You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2010.

Recently we have felt like we are meeting more people in our community, which leads to interesting/exciting get-togethers. Our friends on the food street know us by first name/food order, and if by chance I come home alone, our neighbors are quick to ask, “Da wei, na li?” (Where’s David?!)

Last week I taught my English Corner on Friday night, and decided on the theme of going out to eat. I taught the kids how to ask for basic utensils, a table, a menu, the check, etc. I pretended to be the waitress, and they ordered what they wanted. (The previous week I taught them how to make Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, which we made and ate in class.) The kids (ages 5-10) did really well, and were really excited when I invited them out to try their skills at a “real” dinner after class. 9 kids and 9 parents joined David and I at our favorite restaurant in Tangshan, a Uighur place that specializes in large plates for sharing. I’m kicking myself for not bringing my camera, but it was a really fun night of eating and practicing some new restaurant vocab. Most of the attendees were English Corner regulars, and the nicest kids, so it was nice to be able to get to know them better. After dinner, the kids weren’t ready to let us go home, so we moved the party to the park, where we walked around and played some games. It was hilarious to watch David outrun 9 kids at once. Two of the moms also invited David and I to lunch the following Tuesday, and fortunately I remembered the camera.

Helen and Jack are two of David’s best C3 level students, and they come to my English Corner every week. They have no problem trying to speak only in English…their confidence is really incredible. If Helen’s mom weren’t so nice, I would probably try to bring her back with me. Once Helen asked me what kind of hair I have, and I said “curly.” When I asked about hers, she replied matter of factly, “mushroom hair.” hahahaha Jack is quite a character, he loves to dance and prance around, but sometimes his excitement for answering questions in class leads him to dominate the lesson. However, the two kids and their moms were incredible hosts for lunch. In honor of having myself, David and Candy over for lunch, the moms had begun preparations the night before, and one of them took off work as a doctor to finish cooking on Tuesday morning! As you can tell from the photos, it was an incredible spread…even the canned peaches were homemade! Mostly we talked with the kids while the moms cooked, and we tried to help a little bit with a jiaozi (dumplings). We couldn’t even convince the moms to eat with us, because they were “too excited” to eat. They researched special vegetarian dishes for David, and sent us home with nearly all the leftovers. From this and other experiences, we can truly see pride and dedication that the Chinese take in serving as excellent hosts, and we had a great time.

I have also included a few photos of the summer BBQs that our manager, Eddie, hosts at the school. He has his own little BBQ pit outside, and we usually end up grilling, drinking and playing darts for a few hours at night. The meal usually involves skewering hundreds of hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, mantou bread, lamb, chicken hearts and beef. Eddie has a special oil/spice sauce that goes on all the ingrediants, and makes everything taste exactly like typical Chinese Kao Rou. You can find similar BBQ set-ups on nearly every street in China, especially in the summer. I also have to admit that the chicken hearts taste pretty good, but I generally prefer the veggies…but they take such a long time to cook!

Other than teaching at the public school, One on One sessions are another aspect of teaching that I have enjoyed. Usually I only have students for a few weeks before a big English test or competition, but they tend to be high-level speakers that are genuinely interested in the English language and foreign cultures. I usually run the class by presenting an idea such as, “What does it mean to Go Green?” or “How is Western business culture different than Eastern?”, teach some relevant vocab, and then have a discussion that focuses on fluency, while I take notes on some of their common grammar mistakes, which we can expand upon as review for the next class. This week I finished up with Charles, who was by far my best student. He attends the Tangshan Foreign Language school, and is one of the top 5 students in his class. Charles is, in a word, awesome. He’s the type of kid that is completely self-motivated, and you never have to tell him twice to fix a grammar error or do his homework. Fortunately, his family is very supportive of his international education, and I was helping him prepare for an English interview that will hopefully allow him to attend high school in Singapore. We discussed issues like how he will adapt to living in a new country, a religious environment, and why the school should choose him.

