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Day 247: Five Weeks Left

Nimenhao!

We’ve had a really enjoyable past couple of days here in Baoding. Having the opportunity to show the sites around to Caitlin and Haley has reminded us a lot of our first couple of months here when every day was an adventure and we weren’t in a routine yet. A lot of our exploring disappeared as we got more and more settled into the routine and as the weather got colder and smoggier, but with the girls here we’ve regained some of that adventuresome spirit.

Over the past few days we’ve tried new bread in the He Da alley (where I thoroughly embarrassed myself linguistically), we ate at an anime themed pizza restaurant with the other foreign teachers in Baoding, we got a kick out of all of the tacky clothes for sale along the road, and I finally worked up the courage (with the group) to play darts at one of the street vendor’s stands (where I won two prizes for consistency).

Darts:
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Street vendors:
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During international class on Tuesday, Haley and I discussed the differences between and characteristics of Chinese and American education systems:
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Thursday afternoon we were all given another tour of the school’s art classes (which I got to join this time) and we had a wonderful time visiting with our students and seeing all their creations. My students, in particular, were super excited to see me since I hadn’t joined the previous art tour. And today, even though it’s Saturday, we have classes (to make up for the classes we’ll miss over May Day holiday) and my fifth graders seem even more excited than usual to see me and let me know that they saw me in their art class.

Oil pastel drawings with Duncan’s kids:
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A paper tank from one of my kids (look at that shirt!):
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My kids making music:
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Some fifth grade girls learning calligraphy:
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Today, Haley has been teaching my fifth grade classes and I’ve been observing. It’s been really fun watching my students from the back of the classroom. Along with the entertainment that comes from them spending the entire class turning around to seek my approval and watching my reactions to what’s happening in the class, it’s been really rewarding to see how much they’ve learned. I’m very proud of the relationships I’ve developed with many of these students because I can see their desire to learn and communicate in English and most of them seem a lot more confident interacting with me and the other foreign teachers than they did at the beginning of the school year. Even if they don’t remember any of the English I taught them, hopefully they’ll remember that foreigners (including teachers) can be fun, friendly, and enjoyable to communicate with. I truly have loved this part of my job here and hope to foster more relationships with students wherever I go next.

Students’ interpretations of “market” (one of them says “How much is the apple?”):
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With five weeks of classes left, we’re beginning to mentally prepare for our return home and along with that comes realizing some of what we’re going to miss. I’m definitely going to miss all the traveling we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do this year but at a local level I’m going to miss how easy it is to get places. Here we can walk to pretty much every place we go to regularly even though we live on the outskirts of town. And if we want to go somewhere a little farther away, Kuai Long (easily the best purchase we’ve made all year) has made that an easy and (mostly) fun mini-adventure. I’ve enjoyed being outside so much this year (despite the smog) since we haven’t had a car and almost all local traveling takes place “in the elements”. And I’ll miss the life and energy of parks and communal spaces. Outdoor spaces just don’t seem as lively or friendly in the States. I’m certainly going to miss all of the street vendors that, even with the burgeoning presence of food trucks in the States, just can’t possibly be replaced. And maybe most of all, I’m going to miss a lot of my students. But for the next five weeks, I’m going to continue to make the most out of this adventure and try to absorb as much of my remaining China life as I possibly can.

Jump rope class in a park at night:
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Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

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Posted by on April 26, 2014 in Baoding

 

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Day 238: Welcoming the Americans

Nimenhao!

We both had such a great day today! The new teachers from WKU (Haley and Caitlin) got here late last night and we’ve been helping them get settled and adjusted all day today. It’s been so much fun to be able to pass on all the things we’ve learned onto them.

