Yesterday and today were both good days again.
On Tuesday I taught half of the seventh grade classes and had a really good time with them. Apparently it was Teacher’s Day in China so every time I asked the students what today was, hoping for the answer “Tuesday”, I got “Teacher’s Day!” I’m not really sure what it means but I had several students come up to me in the hallways and say “Hello, teacher; Happy Teacher’s Day!” and then walk away. I thought it was nice and it got them speaking English in an organic way, which is the point of my job.
The seventh grade classes are good. They clearly have a smaller vocabulary than the eighth graders and communication is more difficult since this is their first year without a Chinese speaking assistant in the English speaking classroom, but they all did a very good job and I enjoyed teaching them. All of my classes were very engaged in the class activities and, a couple of times, students were even climbing over each other trying to make their hand higher so I would call on them to answer a question. One kid even started yelling “Beautiful teacher! Beautiful teacher!” trying to get me to focus on him instead. Their enthusiasm made me laugh and made the classes very fun for me to teach.
During the breaks I was swarmed by seventh grade girls who wanted to touch my hair and let me know that it is long and blonde and wanted to tell me “laoshi (teacher), you’re very beautiful”.
At one point in class I realized most of the students had their dictionaries or textbooks out earnestly trying to find new vocabulary to fit into my categories game as fast as they could and I consider that subtle encouragement of learning new words a huge success!
Today was also a good teaching day. I taught all of the fifth grade classes for the second time, making today my first repeat day of classes. We have officially been teaching English in China for one week! I played some review games with the kids to see where they are on vocabulary and to see if they learned what they should have learned last year. Fortunately, it seems that they are caught up and I can start teaching new things from their “textbook” lessons. Next week I will begin giving the students English names if they want one and don’t already have one. I have a whole list of English names and their respective meanings compiled so that I can give thought to the naming process since names in China are such a big deal. I’ve been looking forward to this naming activity since we found out we had teaching jobs.
I’ve been thinking about food a lot since we arrived in China (indeed, it was one of the things I was most excited about coming to China). The whole eating experience and the thoughts toward food are so different here than in America. For one, eating is a communal activity. In the States, I have actively resisted the campaigns trying to reinvigorate the idea of family dinnertime seeing it as an unpleasant way to force people who don’t like each other and don’t communicate well with one another to be together in an artificial bonding scenario. Here, though, communal eating seems so natural. Just last night, we ate dinner at a small table, amongst many other small tables, sitting on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant. Though we were clearly having dinner by ourselves, sharing the outdoor eating experience with other people doing the same thing as us really made me feel a sense of community that I can’t remember experiencing in America. The street food is probably my favorite, not just for taste, but also for the communal experience. That may be why I love the happy baozi man stand so much! You go underneath a tent that is set up on the side of the road, order shi baozi (ten baozi) and sit down at a small table right next to the cook/owner. From your seat, you can see all the other food stands/tents on that street, all the people sharing their mealtime, and you see your food prepared, cooked, and served to you within five minutes.
The food here, even the street food that would be condemned in America, is also healthier than most things I find in the US. In America, heart disease is one of the primary killers of adults and we blame meat, eggs, and fats. This has led to a nation that can be deathly afraid of animal products, yet health rates have not improved. In China, however, all the foods that we condemn as essentially evil, are staples and the Chinese people, in general, are exceeding us and other nations in health and longevity. Clearly, the animal products are not the problem. It’s interesting comparing the food because once you’re eating a diet like I am now, you realize just how much of our food in America is highly processed, far from the source, and just overloaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. Here the food is organic, close to the original source, very rarely sweetened, and more delicious. I know many people will disagree with me but I am sharing the China experience through my individual perspective. And as I see it, I love the food here and I know I’m going to miss it, especially the street vendors, once I’m back in the US.
On another note, we got paid for the first time yesterday (in cash) and we now have a bathmat and a new showerhead in our apartment. It really is amazing how much those two simple additions can enhance the feel of a bathroom. Though we don’t have a squatty potty in our bathroom (there are two down the hall for us to use as we please), with our Western toilet we cannot flush toilet paper or it will clog. So toilet paper gets thrown away and collected in a trashcan rather than flushed away. It really is something I had never thought about before but I am now very appreciative of flushing toilet paper without clogging the toilet. Our sink, just like every sink I’ve encountered in Baoding, leaks tremendously from the pipes, and thus has low water pressure. Our bathroom sink can only turn on if the faucet handle is directly in the middle of the fixture and not to the sides of the faucet so we only have cold water from the sink. This means the dish cleaning will probably start happening at the same time as shower time.
To finish today’s reflections on Baoding/Chinese oddities, fireworks are pretty much constantly going off in the mornings and at night. We asked a Chinese friend and Baoding native what all the fireworks were about and he said that when people get married they set off fireworks in the morning and when there is a funeral fireworks are set off in the evening so that’s probably what we’re hearing. When you have a regional population of eleven million there is a large allowance for marriages, funerals, and, consequently, fireworks.
We’ve quickly become adjusted to life here in Baoding and, now that we have somewhat of a routine established, we are beginning to itch for more. This weekend we will probably both start studying Chinese more actively. Duncan’s first language mastery goal is food so that we can order off of non-picture menus in restaurants. I will be contented when I am confident with a solid grasp on survival Chinese. We are also going to begin traveling soon. Our first longer weekend is this weekend and we are planning a trip to the famous Baoding Lotus Pond Garden and, hopefully, a trip to Beijing to visit with American friends. We found a map of Baoding that will be super helpful for getting around locally and I am still searching for a high-speed rail map and schedule to plan our future trips. Our first holiday is coming up soon and we are planning to leave Baoding for a few days then but we haven’t decided where yet.
Tomorrow I only have three afternoon classes and then I have no classes Friday so my week is almost over! Everything is going well and we are very happy!
Thank you for reading and keeping in touch! I’m very excited I’ve been able to take you on this journey with us.
And for one more parting note: You know you’ve mastered chopsticks when you can ride the back of a moving motorbike at night, holding on with your legs, and eating a bowl of street noodles successfully as you go. 😉