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Our second day in Tianjin wasn’t as exciting at the first, but what could really top a Chinese bath house?! My experience there was similar to David’s, except that I had some guidance from Candy and her sister. I have also been in love with steam rooms since my co-worker Lisa first introduced me about a year ago, and I also visited the steam rooms at the bath house. They were definitely hot enough for my liking, but not as comfortable as home. The set-up included small marble stools to sit on, the ceiling was dripping water from small stalactites on the ceiling, and there were plants and a pond inside. It was dim so you couldn’t see if the area was clean or not…and I was mostly afraid to move. As David mentioned, the dinner was awesome, and I would give anything to have pictures of all of these adults eating dinner in silk robes!

Experiences like this make me realize how opposite Western and Eastern culture are in many ways. There are many social formalities in China, like denying tips to avoid being seen a begger, giving business cards with two hands, and standing up when answering a teacher’s question out of respect, that would be considered highly rude if not dealt with correctly. However, when it comes to nudity and friendly touching, the Chinese are much more liberal with their actions. I can’t imagine chatting nude with my new co-worker and her sister at a spa in America and thinking nothing of it. When mentioning this to my friend Jenny, she humorously commented, “So that’s why the Chinese women are always the ones walking around the locker room nude!” There is also a lot more hand-holding and general contact between members of the same sex here, and although I’m still getting used to this closeness, I like the bond and trust it automatically creates.

Anyway, on our second day in Tianjin we had lunch with Candy, her sister, and her sister’s finance at a restaurant with typical food from the city of Xi’an. Ling Ling/Claudia also bought a large watermelon from the street, which we all ate with spoons at the table. After saying our goodbyes, David, Candy and I headed to the Tianjin amusement park, where we fed fish (Candy chewed some of Tianjin’s famous Ma Hua bread and spit out pieces for the “little fish” which was hilarious) and rode on the ferris wheel. We stopped by Wal-Mart to pick up some peanut butter, cereal and granola bars, and headed back to Tangshan on the train. Sadly, we left the bag of goodies ON THE TRAIN (waaaah) but we did chat with some locals (via Candy’s translation) on the way back. The thing that most of the Chinese here cannot comprehend is why we left America to come to China if we aren’t making more money and don’t like China better than America. We try to explain that we would like to learn as much about all of the world as possible, but they are mostly confused by this answer or think we are lying about our salaries. After all Confucius did say, “He who will not economize will have to agonise.”…but we have to hope that following our hearts will lead to some type of economization in the future!

When we arrived back in Tangshan we ate dinner at our favorite Uighur restaurant, and received a call from David and Millie to join them for dumplings. So, we ate again…and headed to our first K-TV (karaoke bar). Although we always thought that K-TV would be similar to a karaoke bar in the US, it’s very different. You pay by the hour for a private room, where you and your friends can order drinks and light food. There isn’t a big stage with a group of people in front…it’s just like the small, windowless room like in the movie Lost in Translation. Overall it was enjoyable because it was our first time and with friends, but we can’t quite understand the rage, especially since they don’t play the actual music videos, but show poorly made, 80’s looking Chinese versions of the songs.

I am also proud to announce that we have hit some major landmarks:
*Our blog has received over 10,000 hits
*Tomorrow will be our 100th day in China

As requested, our next entry will detail more of our teaching and daily schedule…

Been a while since we blogged, but not too much new to report. We did go on another trip recently though, hitting up the 6th biggest city in China; Tianjin. We were going to go a week ago, but it was raining so we pushed it back a week. One of the Chinese teachers at the school, Candy, went with us because her sister lives in Tianijn. We hopped on the train (somehow cheaper and faster than a bus) and the two girls got to sit together while I had to sit with my fellow Chinese laborers. It was good practice for my Chinese though, and all of the people on the train were completely fascinated by everything that Erin and I had to say. It is hilarious (and kind of sad) how little the people of China know/understand about America and the West, so this leads to some very interesting questions. For the most part though, they want to know how much money we make, and then why we don’t stay in America if we can make more money. They really do not understand this because they pretty much would do whatever pays them more. We arrived at Tianjin after 1.5 hours, and met with Candy’s sister, Ling Ling (we named her Claudia), who was nice enough to take 2 days off work to show us around.