I didn’t teach classes this morning so I got to sleep in and enjoy my coffee before heading down to a meeting with them and Li Laoshi to discuss their teaching arrangement. It’s been an interesting experience realizing how much we looked like them (all wide-eyed and slightly frantic) during our first days here and comparing that to how we are now. By comparing ourselves to them (representing our past selves) we are beginning to see some of the personal growth we’ve accomplished during this adventure. We seem much more laid back, accepting of going with the flow, and actually quite competent and capable (at least we seem that way). And while we’ve been interacting with other Americans more consistently than we’ve done since we were actually in the States, I’ve also discovered that my natural inclination to talk fast hasn’t disappeared out of disuse (I almost always speak slower English when talking to Chinese people so that they can have an easier time understanding me) and is just as expedient as it always was when speaking to native English speakers. What a relief!

Now that we’re with people that don’t speak Chinese, I realize just how much Chinese I do use on a daily basis and that, considering the relatively little time I’ve actually spent studying the language, I speak much more Chinese than I’ve been giving myself credit for. Even Li Laoshi commented on it today telling me that I have learned a lot of Chinese very well for the short amount of time I’ve been here and that all my pronunciation is correct (that’s quite an impressive statement, I think, considering tones and pronunciation are most of the difficulty with Mandarin).

My classes the past two days have been going really well also. Yesterday, my entire P5-1 class stopped class and applauded me when I wrote the Yuan character (元) on the board (they must think I’m simple-minded) and today my J1-6 class cheered when I walked into the room. When I asked them why (because I was really confused why one of my worst classes seemed so happy to see me), they told me they thought I wasn’t coming back to teach them and they missed me. That’s definitely one-way to make me feel all warm and fuzzy. To add to it, that class was the most engaged in my lesson they’ve been all year and I even got “beautiful” drawings of their friends from two of my boys in that class.

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Another girl, from my J1-7 class, drew a picture of me that I think looks a lot like me. She even got my dimple!

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After classes I was able to have several conversations in English and in Chinese with some of Duncan’s third and fourth graders and even some of my fifth grade girls surprised themselves when I asked them what they were doing and they responded with words they learned in my class this past week (like “drawing” and “painting”). It was a very rewarding teaching day, for sure. One of my favorite things about working here is and has been interacting with the students. Whether we’re being silly in the classroom by deliberately confusing he and she (as some of my seventh grade boys did today) or one of Duncan’s students is proudly telling me his name and age because he learned how to in class, interacting and relating with the students is definitely one of the best highlights to this job and this year.

Impromptu Gangnam Style dance party in one of Duncan’s classes:
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While I was teaching my last class, Duncan and the WKU girls went with Li Laoshi to explore the arts classes available to students in the afternoon. Unbeknownst to us this entire year, it turns out the Baoding Bilingual School offer 49 art classes including drawing, dancing, singing, calligraphy, stone carving, stamp making, and musical instruments classes, plus more. They only saw the “traditional” Chinese arts classes today, but were thoroughly impressed by the quality and variety of arts education offered at this school. It was an eye-opening experience and Duncan came back telling me that this is probably one of the biggest reasons the Hebei Baoding Eastern Bilingual School is consistently rated the number one boarding school in Hebei Province. As different of an experience this has been to what teaching in the US would be like, I have learned so much about education, students, teaching, and myself throughout this process. And despite any complaints I’ve voiced along the way, I’m so grateful I’ve had this experience teaching abroad and I’m honored to have been a part of this school and these students’ lives.

Martial Arts/Wushu:
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Stone Stamp Carving:
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Traditional Chinese Calligraphy:
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Music time:
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Paper cutting:
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Drawing of the school and paper cutting:
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To top off the past two happy days, we found a new street food vendor making magically delicious sandwich things. These unique creations are made up of freshly baked bread with sausage in it, eggs, and fried hot dogs all made on an outdoor grill, of sorts. I definitely need to get a picture of the creation process but for now, here’s a picture of the final product:

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We had the first heavy rain of the year last night and it made the air refreshingly clean and moist – a welcome change from the arid, dusty air we’ve been used to.
I’m done for the week and have a short week next week. We’re planning to join the girls on a traveling expedition sometime in the near future. We have a few days off for May Day in a couple of weeks so we’ll probably be venturing out again then. Since we’re going to help them meet their travel goals, we’re may not be visiting Shanghai again and may, instead, be visiting Xi’an again. We’re happy to visit pretty much any place we’ve been so far and having accomplished all our traveling goals, we’re more than happy to add our knowledge to their experience.

