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We left Jinan today, to head for the place where we will be living for the next year; Tangshan.  It is a little sad to leave Jinan, because I (David) liked the city, people, and other teachers that we had met, and started to have a pretty good feeling for the city.  Oh well, it only took about a week, so it shouldn’t be hard to do again!  We said bye to our best friend in Jinan, John McClymont, hopped on the bullet train to Tangshan, and were off.

There have been a couple new developments in our life since my last post.  We met our manager, Eddie Diaz, a big, loud Puerto Rican New Yorker, two days ago.  He is a pretty typical New Yorker, which means he is one of the most controversial people in all of China!  He met us wearing a Harley Davidson biker Jacket, and a USA flag hat, which I found hilarious, and seems like the kind of guy that would do just about anything for you if he likes you, which is good for Erin and I (I think).  We also met the other teacher who will be in Tangshan, who also happens to be named David.  He is an American from Spain, who studied and lives in London.  He claims to be American, but has a British accent, so the students will be very confused by the differing accents.  He has three passports and seems like quite the world traveler, a nice guy, and laid back enough to not lose his mind over the past few days.  So that is our little Tangshan teaching group.

Another little tidbit we have noticed about Chinese culture.  They are OBSESSED with luck, and bad omens and stuff like that.  One thing in particular that we have noticed is how certain numbers are considered lucky or unlucky.  The number 4 is the most avoided number by far.  It is considered unlucky because the word for 4, si, is also the word for death.  So that makes some sense.  However, telephone numbers, license plates, even hotel or apartment prices will be lower if they contain lots of 4s!  The converse of this is the number 8, which is the luckiest of the numbers.  Again, prices for things containing lots of 8s, or adding up to 8, literally cost more.  A telephone number of 888-8888 would probably cost several thousand US dollars, whereas a telephone number of 444-4444 would be just about free.  I found this suprising because so much of the culture is based on logic and reasoning, yet they do other things that have no logical basis whatsoever.  As a logic loving American, I find it pretty annoying to have to be cautious of using the number 4, but hey, put me on the 4th floor of every hotel from now on please!

Alrighty, I think this is about it for now.  We move into our new apartment today.  Have a lot to do and learn about Tangshan, but we also start teaching tomorrow (Friday).  We really have no idea what we are going to teach, because we haven’t been told, but it will be interesting to say the least.

This is a post I wrote yesterday, so another one will be coming soon…

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?”

I tried for nearly 3 hours last night to get the photos up, but it just doesn’t seem possible right now.  The pics are loaded onto WordPress, but I think the connection is just too slow.  We are trying to figure out how to get to American sites a little better…but unfortunately it may be a while.  (Anyone know a good, free proxy?!  Hopefully I can write that…)

Today was tough for a few reasons.  I (Erin) woke up with a sore throat and itchy nose, and have been sneezing all day.  I have never had any allergies in my life, but now I have fully joined the realm of ‘the allergic’, boo.  It snowed a few inches last night, and we have been tromping around in the slush.  I have heard that most visitors experience the “China cold” when they arrive, which is probably due in large part to the pollution, so hopefully my body will start to acclimate.  The pollution is definitely bad here, and many people really do wear masks whenever they go outside, pretty sad.  I am worried about being able to exercise outside, but fortunately I am keeping active with my yoga mat in the hotel room!

Our classroom was also freezing cold, which, as you may know, is basically my death knell.  I wore a hat, gloves and a winter jacket all day.  The icing on the cake in the cold school of doom was that as cold as the classrooms were, the bathrooms were even more freezing.  And now…a quick  lesson about Chinese bathrooms: they are a stinky hole in the ground, and don’t provide toilet paper. So, word to the wise, bring toilet paper in to each bathroom, and limber up those quad muscles for some serious squatting.  Considering the smell now, I can only imagine what is in store for the summer….be thankful for Western toilets and cleanliness!

Anyway, we survived and there were still some significant highlights to the day.  We taught our first adult class, which was very interactive and enjoyable, we had a great ‘end of course’ dinner with our classmates and other teachers at the school, and David’s favorite student, Hilda, came to visit us at lunch.  Hilda was SO cute, bringing us traditional (and really good) bean-curd stuffed gluton balls and taking all 5 of the TEFL students out to lunch!  She ordered nearly 100 dumplings for us, which proved to be 3 entire plates too many, but her generosity (and love of David) was really touching.  Did I mention she’s only 15 and walked all the way from school just to give us our presents and buy US lunch?!  We tried to pay, but she insisted that she must treat ALL of her friends.

I’m off to bed, because I need to feel better for tomorrow, but it looks like we will be spending a few more days in Jinan before we move to our permanent residence in Tangshan.  Sorry about the pictures, hopefully this will suffice for now.

Made it safely to Jinan after 2 days of travel…check

Set-up blog…check

Started teaching English through our TEFL training…check

Gmail allowed, Facebook blocked…check

Learned how to pronounce Mandarin tones…uh-oh

David and I are calling ourselves the “tone deaf travelers,” because we have a long way to go in understanding the tones of the Mandarin language, as well as many other cultural nuances.  For example, did you know that it’s perfectly normal for young children to relieve themselves on the street here?  In fact, many of their pants have openings in the back just for this purpose.  Saves a few bucks on diapers, right?!

We are staying in a nice hotel here for $25/night including breakfast, and have found that while imported goods are about the same price as in the US (Nike, Clean & Clear, many electronics), food in restaurants is really cheap.  6 of us had a really elaborate dinner for about $20.  Also, no matter how good the service, they are embarrassed/offended if you try to leave a tip.   Our days have mostly consisted of waking up before the alarm due to jet-lag, eating breakfast, walking 20 minutes to Aston English school, spending all day learning about teaching a foreign language and teaching class, going out to dinner with our group of 5, and crashing into bed.  (We are 13 hours ahead, by the way.)  Although the TEFL class has been overall pretty boring, we have picked up some good tips from the the classroom critiques and have really loved meeting all the funny kids.  The one exception to this exciting ritual was Saturday, when we got a day off, and headed out into the city.  The pictures tell the best story, so take a look.

Next up we will be traveling to Tangshan and studying a lot more Chinese!  We have started to pick up on some of the pinyin (romanized Chinese characters, suitable for modern computers) but have little to no idea how to read characters or pronounce tones.  It is amazing how well we have been able to get around using miming and our very pleasant “Nihao” (hello) and “Xiexie” (thank you.)  We have found the Chinese in Jinan to be VERY helpful and friendly, and they love to say Hello in English.

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