Ironically, Charles asked me the other day about the meaning of the word, “awesome.” I explained that it meant better than good, like great, but was common slang. The next day we were talking about his responses to the question, “What do you think about religion.” Charles responded, “Religion is OK.” I explained, like a good English teacher, that OK isn’t an adequate description of a complicated subject. He thought for a second, and then I saw a spark of recognition in his eyes, “Religion is awesome!” he proclaimed. I had to laugh. This young Chinese kid, who has had very little contact with any sort of religion, proclaiming that it’s awesome! We brainstormed some more adjectives that may better suit his experiences. Charles finds out in a few days if he will attend the school, and I think he has an excellent chance. In fact, I will be a little heartbroken if he doesn’t make it.

Singapore is an educational haven for the Chinese. Although there is some variation in statistics, at least 70% of Singapore’s population is Chinese, and many students aspire to attend schools here because of the excellent international education the country provides. Similar to Hong Kong, Singapore was controlled by Britian prior to WWII, it changed to Japanese rule during the war, and then reverted back to British rule after the war. After the second British rule, Sinapore merged with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia, and finally in 1965, it became its own independent republic. Singapore has used its many advantages (separation from conservative ideologies, rapid industrialization, position as the busiest port in the world, and adoption of progressive policies such as adopting English as its primary language) to invest in an education system that has achieved international recognition. Singapore is considered one of the “4 Asian Tigers”, along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is also said that if you were to pick one Asian country whose streets to eat off of, it should be the clean roads of Singapore! I personally think it will be really interesting to watch this country progress, as it controls so much of the resources for China and the world.

The movie about the 1960s Tangshan Earthquake (Aftershock) came out last week, and it plays with English subtitles in the theater, so we plan on taking our first trip to the Chinese movie theaters soon. Busa and Billy also arrive in less than three weeks…so we’re laying low til then!

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Some of you have been wondering if we are making any major changes for our next 6 months here…and we are! After much deliberation (guilt, crying, etc. on my part), we decided to look for opportunities outside of teaching. Our program and school have been really accommodating and we have made significant progress in our classrooms, but teaching young kids a very basic English curriculum has not been our ideal challenge. We will definitely be sad to leave the community of Tangshan and its welcoming people and cheap food, but we are off to experience new adventures in Beijing! (And hope to come back and visit.)

I (Erin) currently have an unpaid position with a two-year old NGO that awards fellowships to young entrepreneurs throughout all of Asia. (If you know anyone who may fit the bill, check out http://www.fyse.org or the Paragon Fellowship.) I am currently doing a lot of research/learning regarding the condition of entrepreneurial challenges and existing support in Asia, and particularly China. It will be my task to create a multi-day mentorship program that pairs young female entrepreneurs with prominent Chinese businesswoman. If all goes well and I am able to receive some funding, the job should turn into a paid position. I’m really excited about this challenge because I think the mission is great, the material is interesting, and there is a lot of room for growth and creativity.

Last week we visited Beijing, and David was offered an excellent position as the foreign liaison for a Chinese company that sends students to study and travel in the US. The salary is very good, as are the benefits, and they have even offered to help us find an apartment located in between our two offices. David has already helped out a family with some concerns regarding studying in the states, and will be trying to secure some new partnerships for the organization.

Overall it seems like being a laowei in Beijing is a very marketable “skill” and we feel very lucky to be Americans here. I’m looking forward to meeting more people and eating different types of food in Beijing, but concerned about the dust storms and worst traffic in the WORLD!