It’s been a lot of fun talking to people other than just Duncan (no matter how much I enjoy talking with him, I’ve had only him to talk to extensively for the past eight months and some new faces and voices is a welcome change). We’re really happy that the other teachers are here and we’re looking forward to their month with us. It should be quite an educational experience for all of us and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited!

Thank you very much for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 106: You Should Try It

Hello everyone!

Another week has flown by without a hitch and we are both very happy. We have seen none of the winter weather that the States have experienced this week but I’m sure it will get here soon enough. The frigidity of the wind we experienced a couple of weeks ago has yet to return and though still frequently chilly, it has been rather pleasant outside when we’re all bundled up under the blue skies. When we arrived in Baoding we were warned that the smog would be at its worst in the winter, and though still very possible, we have seen more blue skies and good-weather days since it officially became winter than at any other time since we’ve been here. Hopefully this isn’t a fluke and the nice weather will continue.

Time has slowed as the routine has settled in. A day feels like a day and a week feels like a week and what was rapidly changing excitement as been quietly replaced by contemplative observance. But having said that, I must remember not to take life here for granted. I have been slacking on the upkeep of this blog because of the regularity of the routine we have settled into (and the boredom that has accompanied this routine) but I am going to try harder to be more frequent with my posts.

I have frequently noted the dirtiness and filth of Baoding as a constant presence in our lives. The dust and dirt that fills the air, coats the walls and floors, and invariably, settles into our clothes (and our lungs). Do not mistake this constant filth, however, as a sign that no cleaning happens here. Constantly at the school there is a cleaning lady mopping, kids sweeping, and men raking leaves. Out on the streets of Baoding there are cleaning people in the street and on the sidewalks sweeping up trash and dust; there are even big trucks that just circulate the city spraying water on the streets and attempting to collect some of the ever-present dust. All of this “cleaning” however seems to be as futile as attempting to pick up a bucket of water using a snowflake.

This week we found out that before our teaching schedule ends for the semester on January 10th we are expected to give all of our classes an exam of sorts and to turn in the grades to the school. When I informed by eighth graders of this in classes this week, they refused to believe me. Up to this point, my class has been characterized in their minds by the absence of repercussions that would make good behavior and attention to learning completely unnecessary. When I told them that in January they would be given an oral exam by me, they flat-out refused to believe me as if it was some trick I was pulling over them to try to get them to behave. Even after explaining that this week’s class would be spent practicing the questions I am going to ask them for the exam and while I was walking around the classroom asking individuals questions, they did not take me seriously (one kid tried to cut my hair while I was talking to the kid behind him and several other kids emptied two bottles of lotion so they could make little toilet paper pelts to throw around the room).

Despite these usual frustrations resulting from the discipline problem (that all and only foreign teachers experience in China), I enjoyed talking to some of my eighth grade students with high English abilities. One boy and I had a rather humorous interaction in the middle of class while he was trying to learn the word “latte” in English by repeatedly demonstrating the mixture of milk and coffee. When I told him that’s just called “coffee with milk” he told me that was a bad name and it needed a better name. When I asked him if he meant “na tie” in Chinese he got excited and was thrilled to learn “latte”. His favorite drink is a latte.
Another girl, with a very high English level, asked me if I liked “bad students” and when I said no, proceeded to point to one boy in the back of the classroom and tell on him: “That boy is doing his homework in your class. He is a bad student. We don’t like him. Do you like him?” I told her that it was ok, seeing as he was doing his English homework and he wasn’t being disruptive to the class. She refused to accept this and was astounded when he was able to answer a question of mine with very good English when no one else could. At the end of class she came to the front of the room as I was packing up and said “I love you, teacher” in English and then speaking as fast as she could in Chinese. When I imitated her by saying “shenme, shenme” (“what, what” in Chinese), the whole class laughed and I got a hug from her and a resounding “good bye, teacher” from the class. My eighth grade students proved to me this week that they don’t dislike me; they just find English class boring and pointless (and one class even told me as much at the beginning of class).

