Nihao wo du pengyoumen (Hello friends!)
Today was really good day – to be honest, it might have been one of my best days of teaching! All of my seventh grade classes were wonderful and I had my most successful international class yet. When I asked my kids today what costume they would like to wear for Halloween if they could, they misunderstood me and thought I wanted them to act it out. So, invariably, in each of my seventh grade classes today I had one kid grab a broom and run around the room with it in between their legs pretending to be a witch; a kid pretending to bite all of their friends on the wrists or neck like a vampire, or a whole gaggle of boys run to the front of the classroom just to walk slowly and moaning to demonstrate zombies. I wish I had taken pictures or videos – it was awesome! We talked all about Halloween and related American customs (such as trick or treating and costume parties) and I taught the international class “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. I even taught my seventh graders, in a completely non-English way, how to make a mask with their hands.
According to Johnson, there was a post today about us when he searched “QLH” on the Chinese Twitter. Some guy had posted that the other day he was minding his own business in QLH when an American couple walked in and started talking to the people behind the counter in fluent English. The guy commented that he wanted to talk to us but seeing the people behind the counter talking to us so fluently made him nervous and as a result, he has made it his new life goal to learn how to speak English fluently. I have no idea who this mysterious person is but I hope that by the end of the year, he does come try to talk to us while we’re in QLH.
Sunday afternoon after my last post, we went shopping at a huge foreign imports mall in the hopes of finding me some winter clothing. On the way to the shopping mall we passed what must have been hundreds of dogs, mostly huge German shepherds, with their owners all lining up on the street off of an empty field. The crowd of dogs and people was so large that even though they were all in the bike lane, traffic was affected. We have no clue what was going on but I would like to assume it was a dog show of sorts rather than something more malicious.
Outside of the shopping mall was a fashion show set up on a “basketball court” playing a song by Club des Belugas that I did a Tim dance to one summer with TBTS. It turns out that the impromptu fashion show was the entertainment during the breaks of a basketball game. Keep in mind, this was on the sidewalk outside of the mall and there wasn’t actually a court, it was just a sectioned off space with a mobile basketball hoop. No one but us seemed to find this in the least bit unusual and after observing for a bit, we decided to continue on to our shopping expedition.
My hopes for finding any winter clothing in this mall were quickly dashed as we realized that this is one of the most expensive shopping centers in Baoding. Clearly, only the richest of the rich can afford to shop in this center and though we are paid considerably more than average teachers, some clothes we saw cost as much as several months’ pay checks for the two of us. In one boutique we found a men’s leather jacket with a ticket price of 9000 Yuan (almost a $1,500 leather jacket)! We left pretty quickly after we realized we would be unable and unwilling to buy anything in there and headed to another brand new shopping mall (a Wal-Mart is soon to open up there!) where I ended up buying my first pair of wool socks (much needed) and a sweater dress that is appropriate for teaching in and will keep me warm and comfy.
Sunday evening, we went out to eat with Enkui and his wife and niece (an English major at a local university). It was, as usual, amazing! They picked us up from the school and took us to a fancy restaurant usually reserved for weddings not too far from the school. I swear, every place we eat with them gets fancier and the food gets more delicious! We had a lovely dinner and ate a sample of food that they described as local cuisine.
While in China I’ve tried Shanghai food, Beijing food, Chinese minority food, and some Sichuan style food (though of course not in Sichuan – yet) and after all of this, I really do think that the Sichuan food is my favorite. Chinese food, as a whole, is delicious and unlike anything you can get in the States but Sichuan style food, with its flavorful spiciness and lack of sweetness really suites my palette quite well I think.
Back from a recent trip to Taiwan, Enkui and his wife brought us back some special Taiwanese food and they brought me back some beautiful red stone bead bracelets (it seems I’m slowly amassing a collection of Chinese jewelry that always comes with a story).
While I’m thinking about unique Chinese food, we went to a Sichuan-style restaurant we frequent with some friends earlier in the weekend. When we are by ourselves we get chicken kabobs, stir-fried green beans (with evil peppercorns that will numb your entire mouth) and rice. But with friends (and as is traditional for groups) we got a larger variety of dishes. Traditionally, if you go to a restaurant with a group of friends, you order enough food for everyone and share the dishes family style. If you are with a group of people you are not as close to, you order one or two more dishes than the number of people, and if you are with a more formal group of people, more food than could possibly be eaten is ordered. (There were eight dishes for the five people at dinner with Enkui the other night, the fewest there has been so far – we can measure our growing friendship in the number of dishes.) With our friends at the Sichuan-style restaurant, we got, among many other dishes, sweet potato “fries” that were covered in sugar and sprinkles and then dipped in sugar-water. It was ridiculous!
