and many times was the star of my photos:

Leaving Xiamen, it was too hot to wear the jacket so it hung out in the overhead rack and had a great time. It loves to travel.

Leaving Xiamen, it was too hot to wear the jacket so it hung out in the overhead rack and had a great time. It loves to travel.

 

It got to work right away as when I arrived in Mt Wuyi, it was cold and wet and I needed it to help me. It had been a long time since I wore such a heavy jacket and I kinda forgot how it all worked.

It got to work right away as when I arrived in Mt Wuyi, it was cold and wet and I needed it to help me. It had been a long time since I wore such a heavy jacket and I kinda forgot how it all worked.

On the cold, wet river while getting rained on the Harbin Jacket was offended that I wore one of those dumb rain ponchos over it. The jacket later yelled at me, and assured me that it could keep me dry and I would never have to embarrass myself by wearing that ugly garbage bag again. I apologized.

On the cold, wet river while getting rained on the Harbin Jacket was offended that I wore one of those dumb rain ponchos over it. The jacket later yelled at me, and assured me that it could keep me dry and I would never have to embarrass myself by wearing that ugly garbage bag again. I apologized.

 

At one point I was under a giant rock, where it was dry, and I decided to take off the jacket for a minute as I walked around exploring some caves. The Harbin Jacket used these moments of solitude to contemplate the big questions.

At one point I was under a giant rock, where it was dry, and I decided to take off the jacket for a minute as I walked around exploring some caves. The Harbin Jacket used these moments of solitude to contemplate the big questions.

Becky Ances

 

On Huang Shan it used every ounce of it's warming ability to stay close and keep me warm. It loved to sit quietly and gaze out over the snowy peaks.

On Huang Shan it used every ounce of it’s warming ability to stay close and keep me warm. It loved to sit quietly and gaze out over the snowy peaks.

 

Once I wanted to go in and warm up but if refused me and made me stand outside and hike around so it could see more. It was sometimes a very demanding travel companion.

Once I wanted to go in and warm up but if refused me and made me stand outside and hike around so it could see more. It was sometimes a very demanding travel companion.

 

After the peacefulness of the mountains, the Harbin Jacket was excited to go to the big city where, upon arrival, it went to a bar, and picked up checks! This girl taught taught the Harbin Jacket Latin dancing, while I sat to the side, too shy to dance.

After the peacefulness of the mountains, the Harbin Jacket was excited to go to Shanghai where, upon arrival, it went to a bar, and picked up chicks! This girl taught taught the Harbin Jacket Latin dancing, while I sat to the side, too shy to dance.

 

More Latin dancing!

More Latin dancing!

 

Then it enjoyed meeting my students and being snuggled by a lot of guys. The Harbin Jacket loves people, not gender.

Then it enjoyed meeting my students and being snuggled by a lot of guys. The Harbin Jacket loves people, not gender.

 

And once again in protected me as the rain raged outside and I had no umbrella and walked a few kilometers. It's hard to see from this picture, but my pants weren't so lucky and ended up soaked. But my torso was okay, protected by the Harbin Jacket.

And once again in protected me as the rain raged outside and I had no umbrella and walked a few kilometers. It’s hard to see from this picture, but my pants weren’t so lucky and ended up soaked. But my torso was okay, protected by the Harbin Jacket.

 

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Then upon arriving back in Xiamen, I had to immediately pass it back off to my friend who needed to travel north for Chinese New Year. In just a few short weeks, me and that jacket went through a lot. We ate together, we hiked together, we rode trains, slept in the same room every night and even went to the bathroom together a few times. Yep, we were that close. I’ll miss you buddy!

Categories: China, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hiking the Majestic Yellow Mountain

Not all famous places are worth the hype. The Terracotta Warriors? Kinda lame in person. The Great Wall? S’okay if you can find a quiet day. Hong Kong’s Star Ferry? Made me seasick.

But there is one place that is more amazing and more majestic then anywhere I’ve ever been in China. Coincidentally it is one of the most famous tourists attractions in China: The fabled Yellow Mountain–called Huang Shan in Chinese.  (The following pictures were all taken by me with my iphone.)

It is the grandaddy of all famous mountains and it’s history in China is long and vast. Even its name is steeped in Chinese myth and history. It was named after Huang Di, a mythical, legendary Emperor said to be the father of the Han Chinese. He created pills of immortality on the mountain and ascended to heaven from the peaks.