My eighth graders’ daily class schedule:
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Early this week our motorbike, Kuai Long, got a flat back tire. After leaving it at QLH for a couple of days because we didn’t know where to take it to get it fixed, Johnson and Samantha asked a pharmacist next door where to go, and it turned out some guy on the street corner next to QLH repairs bikes. While we were there waiting for him to repair the whole (which only cost 5 Yuan/ less than $1) a group of older guys had congregated and were playing a local pastime, mah jong. Though the picture isn’t the quality I would have liked and I was unable to capture the best moment, when they all broke away from the game laughing and wishing each other farewell, this shows a bit of what life is like at night for local friends:

mahjong

When we went to the covered alley for dinner one night this week, our bread lady told us we were her favorite laowai and we also discovered a new kabob place. You go up and pick the kabobs that you want and put them on a tray, the guy sticks them in a vat of boiling water, seasons them, and hands them over to you in a bag. The vendor we went to was super friendly and we have since been to visit him twice.

kabobs kabobman

Here are some decorations in our apartment for the holidays (thanks to Duncan’s mom):
window stockings

Some students from Duncan’s high school sent our students handmade Christmas cards. Here are two of our favorites:

youshouldtryit santa dontbemad

We also found out that we are about to have a lot of days off for the holidays, and as soon as we get those dates specified, we are going to do a lot of traveling (which will, hopefully, lead to much more interesting and exciting posts).

Thank you for reading!

Until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 100: An Adventure in Review

We have officially been here for 100 days and a third of our time in China is already over! To celebrate, this post will be a recap of the 100 days we have lived in China!

We have visited:
Shanghai – French Concession, The Bund
ZhouZhuang – “Venice of the East”
Beijing – Tiananmen Square, The Summer Palace, The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Hutong alleys, Olympic Park, Lama Temple, Confucius Temple
Baoding – The Lotus Pond
Tai’an – Taishan
Mutianyu – The Great Wall
Shijiazhuang – The train station
Quyang – Lake trip with other foreign teachers
Pingyao – Pingyao City

We have eaten:
Baozi, jaozi, pigs’ hooves, cow intestines, lots of noodles and rice, kabobs, tofu, strange mushrooms, a lot of street food, and innumerable other things we do not know.

Unique experiences:
We put a lock at the top of Taishan and tied well-wishing ribbons to it inside of a Daoist Temple.
Saw (and heard) a saxophonist in Pingyao playing “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic:

We celebrated Halloween and Thanksgiving (without Trick or Treating and without Turkey).
Fireworks set off in between high-rise apartment buildings were so loud we thought the building was collapsing have woken us up.
We’ve used the Beijing subway system and taken several bullet trains.
We teach more than 2500 students every week:
(Here is one class of my eighth graders playing outside with me)

We have seen more German Shepherds than we can count at an outdoor dog sale every Sunday.
Celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival with moon cakes and our students:

We have become accustomed to:
Using chopsticks
Squatty potties in public bathrooms
Teaching classes of 50+ students
Street food
The ground is lava! (Seriously, don’t touch the ground.)
Traffic and the constantly blaring horns
(I’m not quite accustomed to the interesting fashion choices)

As a result of living here, I am grateful for:
Heaters and A/C units
Having a refrigerator
Having clean and drinkable tap water
Internet and technology that makes communicating across the globe possible
Our motorbike (even if it got a flat tire last night)
My Kindle

What’s left?
More traveling
A lot more studying of Mandarin Chinese
Cold weather
A haircut at some point
Christmas
Duncan’s birthday
Chinese New Year
Spring Festival
Lantern Festival

My perspective from the back of our motorbike, Kuai Long, of the ride down the road leading to our school:

Thank you so much for taking this journey with us! We’re having a great time and couldn’t be happier with our decision to come here. Thank you, also, for your continued support and encouragement, especially during the homesick holiday season. And, as always, thank you for reading!