Speaking of sweet things, the other day we tried these hawthorn berry things on a stick that seem to be everywhere. I thought that they were roasted tomatoes on a kabob but it turns out it’s a winter treat in Baoding – hawthorn berries stuffed with sweet filling and covered in literal sheets of sugar. The Chinese do not put a lot of sugar in their food but it seems like when they do add sugar, they go all out!
Yesterday was a normal Monday (as I described in the last post) including the lunchtime visit to QLH and an evening visit out on the town. All lessons (as will be all week) were Halloween-inspired and we both had a lot of fun teaching our kids all about monsters, vampires, and zombies (complete with drawings, acting out, and some strange noises on my part). The kids were all a little rowdier than usual because of the relaxed lesson but we all had a lot of fun. Duncan had his younger kids draw their own monsters at the end of the class – giving them a rare opportunity to use their creative brain. In one class, all of the kids were drawing cute monsters but one kid drew a monster with mouths for eyes and faces for hands. To be honest, it sounds like this kid’s monster was scarier than anything I could have come up with on my own.
Duncan said it was a little disconcerting to see this first grader’s drawing of a bloody monster when his neighbor drew an angel for her monster.
In another of Duncan’s classes, the kids turned their monster drawings into masks without any prompting from him. He turned around at one point and saw that all of the students had cut the eyes out of their monster drawings and some of them were in the process of attempting to tape them to their faces. (I had two seventh graders make their own masks in the middle of class today too.) I wish I could have had arts and crafts time with my kids but I think they enjoyed playing hangman well enough.
Duncan’s Kindergarteners learned the concept of “monster” through his English Halloween lesson. They didn’t even know the word for monster in Chinese –that’s how young these kids are. Some of them are only two years old , and no matter how adorable they might be, it seems a little ridiculous that they are 1) at a boarding school and 2) expected to learn English and their own language at such a young age.
The only thing that was not normal about Monday was that we found yet another rich Chinese lady that wants to take us out to eat. I don’t know how we keep finding these rich Baodingites but we do keep stumbling into their graciousness. This lady wants us to teach her and her friend English at QLH twice a week and she wants to teach me Chinese (and maybe how to cook) in return. This lady, Mei Li Xin, is wonderful and super nice but she is also very Chinese. And, she never stops talking! I can talk a lot and pretty fast, especially when I’m excited, but seriously this woman talked so much and so fast the entire three and half hours we were with her that our ears were ringing after we said our goodbyes. We met her in QLH to talk and make plans but then she insisted on taking us out to eat with her niece, a university tongxue (classmate) of Johnson’s, (everyone seems to have a niece that speaks English) to a ritzy hotel restaurant. The food, again a sampling of local style cuisine, was delicious.
When I say she is very Chinese I can only explain what I mean through examples. For one, she makes very literal statements as if they are not obvious but says them in a way that makes it sound like they are urgent and very important. For example, she told Duncan that he looks like he eats hamburgers but he isn’t fat because he has muscles. She told me that most Americans are fat but I’m not fat and that’s why I’m a ballerina. According to her (and she is right), Duncan’s Chinese is much better than mine and my skin is white (I didn’t know that!).
At the beginning of dinner, before we’d even started eating, she insisted on teaching me that I cheered my teacup to her wrong and that because she is older than me, my cup should be lower than hers. All throughout dinner she kept putting food on my plate and saying, “Eat! Eat!”
It became clear after talking to her that she wants to learn how to speak English better so that she can go to other countries around the world and insist that China does everything better or the “right” way. She was extremely proud (and braggadocios) about her son and was extremely enthusiastic (and repetitive) with her English. She insisted that I go to the bathroom with her before eating (as seems to be customary here among women that are buddies) and was concerned that I ate too little when I told her I was chengsi (full to death). Don’t get me wrong – I am not complaining. I am just trying to explain her unforgettable character to those of you who will probably never get a chance to meet her.
We had a really great evening with her and we are looking forward to getting to know her (and her friend who we have yet to meet) more in the future. We see them again on Saturday.
I am so glad that this week has been so much fun so far. Even though the classes are going a lot slower than they usual feel, it’s nice to have a week of teaching that’s even more laid back than usual. I know the kids are enjoying it (especially when I jokingly kick one out of class and tell them they have to knock and say “Trick or Treat” to get back in). I don’t teach this Friday (the middle school students get to go home) so I’m officially half way done with my teaching week! We’re planning on staying in Baoding this weekend again to save some money and to relax with local friends. Hopefully, we’ll find something unique to do on Halloween night!
Ganbei (cheers!) to good health, more smog-less days, and good food!
Talk to you again soon,