We mainly heard negative things about Tianjin from other Chinese folks and the internet, mostly saying that it was dirty and not as nice as Beijing, but Erin and I were both very impressed. It seemed much cleaner than Beijing to me, and had a lot more history to it than I thought. I will say that it is not a very impressive historical city from a Chinese perspective, because it is relatively young, but it does have some pretty impressive Western buildings and obvious Western influences, which really made you feel like you weren’t in China in some places (if you ignore everything being in Chinese and all the people being Chinese, of course). We saw the big clock in front of the train station and then headed off to do some shopping. We went to the Ancient Culture Street which is famous for its shopping and looked at many of the stores. It felt very similar to some markets in Beijing, but with some pleasant differences: nobody physically grabbing you to look at their store or not letting you leave and a lack of people talking to you in English. It felt a little less like you had a bullseye on your back. Ling Ling (Candy’s sister) loves jade which happens to be one of Tianjin’s specialties, so we looked at lots of the jade stores. There are some really cool looking jade carvings, but all the ones I liked were REALLY expensive. We also got to haggle a little bit with some friendly guys, and it is pretty fun and funny if you have a nice shop owner. They act like every discount they give you hurts as bad as getting stabbed and generally exaggerate everything. Its a pretty good show!

After the Ancient Culture Street, we went to the modern shopping street. This was the most impressive part of the city in my opinion. It looked like any super chic shopping area in the USA or Europe, with lots of Western brands and of course their Eastern counterfeit counterparts. We stopped by one of the English cathedrals in the city, making you feel even less like you were in China, then hopped on a bus to see streets modeled with houses from various regions of the world. Most of the houses looked the same and we didn’t really think that they looked that much like the places they were supposed to, but it definitely didn’t look like the typical Chinese apartment blocks. We got on another bus which was PACKED and steaming hot, causing me to say “Tai han le!” I figured this wasn’t correct, but “han” means sweat and “Tai ___ le” is an expression to indicate that something is very good/cute/sweaty. This caused most of the front of the bus to chuckle, including the bus driver, who got up at a red light to open up the roof window for me. What a guy! Candy likes to laugh at me being stupid, so she found this very amusing. Things got much stranger once we got off the bus.

I had no idea where we were going, but I thought we were getting dinner somewhere. Ling Ling needed to go to the bathroom, so we stopped at a little hotel. The owner of the hotel came right up to me, squatted down in front of me, and put his arm out as if he wanted to arm wrestle. He was covered in tattoos, a bigtime rarity in China but somewhat prevalent in Tianjin, and was bigger than me, but I gave it my all for the stars and stripes. He beat me pretty easily but got cocky trying to beat me with two arms against one. He told Candy that he used to be in an acrobatic show so was very strong. It was bizarre but pretty hilarious and you could tell he was a funny guy. After that, Candy started talking about going someplace where we could relax and eat fruit, and I had no idea what she was talking about. Little did I know we were going to our first Chinese bathhouse! Of course the 3 girls could be together, but little (or big here I guess) David had to be by himself. We walked in, took off our shoes and then I was ushered into the men’s locker room. I had no idea what to do, but figured I needed to get naked like everyone else was. I stripped down and walked out of the locker room to the baths, which were basically one big pool of warm water and smaller pools of ice cold water. It is a very relaxed and nice looking atmosphere, with copious amounts of fruit to eat, as well as old, naked Chinese guys to look at. What could be better?! I went in the pool for a while, eating my fruit, and then took a shower. Back in the locker room I was given a silk robe, which I put on and was then ushered to the exit. I met up with Candy, Erin and Ling Ling out here, and Erin took a pic of me in my silk robe. She was immediately told that no pictures were allowed (obviously!). Erin and I laughed about the whole thing because it was pretty unexpected and funny. We got in the elevator in our silk robes, with Erin and I still befuddled by the whole experience.

After getting off the elevator, we saw a giant buffet. I was starving so this was a pleasant and still very strange surprise for me. Here we were, after walking around naked at a Chinese bathhouse, wearing silk robes and now eating at an all you can eat buffet. Erin kept saying she felt like she was on another planet, and it really did feel like something out of a movie. The two Westerners were just sort of giggling and amazed at this whole operation, while all the Chinese people didn’t think twice about eating at a buffet in a silk robe with strangers. The food was good though, and overall the experience was very fun. We got a hotel nearby, said good night to Candy and Ling Ling, and went to bed.