Until next time,
Alyssa

A water show in the nearby Military School Park:

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2013 in Baoding, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Day 74: Perspectives on Food, Plastic, and the Floor

Nihao da jia (Hello everybody) and shi yi yue kuai le (Happy November)!
你好 大家 和十一月快乐!

We had an uneventful but relaxing weekend and a normal day of teaching today. We’ve done the laundry, finished another round of books, and eaten all of our Halloween candy. Since there’s nothing new to share, today’s post is about my life in China outside of the routine:

+FOOD:
For me, there is no such thing as following a diet here. In my daily life in the US I try to eat healthy and be as generally healthy as is within my means but here, especially living in Baoding, I’ve had to let that go. I can’t worry about what ingredients are in my food, where they come from, how they were grown, and how they are kept. Most people here do not have refrigerators in their apartments/houses so food is bought fresh and used immediately. Leftovers are thrown out if they cannot be kept. I assume most of the food I eat is made with fresh ingredients, but that does not mean they are healthy.
People have a disgusting habit of burning plastic (more of this in a minute) on the same land that they farm on, so I’m sure that a lot of the food bought fresh here, though not grown with fertilizers and pesticides, is probably grown in soil poisoned by pollution and leeched chemicals. As disgusting as this sounds, I actively choose not to think about it. I am only here for a year and though I certainly do not like this situation, I am going to continue having a unique and authentic Chinese experience by eating the street food and restaurant food. I have to remember that millions of people live their entire lives in Baoding, China (and other parts of China) and eat all of this food every day of their lives and are fine. One year of this is not going to kill me or probably irreparably harm me.

Before I came to China I heard a lot of people say to avoid the street food because it is disgusting and will invariably make you sick. This cannot be less true. The street food I have eaten has always been delicious and I have never gotten sick. Though the conditions it is in would not exist in the US (my point about the floor in a bit), the food itself has been very carefully prepared. Almost all vendors wear masks on their face and though they do not wear gloves, they do not touch food with their bear hands. Small plastic bags are turned inside out, used as gloves to pick up the food, and then carefully wrapped around your food and handed to you.
Part of this, other than hygiene, is because Chinese people do not use their hands to eat their food. Unlike in the US (and in other parts of the world) where our hands are our utensils sometimes (hamburgers, pizza, chicken strips, etc.), Chinese food is always eaten with chopsticks. Even Beijing duck, which is roasted and sliced duck wrapped in a mini tortilla, is wrapped and eaten, in its little burrito package, with chopsticks. Eating with your hands, especially at a restaurant, is seen as rude and dirty.

Plus, I like watching my food being prepared. If I’m getting a jamping guozi (a burrito sandwich thing filled with egg and sausage), I watch the vendors pull the meat and eggs out of a cooler and the handmade bread out of the insulated cooler keeping the bread warm, put it on the grill, and prepare the entire thing right before my eyes. There is never any concern about how my food was prepared because I have just watched the entire process. There is no worry here, like there could be in America, that you pissed of the waiter and then he spat in your food to get back at you. So not only is the food prepared in a very clean way, but it is also handmade from scratch. No microwaving, no freezing, no additives or preservatives.

So if you ever come to China, please try the street food! It will change your life. And, keep in mind, these vendors couldn’t stay alive if their food stands weren’t successful or kept making people sick. There are a lot of potential customers in China, but there are also a lot of potential naysayers after a negative experience.

