“Winter is coming!” Well, actually, winter seems to have arrived overnight. I was saving the Game of Thrones reference for later in the Fall when Winter was, indeed, closer, but that was clearly under my false assumption that we would actually have a Fall. It seems that the refreshingly crisp autumnal breeze was a momentary weather mistake that has hence been corrected and turned into a biting, winter chill. The leaves on the trees are still a bright green and show no inclination of changing but all other signs point to a viciously cold winter ahead.
Believing I had plenty of time, I have not yet done the necessary shopping to prepare for such a winter and today that became a much higher priority. I half-jokingly told Duncan at lunch that I wouldn’t be surprised if it started snowing by the end of the day. In all actuality, the low for today was 41 F (so not quite freezing) but once you’re on Kuai Long going about 20 mph in a wintery drizzle, you become a bit convinced you will never be able to move your fingers again and you might, indeed, be stuck on the back of the motorbike because you’re joints have frozen in the wind.
Despite the disheartening weather, the day started out wonderfully with a cup of coffee brewed right in the apartment! The coffee is ground espresso fine and the milk we have is not the half and half I prefer, but coffee, even if not brewed to perfection, in the morning is a pleasure I had been missing.
Teaching (sixth grade) today was successful, enjoyable, and went by very fast. I can’t believe another Monday is already over and I only have three days left to my week. We might go on a day/weekend trip this weekend depending on the weather and the ease of transportation plans. There are some places nearby we’ve been itching to check out but we’re trying to prioritize which visits need to happen first before the weather really starts turning bad. I think, for now, we are leaning towards visit Tai Shan (roughly translated as “Extreme Mountain”). We need to get those peaks in before winter makes it impossible to get up there.
On Sunday, we had a BBQ! We woke up, went to the grocery store, and headed over to our Chinese friends’, Samantha and Johnson, apartment to have a lunch party! Samantha made homemade Kung Pao Chicken, Duncan grilled hot dogs, and I made Mac N Cheese (which is funny because I’ve never made it from scratch before and now our friends think I’m some kind of delicatessen specialty chef). We also had fruit salad (with dragon fruit and sweet mayonnaise), mutton kabobs, and dried Chinese dates (which are supposedly good for the regularity of women). Samantha half-jokingly commented that she wants to save up money to buy an oven so that I can make her my Chicken Parmesan and brownies sometime before our year is up. For the use of an oven, I would gladly help her buy it.
We had a really great time cooking and hanging out with such a multicultural group of friends. At our BBQ were our two Chinese friends who have near fluent English, a Chinese friend of theirs who knows less English than I know Chinese, the two of us, and a Philippino guy who speaks more than four languages (including Chinese and English) and has taught in China for over a year already. The conversations, especially involving different government systems, languages, the way the elderly are treated in different cultures, and familial expectations and influences on the individual, were particularly fascinating and I wish everyone could have been there to share in the discussion.
A fascinating thing about the situation I’m in here is that I am learning a language at the same time as teaching a language. I have discovered that using Chinese with the students, no matter how little it is that I can speak and understand, is immensely beneficial to connecting with the students. Something I have started doing this week in between classes is asking the students to teach me some Chinese. They are very eager and very patient while they laugh at my monstrous mispronunciations and confusion. Today, after only a few minutes spent in the hallway with four or five students, I learned more characters in one sitting than I have done at any other self-studying session. I also learned how to say a phrase I’m not sure I would have otherwise learned this year, which is “qiu (pronounced “cho”) tian lai le” (Autumn is here!) Frequently, I find myself asking why certain things are difficult for my students when they seem super easy to me (for example, the difference between “potato” and “tomato”). And almost immediately after I begin wondering why it’s difficult, I remember that I’m a native English speaker so of course I hear the differences but there are many, many words in Chinese that I cannot hear the differences in at all (especially considering the tonal nature of Chinese language).
With this in mind, I am astounded by the linguistic proficiency that my students do have and I wonder if I could have done as well as they do with English in Spanish when I was their age in school. I cannot imagine being a fifth grader and being taught by a teacher that only speaks their native language and the language I’m supposed to be learning. With this in mind I cannot be frustrated by my students’ misunderstandings and I realize, once again, (no matter how misbehaved at some times), these kids are awesome and I am honored that I get to play a small part in their lives. Maybe one day, one of my kids will sit back and think, “oh I remember my English teacher, Ms. Alyssa”. What would be even more fun is if I heard from them again, once they are adults. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
I hope you have a good week (and are a little warmer than I am)! Thank you for reading!