I have a few additional things to add regarding our trip. First off, we almost didn’t make our initial bus from Beijing to Tangshan, because the last bus out of Tangshan apparently leaves at 7:30 and we were a few minutes late to arrive. It’s difficult to figure these things out because there isn’t a posted schedule, you just have to know by word of mouth. Luckily the bus guys were interested in making an extra buck, and we say on our suitcases in the middle of the aisle for the 2-hour trip to Beijing. Upon arriving in Guangzhou, we could immediately tell that the cuisine was different. Lots of restaurants displayed all of their live seafood in aquariums near the entrance of the restaurant, where patrons could literally choose which items they wanted for dinner. Most of the seafood looked alright, but there were large containers of eels and half-dead turtles that made me grossed out and sad. The thing I really don’t like, which I have seen in a few cities, are the large glass jars of dead snakes in some type of liquid…which really make me lose my appetite. I have tried chicken heart, pig tendon and picked chickens foot since being here, but the slimy things are the ones that really get me. (I hope you didn’t just eat breakfast, sorry!) After visiting Southern China, I definitely believe that saying that “the Chinese will eat anything with legs except a table, and anything that flies except a plane.”

As David mentioned, our room/mini apartment in Guangzhou was awesome. In fact, I just created a review on Trip Advisor to let others in on the secret! The weather was so sticky in Guangzhou that I found it hard to leave the comfort of the A/C, my new book and the cute apartment…and I definitely took a few relaxing naps. Despite the fact that it was overall difficult to find enticing food in Guangzhou, there was lots of cheap, fresh fruit being sold on every corner. I ate a good amount of melon and sweet lychees, and had some fresh watermelon juice.

One aspect about the trip that was rewarding was that we could actual tell some difference between local dialects! Yes, we’re still tone deaf, but we actually picked up on many sound changes in the northern vs. southern language. For example, many words up here (north) add an “r” sound to the end that is lacking in the southern accent. To play is “wan” in the South instead of “war.” Additionally, the southern accent even deletes the “r” sound on some words, like the number ten. This made things a little confusing for us, because usually ten had been “shier” and four was “si”, but in the south the both sounded very similar. Anyway, this gets confusing, but we managed to make some accent jokes with the locals about the changing language and felt a little proud for noticing this difference. Now, we are back in Tangshan instead of Tangsan!

Overall, Shamien Island was my favorite part of Guangzhou because it was like a quaint oasis in the middle of the city. David looked up some to top rated Western restaurants (Danny’s Italian and Wilber’s) which we found after some wild goose hunts, but even there the food just wasn’t great. In Guillin we stayed at another nice hotel for around $20/night, and found out the beauty of Ctrip, because we booked our hotel through this site, and found the posted prices at the accommodation to be about 4 times what we paid! I think this case was unique to more touristy places like Guilin and Yangshuo, but we were glad we booked ahead. Meeting up with Robbie and his girlfriend and hearing about his entrepreneurial ventures with cli.org was a cool aspect to the trip, and visiting Yangshuo was incredible. I had an incredible time biking through the Karst peaks on the tandem bike with David. The scenery was so incredible with tall and slim mountains on both sides of the road, and many rice patties strewn all about. The photo of the Li River with the bamboo boats and the peaks is one of my favorite from our time in China. I would be happy to go back to Yangshuo for more biking, boating, good western food and hospitality from the locals.

One reoccurring theme that I am beginning to recognize through our travels is how people not only reasonably adapt to their circumstances, but thrive in a variety of conditions. When I see a migrant worker taking his or her long commute home on the train or watch a trash collector ride around on their bike all day in the hot sun, I often think that I could never endure a life like that, and I truly appreciate the options I have in my life. However, the more I see here, the more I believe that I have come to value my lifestyle because it’s free, but also because it’s comfortable and normal for me. Maybe I am naive, but if I had grown up as a migrant worker, I think I would find a lot to like about this way of life. This is not to say that I haven’t experienced whining in the school regarding wanting a new job, but when it really comes down to it, when I discuss alternatives with my friends here, most of them seem to value living in China and being connected to all things Chinese. Opportunities are certainly more limited in this country than ours, but not so much so that a person can’t change their life if they really desire a new one. Maybe this is just overall ignorance of condition or opportunity, but I prefer to see this mindset as a positive ability for human’s to thrive emotionally in their surroundings, no matter what those may be. In response to these thoughts David says I’m a true anthropologist at heart, and I take that as a huge compliment. I like knowing that the human condition is different for many, yet we are all linked in our ability to develop a fondness for “home.”