On another note, I am not a vegetarian and I would hate to be one, especially here. The only way I can see the difficulty of that circumstance being eased is if you were fluent in Chinese and were able to read and discuss ingredients and the process of making food. So much food here is made with meat and other animal products that actively avoiding meat severely limits the food you can eat and, in my opinion, the Chinese experience. Food is a big deal here. People cook together, eat together, and discuss business and daily life over meals and having to limit that based on a self-imposed dietary restriction would not only be stressful and very difficult, but it seems to me to not take advantage of the uniqueness of living in China.

+PLASTIC/TRASH/HEAT:
We’ve been told that the smog gets really bad in the wintertime in Baoding and have been mentally preparing ourselves for the worst. Recently, however, we were given an explanation as to why it gets so much worse in the winter. It turns out most people in Baoding do not have heat and so in order to get warm they rely on burning their trash. This (in the most infuriating and disgusting way possible for us) includes plastic and other things that just should not be burned. Plastic, for one, is a nonrenewable resource that is literally poisonous. Add on top of this, the fact that the people we see that live around the school are also farmers, and you realize they are burning plastic and trash in the same place they will later be growing crops. This effort to keep warm and to get rid of trash at the same time fills the air with the thickest, rankest smelling smoke that amplifies the smog and at times actually makes me wish I wasn’t breathing (not in a dying kind of way, just in the I would do almost anything to stop breathing this cancerous air kind of way). So on particularly cold and windless days, we live in a world of brown, smelly haze that cannot be escaped. Face masks will be ordered ASAP. (But unlike the people we only see wearing masks on sunny days and never on smoggy days, we will wear ours on the gross days.)

+THE FLOOR:
This seems like a strange topic, but you don’t realize how important the way you think of the floor is until you live in a place with a different view of the floor. Here, the floor is synonymous with the trashcan. As people cook, they throw their scraps on the floor. As people eat, they throw their used napkins, cigarette butts, dish wrappings, anything really, on the floor. People throw trash on the ground without any concern for the environment. (No, litter does not magically clean itself up, in case you were wondering.) People hock loogies on the sidewalk as they go down the street and little kids will use the bathroom on the side of the road (with the help of their parents dependent on the child’s age).

When you view the floor or the ground as no better than a trash can, it’s understandable why no one would want to touch it. Would you sit in a trashcan? This means that people take great care never to actually touch the ground. They do not sit; they squat. Nothing other than trash and the bottom of your shoes is placed on the ground. I even had one woman come up to me and let me know that the belt on my jacket was touching the ground and I had better pick it up.

As a result, I have a new appreciation for the relative cleanliness of floors in the US and I am excited to sit on the ground again, once I’m back.

I came here to have as authentic a Chinese experience as I can and to learn from it – good and bad, easy and challenging. I did not come here to be an American living in China (more than I already and necessarily am). So that means that I am going to try to eat the food like the people around me, do things like the people I see, and try to communicate with people in their language rather than demanding that they speak English with me (regardless of whether or not they can because of schooling).

It is difficult at times because it is so much easier to write about and describe negative things that happen than it is to describe positive things. I find myself habitually describing the things I dislike or that frustrated me while taking for granted the wonderful things that happened that made me smile and happy to be here.
So here are some of the things about China life that make me smile:

-The group of old men that meet up in a field outside of the school gate to play games and watch TV on a portable entertainment center they drag around town
-The donkeys we pass on the road everyday
-The huge numbers of well-trained German Shepherds we see everywhere
-Every time I get excited when I can communicate without any problem in Mandarin. For example, I asked a student the other day if they had a pen and they did and handed me one. We communicated with a purpose and without any confusion.
-Hearing old-school Britney Spears’ songs playing in a restaurant. Most recent example: “Hit Me Baby One More Time”
-All the old men that hang out in the park together flying kites just like men go out fishing with their buddies in the US
-Every single adorable Chinese child that says “HALLO ALEESA!”
-The way all my girl students try to play with my hair at once before class, making me feel like Medusa
-The crazy old woman that comes into QLH Monday nights and talks to herself for several hours while drinking her hot water. I have no idea what she is saying because she is speaking in Chinese and she frequently just starts laughing, but Samantha says she talks about everything and has full on conversations with invisible people. I enjoy seeing how happy she seems to be even though she doesn’t seem to be completely present.
-How accustomed we now are to being elbow to side-view mirror on the road with cars and buses while on our bike
-How comfortable people are singing in public
-The friends we have made with street vendors and at restaurants simply by being the friendly frequenting American couple. When we walk up or in the door, they seem genuinely happy to see us and we all enjoy it when they ask us if we want our usual today or something a little bit different.
-How frequently we feel like we are part of a community
-The hair dos and the clothing choices are…interesting
-Almost on a daily basis (for Duncan it’s sometimes a class-by-class basis), we are given food from our students. Just today I was given a cookie (that disconcertingly made my mouth go numb when I took a bite), a (really delicious) orange, and a piece of candy (that was sticky and looked suspiciously like medicine). Duncan was given a giant apple last week and I was offered half a grapefruit along with sprinkles.
-Thinking daily that we made the right decision for us to live here and how grateful I am for all of it.

Of course some things frustrate me and baffle me on a daily basis but other things are amazing and wonderful. All of it, good and bad, I am thankful for because it is teaching me about a life completely different from any I ever could have imagined and I think I am learning important life lessons about respect, understanding, tolerance, and perspective.

有一个很好的一周,感谢您的阅读!
(Have a good week and thank you for reading!)

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 25: Ba da bao!

We’ve had two more good days to prove to us we’re having a good time here in China!

Yesterday was uneventful but pleasant. I taught sixth graders all day and had a lot of success with the vocabulary review and sentence games I played with them. Most students are eager to participate, especially when I break out the stamps, and even if they aren’t participating, they are not disruptive. They all get excited when I walk in the classroom and just want to say “hello, teacher!” at the top of their lungs when I say hello to them at the beginning of class.

After classes, Duncan and I decided it was time to get some American food so we went to Pizza Hut. Pizza Huts here, however, are not the Pizza Huts back in America. When I think American Pizza Huts, I think of a crummy restaurant with OK pizza. Pizza Hut in China, however, is a fancy restaurant where you take dates you’re trying to impress.

Inside of a pizza hut:
PizzaHut

We ordered the Chinese equivalent to a meat lover’s pizza (it was called Pork Belly BBQ) along with my blue margarita and Duncan’s caramel Bailey’s. It was all amazing! I forgot how much I love butter and didn’t realize how little of it I’ve had since being in China until I was eating the garlic-butter pizza crust. To finish our celebratory meal, we decided we needed an American dessert as well and ordered a chocolate brownie bread pudding with vanilla ice cream on top.

Despite the couple in the booth across from us “sneakily” aiming their smart phone cameras at us (by pretending they were taking pictures of themselves), our meal and Pizza Hut experience was wonderful. On the way home, we stopped at a convenience store and found a guy with cicadas in tiny cricket cages (think Mulan) hanging from the ceiling over the counter. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture.

To end a good day, we video chatted with our other American couple friends living and also teaching English in Beijing and began planning a trip to visit them. Our school has decided that they can move Mid-Autumn festival even though the rest of the country has off that holiday so we work this Thursday and Friday but at the end of this month is National Day and we get a week off. That week, I believe we are going to take a trip to Beijing, see the touristy sites there, and then head off somewhere else with our friends. The ultimate destination is yet to be determined.