This is day 1 of our trip to Tianjin. This is also very long, so I will try to post the other portion of our trip and other ranom events soon. We are both doing well and hope that you all are too. I want to say congrats to my sister graduating from college (cum laude)!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hopefully talk/hear from some of you soon! Zaijian!

Back by popular demand, Confucius.

“The Master said, “To Prefer it is better than only to know it. To delight in it is better than merely to prefer it.” -6.18

“The Master said, “I for my part am not one of those who have innate knowledge. I am simply one who loves the past and who is diligent in investigating it.” -7.19

Hey all, we are ready for another weekend of teaching starting tomorrow, so I wanted to make a quick post about some random things. Not a whole lot is new since we came back from Beijing, but I went out for the first time to some real Chinese night clubs last night. We started the night getting dinner at a restaurant with our boss, Eddie, and the other teacher, David, and had a nice meal. Eddie was pretty drunk by the time we left the restaurant, so Erin made the wise choice of staying home instead of going to the club called the Toy Bar. David (the other teacher) wanted me to go and I felt bad leaving him with a drunk Eddie (again), so I tagged along. It was a pretty hilarious experience, especially considering all the horror stories the Chinese teachers at our school told us about massive fights, drug use and other things at this bar. Don’t worry, this would have been the tamest club in the USA, so it is incredibly edgy for Chinese standards. There were 3 dancers that came out every 15 minutes to do a little dance show, involving some bad hip hop dance moves that was quite amusing to watch. Random guys kept coming up to me and trying to buy me drinks or talk to me, and were touching me a LOT which was a little awkward, but is totally common in China. It was deafeningly loud and the room was filled with smoke, but it was still funny to see the Chinese people dancing horribly and singing every lyric to some of the worst English pop music I have ever heard. Why they are playing English pop music in a Chinese dance club is beyond me, but every person knew every word, so I guess they really like it. We left pretty early, before Eddie could do any serious damage to the place.

Overall we have adjusted to life here pretty easily and are having a good time. There are some things that are really starting to irritate me though. Nobody here looks before they cross the street. Cars just go before they look to see if things are coming. People will walk right at you until the very last second, then stop in front of you, THEN move out of the way. I truly do not understand why they do this, and it is a miracle that people aren’t killed constantly while crossing the street. I have asked Chinese people if they look both ways before crossing the street and they all say “No, we don’t do that.” Don’t do that?! Why? WHY? WHY?! It makes driving, riding a bike, and even walking that much more difficult, dangerous, and time consuming, because you have to always move out of the way of people that are paying no attention to anything. In America this is some people, some of the time. In China this is all people, almost all of the time. I have seen lots of traffic accidents the past few weeks, almost all involve a taxi and someone trying to turn. People just turn, they don’t look. They just go and hope traffic stops. Most of the time it does, but again, why not just follow the obvious (to an American) rules of the road, which will save you time and cause less accidents. For now, I just keep both eyes on the road at all times, because you never know what people will do.

Only one more complaint, I know everyone is probably really enjoying my whining. I do not think a single person in China turns their cell phone on vibrate. You can be sitting next to someone on a bus that will get 50 text messages in 10 minutes, with their phone making lots of noise each time, and the only person that it appears to annoy is me. It is not just in those situations, though, because the Chinese teachers and the parents of students that are in class will let their phone ring away in the middle of class, and it is like nobody even notices. Obviously this is not a big deal most of the time, but it is pretty annoying when you are trying to teach and have to start screaming to talk over the noise. It is to the point that I think it is perhaps a sign of status to have your phone make a ton of noise, the more often the better. My mind often tempts me to grab the parents cell phones in class, smash them against the wall, but I try to remember good ol’ Kung fu Tze (Confucius) saying, “Let there be no evil in your thoughts.” Serenity now, as Cosmo Kramer would say.