Whats up faithful readers! We just got back to Tangshan, but I will fill you in on the 2nd half of our vacation. Our last day in Guangzhou we wandered around the largest wholesale market in China. As I described before, basically the market consisted of one block of all chandeliers, the next toys, etc. The streets we were walking around were toys, then spices, and then, much to my dismay and disgust, shark fins. There was about 3 or 4 blocks of stores selling dried fish, with most of them being 50% shark fins. As Erin said to me, “I didn’t even know there were this many sharks in the world.” We didn’t even make it to the endangered species and pet portion of the market, but I am sure those would have been similarly delightful! We stopped in the mall which was 8 floors of the same kinds of things, mostly small souvenirs, then had lunch, then were on our way to Guilin. A random guy tried to kick me twice because I had my foot on the bench he was sitting on, and although I really wanted to pound him, I remembered Confucius saying “Let there be no evil in your thoughts.” So yea, Guilin.

Guilin is a city about the size of Tangshan, but is renowned for the karst peaks which are located all over the city. These strange shaped mountains are pretty different looking than anything you will see and Guilin is considered by many the most beautiful city in China. We also have been talking to a acquaintance from our high school, Robbie Fried, who lives in Guilin and has set up a Chinese language learning program for Western folks, the Chinese Language Institute. We saw the big sites to see in the city the first day, including Elephant Trunk Mountain and Seven Star Park. Guilin is a decent tourist attraction that has a number of foreigners visiting, so the culture is a little bit different than what we are used to (and appreciate) in Tangshan. Basically everyone is trying to rip you off in some way. It is a little annoying having to start the meter in most of the taxis that you get into and constantly having to tell people that you don’t want whatever it is they keep saying “Hello?” to you about, but its expected in a town that is so tourism dependent. It really is a beautiful place though, with 3 rivers winding through the city. We met up with Robbie and his girlfriend, Lauren, who took us to a hot pot restaurant which was easily the best we have been to, and followed the Chinese custom of not even giving us a chance to pay for the meal. It was pretty awesome though, and I must say I approve of this Chinese custom (since I am basically never the host = free meals).

We also hopped on a bus to Yangshuo, a much smaller town which was apparently not much of anything 10 years ago, but has exploded due to it being the end of the popular Li River cruises from Guilin. The town is gorgeous though, with karst peaks everywhere and a great downtown area filled with shops and restaurants. The restaurants were very Western, but had some of the best food we have had in China for a decent price. We had a Middle Eastern meal for lunch and then rented a tandem bike to explore the area, which was fun. I have never been on a double bike before, so I am glad I can cross it off the list of things to do. We biked around the town admiring the karst mountains and rice paddies, all the while sweating buckets. We spent the next day back in Guilin for July 4th, and unfortunately Erin got food poisoning and was barfing all night, but I still got to go out with Robbie and his brothers to celebrate at a bar in Guilin and shoot some heavy duty fireworks down by the river. It was a good time and Uncle Sam would have been proud.

With Erin back in fighting form, we decided to stay the night in Yangshuo, so back on the bus we headed. We met a lady who offered us a nice deal on a bamboo boat with her husband to head down the river, which was for me the highlight of the entire trip. Amazing scenery and friendly people waving and yelling hello. We walked around the town some more and ate some pizza at the Karst Cafe, which is a popular spot for rock climbers, and had some really good pizza and chatted with the employees for a long time. After some shopping/haggling, we were ready to call it a night. Fast forward through a day of traveling, and we are back in our living room. All in all it was a fun but hot trip, with Yangshuo being the clear highlight for both of us. Most Chinese people think it is way too touristy, but a place that gorgeous is going to be filled with tourists. Put in a bunch of bars and pizza places and the foreigners will follow. Thats all for now, happy 4th of July everyone, missing home but still liking it here. Enjoy the pictures!

The Master said, “A gentleman covets the reputation of being slow in word but prompt in deed.” Analects, 4.24

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