Today was a gloomy day. It hasn’t been smoggy but it’s like London outside – constantly slightly drizzling and fog everywhere. I had seventh graders all day today and ended up having a lot of fun in my classes. Since today’s classes were only the second time I’ve seen each of these groups of kids, I decided it was a good time to do vocabulary review with them as well. I played the create-a-sentence game with them using vocabulary they should have learned last school year and then played a word relay race game with them. All classes got really involved in the competitions and the 45 minutes went by very quickly and efficiently. There was no misbehavior in any of today’s classes either; they just got really loud a couple of times because they were excited. By the afternoon, I had figured out a couple of tricks to get them to quiet down quickly without me getting angry with them. I keep thinking of some advice I was given about letting the kids know that I care and every time I’ve started getting frustrated with some students or a class, that thought has helped me stay calm and manage the classes more effectively.

Today I also had my first international students class. For some reason, the Eastern Bilingual School, on top of teaching K-12, also has a couple of classes for international students mainly from Mongolia. There are less than twenty of them, but with the exception of one American teenager, all of them are in their twenties or older. They are here to primarily learn Chinese so they can pass the Chinese language exam for foreigners, but they can also elect to take my English class once a week.

Prior to the class I had heard both that the international students spoke excellent English and that they spoke no English. So, uncharacteristically of me, I went into the class without anything prepared and decided to just wing it with them until I figured out what level they were at and what goals they have for my English class. After talking to them, they decided that they want to spend the classes focusing on correct pronunciation and their conversational skills. Though the first half of the class was very stressful for me because I was unprepared, by the end of it, I was enjoying it and I now have many ideas on how to engage them as adults with varying levels of English ability.

We spent the rest of the evening in QLH (the coffee shop) talking with our Chinese friends about culture, pop culture, movies, language, idioms, important American movies, and the Socratic teaching method. It’s been very fascinating giving advice to our Chinese friends but then realizing how Western our advice is. They cannot go at problems with our advice, because the whole situation is completely different because of the differences in cultures.

We also finally figured out how to “repay” our Chinese friends for all of their help in our adjustment to Baoding and China! Since two of them are English majors and hope to pursue careers related to mastery of the English language and culture, we are going to make lists for them of idioms, useful slang, and helpful American classics of books and movies. They are very excited.

They also got very excited when we told them Duncan and I are dancers and I showed them a clipping from this year’s Dirty Dancing Festival in Lake Lure, North Carolina with us doing the famous lift in the background. They were so excited, I gave them a copy and we signed it when they asked for our autographs. Maybe that was a mistake because now they are a little convinced we’re famous in America and in China.

Before we left the coffee shop, it started pouring outside and we waited the storm out until it had calmed down. Because of the rain, most of the restaurants had closed and street vendors had packed up but we found a lady who sells kabobs still open and we got dinner, in the misty rain, on the way home. They were delicious as well!

MeKabob

To end this post I want to tell two funny stories about the Chinese language:
1) Recently, one woman near me kept repeatedly saying what sounded to me like “jigalo”. I could not understand what she was saying in Chinese and started laughing to myself and kept wondering, “surely, she is not talking about what I think she is talking about” but she just kept repeatedly saying it! Finally, I asked and it turns out she was saying “zhe ge lou” which means “this building”. Phew!

2) We went out to lunch with an American foreign teacher recently and he asked for a bag “to-go” by saying “da bao”. Duncan asked him if the “da” was the same “da” as in another phrase and if the “bao” was the same “bao” as in a different phrase. Our friend said he didn’t know and turned and asked the waitress. What ensued was a conversation in Chinese that I swear sounded like “da ba da da ba da bao” for at least a minute as they went back and forth talking about the different “da”s and “bao”s and clarifying each other’s pronunciation and intended meaning. I started laughing and even another Chinese woman in the restaurant started laughing because of how absurd the conversation sounded. I wish I had recorded it but I’m sure you can imagine how comical it was.

Tomorrow is my third lesson with the fifth graders. Wish me luck!

Wan an! (Good night!

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Day 19: Teaching & Food

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. 😉

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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