Alrighty, we are going to watch an episode of our new TV series that we got, Madmen. We finished The Wire a few days ago, and if you have never seen it, you should watch it (it is for mature audiences only)! I have attached some more pictures for your viewing pleasure from our trip to Beijing. Time to teach all weekend for us! Get on skype so we can chat. Zaijian.

Ran Qiu said, “It is not that your Way does no commend itself to me, but that it demands powers I do not possess.” The Master said, “He whose strength gives out collapses during the course of the journey (or the Way); but you deliberately draw the line.” The Analects, 6.10

So we had a long weekend of teaching, and we slept in pretty late because we were exhausted. I skyped with my sister and parents, congrats to my sister for getting into and choosing to go to Boston University for graduate school! After talking with them, we met up with our friends, Ada and Millie, to go to the top of what we were told was the tallest mountain in Tangshan. We hopped on the bus and headed over, but this mountain was not very tall. More like a big hill. We were told it could be a long hike up the mountain, but we got to the top in less than 3 minutes. It still had some great views of the city, which can be seen in the pictures below. The city looked bigger from up there, and the always present massive smokestacks were clearly visible too. I do not know what kind of power plants these are, they look like huge nuclear power plants, but I do not think that they are. These things are EVERYWHERE, I have seen more of them here than I have in my entire life in the USA. Its no surprise that the pollution is so bad. After a few minutes, we headed down the mountain, to head to South Lake, another nice park in Tangshan.

We got to South Lake, took a few pictures, chatted, but left relatively soon after because there wasn’t a whole lot to do, and we wanted to eat and try to find a gym. The park looked very nice and will be a nice place to visit in the spring and summer, and the outdoor gym was hilarious. About 50% of the workout machines they had did absolutely nothing, yet they all still swear by them and say that they are useful. It is mind boggling to me, but if someone (or more likely, everyone) tells you that something should be done or is good, then you just do it. That is the Chinese way. I absolutely hate it, because my first question is always “Why?” They don’t seem to appreciate it, and most people tell me I have so many traditional Chinese things to learn (don’t hold your breath). Off we headed to the big mall in the city, to get some grub and find a gym.

We ate some noodles and found a gym that was very nice. It was big and modern, and there were many classes which Erin was pleased about. She can get her yoga fix while she is here. They had typical machines, free weights, a billiard room, a badminton court, ping pong, and multiple basketball courts. The gym membership is about $100 US for the entire year! So we are officially members of the gym and will come back to America looking more toned than we ever have before. Maybe.

After joining the gym, Ada invited us over to her house to cook for us again. We made dumplings with Ada, Millie, and Ada’s husband, Liu. Erin was pretty good at making the dumplings, but I was awful. It is a lot harder than you would think, but making dumplings is often a family affair in China, so they all know how to make them incredibly well. It is a long process, so having the entire family help out is necessary, although I am not sure how much I really helped. I butchered most of my dumplings and many of them opened up while they were being boiled. Woops! They still tasted great, and Ada and Liu were the most gracious of hosts as always. After eating, I taught them how to play Indian Poker, which they seemed to get a kick out of, and then we headed back to get our bikes and head home.

When we got to the supermarket where we locked our bikes, Erin was not able to find hers. We looked and looked, but to no avail. Her bike was gone. She locked her bike next to mine in the morning, but it was taken somehow during the day. It is a little suspicious, but every single time I have locked my bike at this supermarket, someone has watched me do it. Not slightly watched me do it, I mean intensely watched me do every aspect of locking the bike. I never really thought much about it, but it is always either the drivers of the 3 wheel taxi cars, or the bike attendants of the supermarket. I have even had a crowd form around me when I locked my bike, about 6 or 7 taxi drivers just watched me lock my bike. They all laughed after I said “Ta Da!” Now I think they may have had scandalous intentions, and it is unfortunate. Now anytime I am watched by someone locking my bike, which so far has been every single time, I will be concerned. Nothing we can do though, but if I see someone with Erin’s bike in the next couple weeks, I will chase them down (her bike also had a distinct squeaking sound, so it would be easy to distinguish). Oh wells, just have to be really cautious from now on, and make sure the bikes are locked and we don’t leave them someplace all day. It stinks to be suspicious of all the people at the supermarket though, especially because we can’t even ask anyone if they saw anything. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Luckily I didn’t pound anyone, because the bike attendant was acting super suspicious when we got there in the morning, and then intensely watched me unlock my bike at night, and when Erin asked him what he was looking at, he just laughed and walked away. He wouldn’t look at us again. He is my #1 suspect, and if my bike is stolen when he is working again……nothing will happen.

Enjoy the pictures! If anyone wants to skype, we can anytime pretty much in the next few days. If you get on skype at your night time, we will probably be on. Or we will be getting buff at the gym. Peace out!

The Master said, “He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” The Analects, 2.15

Hello everyone!  We are officially TEFL certified by Aston Schools as of a few hours ago.  Overall it was not the most exciting process, but we had a good group of people which made it go by a lot quicker.  Besides the actual teaching in the classroom, we really didn’t do anything that was particularly helpful in my opinion, but what can you do.  Even writing about it is making me bored, so lets just talk about some more Chinese culture!

As mentioned before, we are in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province.  It is a city of about 6 million, and we are 2 of a few hundred westerners.  I would like you to imagine a place where 99.9% of the people you see on a daily basis look like you (in terms of skin/hair/facial features), talks like you, acts like you.  How would you react if someone totally new in all of those respects was walking, looking, or talking at you?  What would you do?  Well, the majority of people here stare at you, usually in a non-threatening, out of the corner of their eye kind of way.  They also usually just laugh along with us as we try to act out phrases like “stomach medicine” or “Thousand Buddha Mountain.”  So far I have found China an unbelievably gracious and welcoming place, contrasted with often feeling unwelcome or out of place in many cities in the USA.  It is hard to compare cities in China with the USA because of the total lack of outside people/languages/culture, but just imagine a US city with low amounts of diversity.  Now imagine a bunch of people that know nothing about the country/city/culture/language, coming in and slowing down every process that they are involved in.  The people would be chased out of town!  Contrast that with China, where we are not only welcomed, but almost viewed as celebrities by some people.  It is bizarre but makes the experience a lot easier to handle.

Another thing that really blew my mind was the levels of crime in China.  Crime and fear just don’t exist in the same way as in the USA.  Punishments are draconian in China, as I am sure you are all aware.  Illegal drugs of all kinds are completely forbidden, and the punishments are incredibly severe if caught, and illegal drugs account for the majority of crimes committed in the USA.  I don’t really want to discuss that though.  I want to talk about how people think about crime here.  People just do not worry about things like their safety or their property’s safety the same way as in the USA.  A perfect example is with people’s bikes, houses and cars.  NONE of these are locked.  There are no car alarms.  You will see, no exaggeration, hundreds of un-attended, unlocked bikes in front of stores!  This isn’t a particularly nice area, this in the urban center of a city the size of CHICAGO!  People are just not worried about it at all.  A lot of it has to do with the culture, in large part due to the man I will now discuss.

Confucius, or as the Chinese usually call him, Kung Fu Tzu (this means master teacher in Mandarin), was probably the most influential thinker in Chinese (and perhaps Asian) history.  His teachings are directly or indirectly responsible for so much of the culture here, and to most in the Western world, he was a funny little man that basically spouted fortune cookie-esque wisdom (which is partially accurate).  The closest equivalents in Western culture would be the teaching of Socrates or maybe even Jesus.  How is it possible that us Western folk know so little about him?!  A Chinese person would have absolutely no idea what you were talking about if you said the word Confucius to them, which really surprised me.  He is Kung Fu Tzu, and they don’t recognize his Latin given name.  The first people from the West in China were missionaries, some of whom read about and studied the teachings of Confucius.  They worked to translate the Bible and educate the East with the teachings of our important figures, but they worked equally hard translating and attempting to get the West to read about the East’s most important figures.  I am hoping that this blog can serve you all in the same way that the missionaries did back then.  By living here, embracing this culture, and sharing the thoughts of the East with our readers in the West.  I am going to wrap up this post with a quote from the Master Teacher himself.  Hope you all keep reading, miss you and America, but enjoying our time here.

“Isn’t it a pleasure when you can make practical use of the things you have studied?  Isn’t it a pleasure to have an old friend visit from afar?  Isn’t it a sure sign of a gentleman, that he does not take offense when others fail to recognize his ability?”

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