Yellow Mountain/Huang Shan

And I fucking believe it. I can believe anything that has ever happened there because of what it felt like. I’ve been to a lot of places, a lot of mountains in the world, and I will tell you there is something there that no other mountain has. I can’t explain to you what it is exactly, a feeling, a power, a presence that is deep, and strong. I get why, more than any other mountain, Huang Shan has attracted monks, poets, hermits and others to its steep slopes. I get why it has been a place of meditation, of poetic inspiration as well as artistic for thousands of years. It’s natural beauty alone could account for the millions of tourists that flock to it’s peaks every year, but there is more than just beauty to look at. There are things to listen to, whispers from the mountain, there are things to feel. There are thoughts to have, inspiration to be gathered.

Not from a website, my actual picture of a place I was actually at. Still have trouble believing it.

And I was “lucky” as southern China was going through a record-breaking deep freeze. The top of Huang Shan was -22C. This is a mountain in southern China. Sure, it’s high, with an elevation of 1,800 meters (6,100 feet) but it’s located in a warmer climate. January temps are usually around freezing, not much below.

But it was minus 22 degrees with a major snowfall which happened the day before I arrived at the base of the mountain. It might sound like a miserable time to climb, and at first, I agreed. You cannot go to the bottom of the mountain directly, but you need to take a shuttle bus to the entrance. The line for the shuttle bus was packed, not because there was a lot of people, but rather because there were no buses. Their engines had frozen and they were trying to start them by pouring boiling hot water over the casing.

I got to the entrance of the shuttle buses, bought a bottle of water, waited in the short line for my shuttle bus ticket and then noticed that my water had started TO FREEZE!! In just a very short time. And I was planning on being outside for the next two days?! Was I nuts?!

I got to the entrance of the shuttle buses, bought a bottle of water, waited in the short line for my shuttle bus ticket and then noticed that my water had started TO FREEZE!! In just minutes. And I was planning on being outside for the next two days?! Was I nuts?!

 

You can see from my face that I really wasn't sure this was a good idea. This picture was taken at the bottom of the mountain, outside the entrance, before I had seen the real beauty of the mountain. Once I did I knew it was worth it even at -30 or even colder.

You can see from my face that I really wasn’t sure this was a good idea. This picture was taken at the bottom, outside the entrance, before I had seen the real beauty of the mountain. Once I did I knew it was worth it at any temperature.

The snow also made it a bit hazardous to hike. They have workers that live on the mountain year round to maintain it, but there was feet of snow and miles of trails to clear. The steps were shoveled, but not clear. Each stone step (some built 1,500 years ago) had a little mound of snow on it and without crampons it would be near impossible to walk. Even with crampons there were some very dangerous parts. I slipped once, but luckily I was walking up steps, not down, so I just fell forward instead of falling off a cliff.

My lovely crampins and what could only be described as a shoe condom to keep my sneakers dry.

My lovely crampons and what could only be described as a “shoe condom” to keep my sneakers dry.

 

In some narrow areas they actually needed pick axes to break up the snow and they threw it on tarps to drag over to the edge to toss over.

In some narrow areas they actually needed pick axes to break up the snow and they threw it on tarps to drag over to the edge to toss over.

So I was a crazy time to go. But you know what? I feel sooooo lucky to get there at that time. It doesn’t snow like this that often, and with very minimal crowds and cold conditions, the mountain felt totally empty. And with clear blue skies, sunshine and snow that wouldn’t melt, I got to see a side of the mountain few do.

I found myself alone, more often than with people. Something unheard of in such a famous place in China.

I found myself alone, more often than with people. Something unheard of in such a famous place in China.

yellow Mountain/Huang Shan

With temperatures so cold, stopping and resting wasn’t much of an option. In fact, climbing the mountain was a bit of relief as it was strenuous and tiring and warmed me up. Nothing could help my hands, which I kept balled up in my gloves, but with every step up, I could stay warm enough that the cold didn’t bother me. Until, that is, my eyes became blurry and I realized it was because my eyelashes had frozen.

Yellow Mountain/Huang Shan, China

Frozen breath, frozen eyelashes, not frozen girl.

But it was worth it. The peace, the quiet, the beauty of the mountain, the frozen landscapes in all directions. It was worth it.

I spent the night at the top of the mountain, to be able to watch the sunrise the next day, and wasn’t expecting much. Hotels at the top of mountains are usually dirty, damp, squalid places that basically provide an overpriced bed with overpriced food.  So I was very surprised to find that the hotel I booked was gorgeous, with fresh, warm rooms and overpriced, but delicious food.

The lobby of my hotel. I booked a bed in a 6-bed dorm room to save money.

The lobby of my hotel. I booked a bed in a 6-bed dorm room to save money.

A view of the hotel's exterior. Despite the cold there was lots of heat and even warm water.

A view of part of the hotel’s exterior. Despite the cold there was lots of heat and even warm water.

The next morning I woke in the dark to watch the sunrise. There are some famous spots to go to watch the sunrise but I didn’t want to go. Sunrises are meant to be quiet times, and I selfishly didn’t want to share it with anyone.

This is the viewing platform for the best sunrise spot on the top of the mountain. I could see it would be gorgeous, but I wasn't interested in sharing the sunrise with a few hundred people (or a few dozen, not sure how many peoplke were out and about then. But even a few dozen would have been too much.)

This is the viewing platform for the best sunrise spot on the top of the mountain. I could see it would be gorgeous, but I wasn’t interested in sharing the sunrise with a few hundred people (or a few dozen, not sure how many people were out and about then. But even a few dozen would have been too much.)

 

So instead I chose a nice, quiet spot. I couldn't see the actual sun rising, it was blocked by a cliff, but I could watch the sky lighten and change color as the sun came up.

So instead I chose a nice, quiet spot. I couldn’t see the actual sun rising, it was blocked by a cliff, but I could watch the sky lighten and change color as the sun came up.

I ate some bread I had brought with me (to avoid the $30 breakfast), handed in my room key, and I was back hiking before 7am.

I hiked the western steps that day, but before I could go down, there was a lot more up I had to get to. And it was a lot more beauty as well. Because it was so early the sun hadn’t hit most of the mountain yet. The whole place was in stark contrasting colors, some places bright and yellow from the sun, while others stay shrouded in the blue and white shade colors.

Yellow Mountain/Huang Shan

And everyone was so happy. I didn’t come across many people in the first few hours and it was too early for the day hikers to have arrived, so we all had a sense of camaraderie. We had all survived the numbing cold, we had spent the night, we had awoken before sunrise, and we were all loving the quiet and the hush. Everyone I passed gave a big cheery smile and said hello. No one was grumpy, or loud or rude, and besides from constant spitting, no one was being disrespectful. I walked along mostly in a hushed silence listening to the waking birds.

Huang Shan/Yellow Mountain

The waterfall froze IN MID DROP! That’s how cold it was.

Yellow Mountain/Huang Shan

Huang Shan/Yellow Mountain

In fact the only people I saw with regularity was the porters. They were quietly climbing and I would slowly overtake them, though I admit I took about as many breaks as they did hiking up and I wasn’t carrying a hundred pounds of stuff. Those guys are fit!

Huang Shan/Yellow Mountain

Normally these guys carry everything up the mountain. Sheets, beds, jars of hot sauce, garbage bags. But because of the snow, and the lack of people, the through trails were closed and the gondola was used to bring up halfway up. Then the job of getting the goods to the hotel was left to the porters.

Because I had arrived so early my first day I actually saw the sellers bargaining and packaging the stuff at the bottom of the hill. It was like a makeshift market with scales coming out, and bill of sales being signed.

The food stuffs being prepared for it's trip up the mountain.

The food stuffs being prepared for it’s trip up the mountain.

If you wanted to bring a lot of stuff with you, you could hire a porter to deliver your luggage for you as well. I opted for a small little daypack, but was impressed with how many bags one porter could carry.

If you wanted to bring a lot of stuff with you, you could hire a porter to deliver your luggage to your hotel.

It’s a strange economy which requires pretty torturous, physical exertion for I’m guessing, a small salary. The hotels are located 2-7km away from the gondola, much less the entire height of the mountain and there is no way any other mode of delivery would work. There are no ramps, no way to pull the stuff around, just hundreds and thousand of stairs. It’s no wonder that a small bowl of soup which usually cost $1 cost $8 on top of the mountain. Also, they have to deal with all the tourists taking pictures of them, talking to them, getting in their way, even asking directions. (As a foreigner in China, I feel ya guys.) Major respect to them.

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Huang Shan/Yellow Mountain

Anyway, words cannot describe how amazing it was, nor can the pictures do the beauty of the place justice. Huang Shan is known for it’s “cloud sea” which sadly I didn’t get to see (usually the clouds settle below the peaks so from the top you can look out and not see the ground, but just clouds in every direction for miles). It’s so convenient from Xiamen to go there, and someday I might again. But I can’t imagine I would get a better day then the days I went. I would hate to spoil the memory, or expect for and look forward to the quiet peacefulness and go on a day when there are millions of people running around, yelling, throwing garbage and spoiling the peace.

But regardless of the crowds or the timing, I urge anyone who has never been to go. Just go! It is not underrated at all. In fact, despite it being a top tourist destination, I don’t think it’s appreciated enough.

Categories: China, Chinese Culture, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments