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Got a bit busy with the holidays, but finally wrapping up my final week of the challenge, from Tangshan!

Tuesday, November 22nd
After waking up multiple days with neck pain, I thought it would be appropriate to make my first trip to a Chinese chiropractor recommended by a friend. Having been to a few chiropractors in the US, I found the experience quite similar yet overall less comprehensive than past experience. Instead of taking x-rays and asking about my lifestyle, I just pointed to where it hurt, got a massage, an adjustment and was given some magnesium to ease muscle tension. The massage was a nice component, which I have never received in the states, as well as the doctor being bi-lingual (since he also practices in California.) However, I only spent a total of twenty minutes with him and was quite shocked to get a bill over 700RMB! I’m interested in visiting a more traditional office, but my Chinese isn’t good enough to go without a friend to translate.

That evening I attended Carol Liu’s inspiring documentary, Restoring the Light, about rural blindness and healthcare issues in China. The movie was exactly what I needed, a good cry and reminder of problems bigger than paying too much for the chiropractor. Professor Scott Rozelle from Stanford also gave an insightful talk about healthcare and priorities, illustrating for example, that eliminating one-third of China’s budget to reach the moon could fund vitamins, food and worm detection for all of the children in western, rural China. In my eyes, the event also highlighted another theme of local culture; China’s discomfort with allowing foreigners (or anyone) to highlight social issues. More than one Chinese audience member responded on the defensive to Professor Rozelle’s statistics regarding rural poverty and healthcare, citing that Obama’s healthcare plan also didn’t make significant strides in solving US healthcare issues. It’s unfortunate that this is the message gleaned from such fieldwork, but addresses some of the sensitivities present in beginning to accurately diagnose social problems in China.

Wednesday, November 23rd
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Malaika Hahne, the new Executive Director of Little Flower Projects. She took me out to their orphanage in Shunyi, where I was incredibly impressed by not only the facility and organization of the center, but the compassion and dedication of the staff. Although each ayi is responsible for two babies, many of the staff seem to know each child intimately. Malaika’s compassion to help these children was genuinely heart-warming, and her efforts seem to be paying off, as Little Flower Projects is making quite a name for itself in the local community. Nothing puts a smile on your face more than holding a little smiling baby.

For lunch I had a locally-sourced lunch made from Chef Sue’s trial-run dishes for a future class, and hosted a charity cooking class at The Hutong.

Thursday, November 24th
On Thursday I either completely lost my mind, or decided that I really needed to go all out during the last week of the challenge. Fighting off the urge to go across the street to Jenny Lou’s for soymilk and kitty litter, I ran in the freezing cold to Jinkelong. The run back ended up being much colder and difficult than I expected, and it took all I had to waddle home clutching my bag of litter with both arms and freezing hands.

Thursday night was Thanksgiving, which I celebrated with a group of expat and Chinese friends; turkey and gong bao ji ding was quite the combination!

Friday, November 25th
I spent the morning biking around the city doing errands and buying supplies for a corporate holiday party. In the evening I met up with Joel Shucuat from The Orchid, who introduced me to the social networking wonders of WeiXin. I spent the night leaving voice messages, throwing bottles out to sea, and shaking to find friends. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the WeiXin app, it’s a great way for foreigners to make Chinese friends and practice their Chinese! We also snacked on some local Hainan chicken while Joel frantically arranged dinner preparations for the guests at his hotel.

Saturday, November 26th
I taught in the morning and was informed by the school nurse that there was 500+ API…perhaps the most polluted day I have experienced in Beijing. I waited til the air cleared a bit in the evening, and went on my last training run before the half marathon. I know I shouldn’t have run, but it was my last reasonable period of free time before the race. Although I noticed the cold a lot more than the air quality, my clothes reeked of coal when I got home. This was the first time I had noticed the pollution is such a tangible way, and was quite disheartened to think about how much Beijinger’s lives are affected by the poor air quality.

Sunday, November 27th
On Sunday I was a real expat. I helped plan a traditional American birthday party alongside my co-workers, which included homemade birthday cake, baseball and rugby in Chaoyang park and flipping burgers at The Filling Station in Shunyi. It was incredibly fun and decidedly UN-local.

Monday, November 28th
On Monday I recruited my friend Tom Pattinson to show me his favorite Shaanxi restaurant around the hutongs where we work. We chowed down on their famed roujiamo and dumplings, which was perfect a perfect meal for a cold winter day. That evening my friends arrived from the US and we had a feast at Jing Zun duck restaurant. Eating local is quite ful-filling!

Tuesday, November 29th
On Tuesday I became tour guide for a day and took my friends to Dong Jiao Market, one of my favorite spots in Beijing. I showed them around some food stalls, the wet market and tea warehouse. During an extended tea ceremony we bought way too much tea and learned more about Nanjing greens, Taiwan oolongs and Huyi Shan blacks. They liked the black and oolongs, while I preferred the greens and whites. It was so fun to briefly introduce friends to the Chinese tea culture I love, and pick-up a bag of awesome An Ji Zhejiang cha. That night we also had hot pot on Gui Jie!

Wednesday, November 30th -END OF CHALLENGE
Appropriately, I celebrated the last day of the challenge with KTV! The Hutong staff and I donned Santa hats and rockstar gear and belted out tunes from Michael Jackson to The Carter Sisters, to which my Chinese colleagues knew the lyrics better than I. Chinese culture never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, December 1st
I promptly went to Jenny Lou’s and loaded up on Silk soymilk and cereal, the two things I missed most during this adventure.

Saturday, December 3rd
I headed off to Shanghai to run in my first Chinese half-marathon. Race day was a story within itself, but overall the race was a big success and despite gaining a few pounds, my predominantly Chinese diet did not prevent me from crossing the finish line with a personal best.

Conclusion:
I think it’s pretty obvious that my lifestyle is far from local. Throughout this challenge I bounced between feelings of guilt and satisfaction, but overall feel content that this personal quest helped me reflect on my expat lifestyle and motivate me to seek out new experiences in the capital. I realized that while I loved living in the typically Chinese city of Tangshan, it’s the ability to choose between western/international and Chinese options that makes me most content about living in Beijing. However, this experience made me miss my Chinese “hometown” so much that I’m writing this conclusion from a brief visit back to Tangshan.

To sum up my experience, I thought I would give a few tips gleaned from living and traveling for nearly two years in China, for us lao wais who want to have a more local China experience:

1. Learn basic Chinese. Although I haven’t taken formal classes, I often carry around a dictionary, notebook and ipod full of Chinese lessons. I can’t tell you how much more fun China becomes speaking a bit of Mandarin. Learning Chinese doesn’t have to happen in a classroom; I prefer getting one-on-one Chinese lessons from taxi drivers, masseuses, shop owners, co-workers and even my elementary-aged English students. Start with pointing in markets and go from there!

2. Make Chinese friends…but how? Cheesy as it sounds, lots of normal and friendly local Chinese use social networking sites like WeLiveInBeijing, BJ Stuff and The Beijinger to find language partners and friends.

3. Spend time in a smaller Chinese city. It’s nearly impossible not to learn more about Chinese food, hobbies and language if you live in a place with far less foreign exposure, and there are a variety of solid programs that will assist you in this experience. My friend Robbie Fried runs the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, which I would highly recommend for this type of immersion. http://www.studycli.org/ Additionally, Tangshan is only two hours east of Beijing, and private English centers there are always looking for foreign teachers; I would be happy to connect you!

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There’s a new member of the ToneDeaf family! Yes, it’s a baby…and no, it’s not a human. It’s Tutu, our little xiao tuzi (rabbit!) We visited Tangshan this past weekend to see our pregnant friend Ada, the school, and our Dongbei Mama Baba. Upon arriving I ate hot pot with old friends, and tried a new delicacy…duck blood. The blood comes in a bowl, and you scoop out little pieces and boil them in the hot pot. I was definitely disgusted by the bright red appearance and gelatinous consistency of the blood, but as my Harbiner friend insisted, it really wasn’t too bad. I have to give the Chinese credit for eating every part of the animal.

After Hot Pot we stopped at the Dongbei restaurant and found that they had a cute little white bunny. He had been dropped off by a young girl who wasn’t allowed to keep him (her?), and he wasn’t eating, drinking or moving too much. I immediately picked up the little cutie and he slept in my arms. My previous experience with rabbits is that they nip and always run away from humans, so I was surprised that this one was so calm and friendly towards people. To make a long story short, the suggestion of the Dongbei ren to take the rabbit, its friendly personality and David’s comment that he thought he may die if he stayed in the restaurant without proper care prompted our adoption! We took the little guy home on the bus where he slept on my chest for 2 straight hours, and he has been pooping on our floor and putting love in our hearts ever since!

Seriously though, he’s a really cool pet so far. I embarrassingly admit that I almost killed him during our first half hour home because I put him under the warm faucet to clean off his feces. Apparently rabbits can go into shock from water. I didn’t throw him in and he didn’t even resist, but he stopped moving for a little while before David rushed in and said, “You may have killed the rabbit…it says not to wash them.” I know, I know, my Dad is a veterinarian; I just figured he was like our ferrets…very, very wrong. Well, now that he’s alive and well I love him all the more. He often rests in between my arm and side, or nestles in between our legs. He actually follows us around the room a bit, and is quickly gaining weight and healing his hurt leg. David is like a proud new father, and has already bought him two new cages, two huge bags of food, a bunny leash and has researched how to appropriately train him (even potentially to swim!) He must sense that I’m writing about him, because he is sitting at the side of the bed looking at me.

OK, now he is on my lap sitting nicely as I type.

I never thought I would own a rabbit, but so far so good! I will take him to the vet shortly, and perhaps even to visit America one day…as rabbits are in the category of carry-on luggage, woo! How ironic yet perfect that we would acquire this little during the year of the rabbit. Despite the fact that we don’t know his gender (I think it’s a girl but I’m notorious for calling animals by their opposite) or age, it seems we will be hanging on to this guy well beyond our China experience.

So back to the story…

Ada is doing great at 6.5 months along in her pregnancy. We gave her a mini baby shower with gifts I brought back from the states. (Especially the $1 store baby bottle made in China, bought in the US and brought back to China…just because I thought it would be funny.) She’s so darn small I had to take a few pictures to even show she was pregnant, and of course she makes us miss Christine. She says if the baby is a girl, her English name will be Erin. Our Chinese friends are so darn nice!

David also met with his old student, Sunny. This little girl loved David so much that she shaved her head last semester after David shaved his in Hong Kong! They played games at an ice cream shop together, and she drew him a cute picture with umbrellas on it. There are also some funny photos of David welcoming people to the Dongbei restaurant with promises of “Hao Chi” and some really inappropriate pants on a little baby, ha. I saw one of my favorite students, Ben, who is twelve but still ran up to hug me and said, “Teacher, I am so happy to see you!” That made my day. We also managed to eat at our favorite Afanti restaurant, which has a new sign, doubled in size, and gained its own new member of the family, a baby boy!

I also have a million other stories from Beijing this Spring…but clearly the baby theme is dominating! For now, back to working planning all sorts of events with a bunny on my lap. O yea, and Tutu may have big ears, but he’s donedeaf too, so it’s all good.

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I just got back from a really nice mini-vacation back to Tangshan for the Mid-Autumn festival. Our “Chinese Mama Baba” asked David and I to join them for this holiday that families typically spend together eating Moon Cake and telling stories. Unfortunately David had to work, but Ada and Liu joined me for a feast made by our favorite friends from Dongbei, China. In true parental form, our Chinese parents sent me back with about 10 extra lbs of food because they are worried we aren’t eating in Beijing!

The mid-autumn holiday is a really big event in China, and it was amazing to see how many people carried around red square bags filled with Moon Cake. Entire warehouses opened up for a week just to sell it! In fact, I went to the mall the day before the festival and the line for Haagen Daas brand cake stretched for what looked like six hours…so I took some photos! I find it interesting that despite the long tradition of eating moon cake (there are many different kinds, green tea, red bean, 5 nut, coconut, etc.) the most popular place to buy it is Haagen Daas; probably because they use ingredients like dark chocolate and marshmallow. The quality of the moon cake also shows how much you love/appreciate a person, and boxes of 6 at Haagen Daas started at 268 RMB and went up to over 600RMB! David’s work gave me my first moon cake, red bean, which you can see below. The decorations on top are usually intricate and very pretty. Although there are some flavors I don’t prefer, overall I like the cakes.

The next set of photos is from our elaborate good-bye dinner with all of the staff. In true Chinese form there were about 50 different kinds of dishes, and it was fun eating together one last time. Ada also took some great photos at the school for your viewing pleasure! One one of our last nights in Tangshan we had another dance off with the Uighurs, but this time in the middle of the sidewalk for all to see! We attracted quite a crowd to watch the show, and had a great time getting down to the traditional Uighur music. I also finally got some photos with my di gua (sweet potato) friend, who was always so patient and friendly in trying to understand my broken Chinese. She would always give me free potatoes when I passed, and enjoyed taking a firm grip of my arm to tell me I was strong and healthy. The food photos were taken on the food street where we ate most meals, including a jaozi (dumpling) feast made by the Dongbei Mama Baba before we left for Beijing.

And next up…the beach town of Beidaihe!

Hello from the depths of my visa nightmare! Yes…I’m being a little dramatic, but it has taken about two weeks of living in worry and despair for me to be able to somewhat joke about our troubles so far in Beijing. I haven’t posted for nearly a month because we have been busy packing up in Tangshan, saying goodbyes, finding an apartment here and dealing with all sorts of visa issues. My position also didn’t work out, but David’s work has been nice enough to help both of us out. However, there have still been multiple set-backs in this process and I’m still not sure if I will be on an over-night train to Hong Kong in two days for a ‘visa run.’ However, please no worries, I still have some good options. I can teach full-time again, but I would much rather work in a field where I have greater interest and experience, like non-profit, travel, events/marketing, etc. So, that’s the long and the short of it right now, and I will update you shortly with any progress. Fortunately, between networking events, job applications and momentary break-downs when it takes me nearly two hours in the rain to drop off some photos at David’s job across town…we have still been able to dive into the sights and sounds of Beijing.

For this post, however, let me take a step back and detail our last few precious moments with Matthew Busa. On Busa’s last day David and he visited the Silk Market and David reported that Busa was an instant haggling pro. He managed to get two North Face jackets for $45 and some pearls for his girlfriend at an equally steller rate (although I can’t remember it.) Apparently Busa is a recent graduate of the David Jacobs School of Iron Roostery (“iron rooster” is the Chinese translation for penny-pincher or cheap skate) and managed to pack his suitcase full of a few more great deals. We said goodbye to Busa after a really nice visit, only to find out a few hours later that he wasn’t really ready to leave Beijing! His flight was postponed until the next day, and the airline put him up in a hotel outside of the city. Unfortunately he had zero RMB left after his shopcation and was put-up far away from downtown, so we didn’t meet back up. Overall though it was great to see a friend from home, and hopefully Busa didn’t get too sick of us.

Back in Tangshan, it was our mission to quickly do all of our favorite things, which mostly included having good food with our friends. *Pictures provided* First up, we went to Shirley’s lao shi’s (aka Lao ShiLey) favorite restaurant for the best gong pao ji ding (kung pao chicken) in China. Next, we took photos with our favorite neighborhood buddies who we often had a chat with before turning in for the night. The guy with the white tank top, blue dress shorts, and black dress shoes (sweet outfit he wore every night) was our building-neighbor who actually printed off these photos and delivered them to our door as a goodbye present. The other man in the blue polo, whom we called Pandagui because his name sounded something like that, hounded us every night to take a trip with him in his car. Unfortunately he had always been drinking a LOT, and we didn’t think that was the best idea. He also brought us to his personal storage space one night and presented us with a few English books. We were greatly appreciative, despite the fact the books were for learning college English.

OK, wrapping this up for our next visa meeting…more to come soon.

And, roughly quoting Don Draper from the last episode of Madmen, “Humans are flawed because we always want more, but then when we get it, we yearn for what we had.”

So I don’t really remember where I left off, and the internet is too slow in our apartment for me to risk reloading the blog to see where I left off, so I apologize if there is a break in the story. I also apologize for the lack of posting. We just moved to the capital of China, Beijing, and have had to jump through many a hoop in order to move into an apartment, get visas, etc., but now hopefully we can resume our previous posting pace. Our apartment is a 3 bedroom in Shuangjing, a residential area of Beijing that is only a mile or so away from the central business district. We live with 2 Chinese guys, one of whom has been a good friend and helped us with our move in. Things are going well for me, but Erin’s job did not provide her with a visa, so she is going to have to figure something out. We will update you more in the near future. Alrighty, I will continue the tale of Busa’s visit.

We left Xi’an and flew to Tianjin, which would be the 2nd biggest city in America if it were in America, and yet nobody has ever heard of it. From there we took a train to Tangshan, and we had to get tickets for the sleeper cars because there were no tickets for just seats. We each had a bed to ourselves for the long 1.5 hour trip. People were very perplexed when we got off the train at Tangshan, because most people in the sleeper cars were going for 8+ hour trips. I was glad Busa got to see Tangshan, because it gives a better indication of what most places in China are similar to, and it was also a good place that we knew very well (obviously). He got to see Erin and I teach for a bit, checked out the pet and plant market with Erin, the zoo and a few parks with me, the one Chinese night club in Tangshan, a real Chinese KTV (karaoke bar), and of course hit up most of our favorite restaurants. I was glad that we were able to keep busy in the couple days we were there, and the “tourist” activities we did turned out better than expected: the Tangshan zoo had 3 lions, a tiger, a bear, and even a rare golden retriever! Busa and I were very confused when we walked by cages filled with monkeys, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and then….a golden retriever. He got to meet most of our good friends and our favorite people on the food street, so all in all he got a compact yet complete tour of Tangshan. We had to teach on the weekend, so he headed to Beijing before us, and we met up with him on Sunday night.

Beijing is a great city in many ways, but it can also be a pretty cold place (not temperature cold, emotionally cold). This is especially true for a foreigner that can’t speak or read Chinese, so I was a little concerned with sending Busa there on his own. I booked a hotel that said it was right near the place he would be dropped off, but of course it was not where the map said it was, and also had a completely different name than it said it did. To top it off, my phone, which I gave to Busa for emergencies, ran out of battery. Luckily, after much confused wandering, Busa found the hotel, and we were able to find it right away too. We ate a forgettable dinner together because the night market was closed, but the next day Busa and I headed to the Great Wall.

There are multiple spots where you can access the Great Wall from Beijing. The most popular is one called Badaling, and I read about a bus that drops you off right at Badaling for very cheap. Busa and I headed to the bus stop, and after being repeatedly told that foreigners were not allowed to get on the bus (and me very nearly pummeling a guy that told us to “go home”), I decided we should just try to take a taxi. I asked 2 ladies if they wanted to take one with us, and they seemed very disgusted that a foreigner would suggest such a thing, let alone speak to them. I asked two 25ish year old guys if they wanted to go, and they said yes, and also happened to speak English. Woo hoo! Now we had translators and people we could rely on to avoid getting ripped off or kidnapped, so I was pleased. The two guys were brothers, spoke decent English, and were really cool. They were from Dongbei province, which seems to churn out the friendliest people in China, and we really had a good time. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the Great Wall, and the landscape changes drastically in that short amount of time. Suddenly you are not in a city of 15 million people, you are surrounded by mountains and farmland. The wall has been rebuilt in most places, so it is kind of lame that you don’t get to see any of the original wall, but the Chinese hate things that are old and ruined. It is pretty bizarre. We did some serious hiking on the wall, which had some stupidly steep steps, chatted with our new friends, and again lucked out in terms of weather. After 3 hours we were ready to head back, called the taxi, and that was that.

We headed back to the hotel, ate a quick linner (lunch/dinner) at a very cheap Chinese place, and then headed to Hou Hai. Hou Hai is one of the biggest areas to go out in Beijing. It consists of a group of lakes that are surrounded by bars and restaurants, many of which are very Western friendly. It was Chinese Valentine’s Day, so the place was jammed with couples, but it was more lively than I had ever seen. Busa commented that it was the coolest place to go out for drinks/food that he had ever seen. I ate a veggie sandwich, which was perhaps the worst sandwich I have ever had, then stopped at another place which charged me 30 yuan for a coke (they cost 3). It was a great atmosphere though, even including the barrage of people saying to us “Hello friend, beer, cheap beer. You like ladybar?” It is a very beautiful area and was especially alive that night, so it was fun. We were pooped and headed back and called it a night.

This was much longer than I expected. I will finish the Busa excursion hopefully tomorrow (lol yea right), and then try to get everyone up to speed on our current life. I am thinking about my grandma right now, who just got out of the hospital, and I hope that everything goes smoothly with her recovery. Talk to you soon.

Enjoy, more updates coming soon!

freezing rain
ouch! How I hate you
lava stream

Link to an article about traveling that we liked.

Ni hao, we are going to start detailing our great visit from my good buddy and former college roommate, Matt Busa. Before we left for China, many of our friends told us that they would definitely visit. Of course we knew this was a blatant lie, but we hoped that at least 1 person would be able to make the long trek to the far East. A few months ago, Busa told me that he would be coming to China with his friend Bill, who I had met before and liked. Unfortunately Bill’s place of employment underwent some turmoil, and he was unable to go at the last minute. That didn’t stop Busa, who had organized a pretty action packed excursion, first landing in Hong Kong for 3 days, then off to meet us in the midwestern city of Xi’an, then heading to Tangshan and Beijing on the last leg of the journey. I gave him a detailed itinerary of what he should try to do in Hong Kong, and tried to make it as easy as possible for him to make his desired destinations in one piece. This can be difficult for a person, especially a person that doesn’t know a word of Chinese. Remarkably, he made it to Xi’an right on time, looking well tanned after 3 days wandering around Hong Kong (which sounded like a great time!). This post will detail the trip to Xi’an, since that is the part of the trip that we first met my globe trotting friend.

Xi’an is a city in midwestern China with an urban population of about 7 million. It is one of the most highly regarded cities in all of China, by foreigners and Chinese, because of its blend of modern and ancient culture. The cities major tourist attraction is, of course, the Terracotta Army. Thousands of soldiers made of Terracotta were built over a period of 36 years (by 700,000 artisans!!!!!!) to commemorate and protect the emperor of China. For the Chinese people, Mount Hua (Huashan) is another major tourist attraction, being one of the 5 sacred mountains for the Taoist religion. I wanted to hit up both of these spots, so we had to move pretty quickly. After struggling a little bit to find the hotel, we were met in the lobby by a smiling Busa. He told us a little about his trip to HK and the differences he had noticed thus far, but we didn’t have a ton of time, and we wanted to go see some stuff. We headed out to walk around a bit and make our way to the train station to go see the Terracotta Army, stopping at a typical Muslim noodle house on the way. This was Busa’s first real intestinal test, and we were glad that we were able to help him experience a side of China many travelers are too afraid to. The train station was much farther than I anticipated, and it was very hot, so we hopped on a rickshaw and made it to the station. After 1.5 hour bus ride (which cost 7 yuan (about $1) per person), we were at the Terracotta Army.

We walked about 15 minutes past souvenir shops to get to the Army, walked through the completely underwhelming museum, and made our way to the 3 pits with warriors. Pits #3 and #2 were still being excavated, and were very ancient and fragile looking. I was a bit disappointed with the pits, because I was expecting an endless sea of warriors (700,000 people worked for 36 years making these things(!!!)). Pit #1 was what we were looking for, with rows of soldiers in traditional Chinese battle formations. Hard to imagine that a farmer discovered these pits only 40ish years ago after digging a well! After walking around Pit #1, we hopped back on the bus to try to see the fountain show at Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, which our friend Ada from our school had told us about. After a fun ride with an extremely friendly taxi with some nasty looking teeth, we made it to the fountain. The fountain was multiple levels, stretching about half a mile away from the Pagoda. There were THOUSANDS of people out, many of them families letting their children run in the fountains before the show began. At 9 pm, the fountains were cleared of people, and a half hour long musically choreographed fountain show took place, which was pretty amazing. It gave the city some real character, especially considering it happens twice every night! The huge crowds all watched and got sprayed, and after watching for a while, we got some food on a REAL food street (after wandering around trying to find the Muslim Quarter). We ate some noodles and Busa was starting to get a true taste of China, and he was loving it.

The next day, I wanted to get up and head to Mount Hua, to Erin’s dismay. It was a 2-3 hour bus ride each way, so it was quite a trip. We grabbed some breakfast on our favorite food street, and I must say that Xi’an’s street food is easily the best I have had so far. We found the bus station, and were ushered onto our bus which wasn’t leaving for another hour, and told to sit and wait in the baking bus for an hour. We decided to wander around, and happened upon a real commodities market, which was 6 floors of basically everything made in China. These are a real site to see, so I was glad that we had stumbled upon it by complete accident. We then got back on the bus, and unfortunately the blistering heat didn’t subside very much for the 2.5 hour ride. Busa got to sit next to a father and son (on the dad’s lap), and the son was so hot that he actually vomited! People stuffed onto the bus and were sitting on stools set up in the aisle, and I think this was something that any foreigner would find amusing, vomit included. We got to Mount Hua, and after wandering for a bit, took the bus up to the cable car station, then the cable car to the mountain. Busa and I thought it was worth the painful bus ride and steep entry fee, because it really was beautiful. The mountain is remarkably smooth and white, and had some spectacular views until the smog returned. We were luckily that the smog, an ever present cloud which settles over every city I have been to in China, had cleared just enough to get some really good pictures. We hiked up 2 of the peaks with tons of other tourists, who were singing and yelling and in especially good spirits. The mountain is famous for being dangerous, but other than a few spots where you were basically climbing vertically, it seemed pretty safe to me. Highlights included singing trash collectors that hiked the mountain everyday carrying stuff up on a pole which they balanced on their shoulder and of course a massive line to get back down the mountain on the cable car. The ancient Chinese tradition of cutting as many people in line as possible was in full effect, so we had to lock down our positions so nobody could cut us, climaxing with me squishing a short and fat kid against the wall so he could not get by. We barely made it back in time for the bus to Xi’an, thankfully with some real air conditioning, and met another very friendly taxi who took us to the Muslim Quarter to eat.

The Muslim Quarter is an area of Xi’an which consists primarily of restaurants of the (you guessed it!) Muslim variety. Muslim food is pretty delicious in China (see our previous posts about the subject), and we stopped at a place where you cooked all of your own food on a hot skillet in the center of the table. It was pretty solid, and we drank our second batch of Ice Peaks, an orange soda exclusive to Xi’an which EVERYONE was drinking. It is pretty tasty and only costs 1 yuan! Erin really wanted to try the mutton soup that is famous in Xi’an, so we stopped at another place on the way out. It was a good time just sitting and talking with Busa, and I think he was really starting to see some of the most fun things to do in China. Eating outside with friends and being looked at and treated like a celebrity is pretty fun, and our reactions to certain situations are also interesting and sometimes have a big impact on the Chinese people that witness (or that is what I tell myself). After Erin had her delicious mutton soup, we headed back to the hotel and passed out.

The last day (I realize this is a book, but hey, Busa only comes to China once (I think)) we wanted to rent bikes and ride around the city walls which surround the downtown of Xi’an. The walls are one of the major reasons people think Xi’an blends ancient and modern, and it definitely is striking to be driving in a taxi past McDonalds and shopping malls, and then having to go through a 40 foot wide wall constructed hundreds of years ago. We had to walk through an extremely busy traffic circle in order to reach the city walls, and after dodging traffic, we rented bikes and rode around. The ride was fun and hot, and the smog had returned big time. We took some pictures of strange parade float type things which were located on the southern side of the wall, one of which Busa is hiding for our “Where’s Waldo?” picture from the trip. We got off the bikes just in time, grabbed some grub from another food street, drank our last (2 for me and Busa) Ice Peaks, and headed to the airport.

Find him!

Find Busa!

All in all it was a great trip. This is only the first installment of the Busa experience, so please come back soon for the other portions (I am hoping he will write one of these portions). I would give Xi’an a 9 out of 10, with minus 1 being the smog, which was pretty terrible. The food was excellent, the tourist sites were world class, the prices were China cheap, the people were uber friendly, and they were out at all hours of the night. Our fellow foreign teacher, Arzola, will be moving to Xi’an for the next semester, so I will have to get back there to visit at some point. Happy Birthday to my lovely brother Andrew, who is back at school (I think) after his trip to South Africa (potentially another guest post about their travels brought to you by the best travel blog this side of the Great Wall!) My sister just had her own birthday, and headed off to grad school, and I hope that she, and all of you, are doing well. Alrighty, nighty night! Enjoy the pics (and try to find Waldo)!

The Master said, “The demands that a gentleman makes are upon himself; those that a small man makes are upon others.” Analects, 15.20

The posts have slowed, but that is because we are very busy. We just got back from a trip to Xi’an with my buddy from Georgetown, Matt Busa, which will be discussed later. This post details some of the more interesting Tangshan happenings in the last few weeks. As you all know, Tangshan was devastated by an earthquake 34 years ago. Our boss was given two tickets to the earthquake anniversary commemoration concert at the Tangshan stadium, but was unable to go. So Erin and I went to the concert on a hot and smoggy night. There was a big crowd, and an elaborate stage with a massive screen in the background. Erin and I understood 1 of about 50 words that were said (most of which were Tangshan), but it was an interesting concert. Many emotional songs and speeches were delivered, which were received with extremely tepid applause. I guess Chinese people don’t like to applaud very much, because it was bizarre how little they clapped from a Western perspective. The highlights for us were the dancing by some of China’s minority groups, but the highlight for the rest of the crowd was an apparently famous comedian. He seemed like a jolly enough fellow, but overall it seems that the Chinese sense of humor is quite different from the Western world. Comedy is Rated G, for children and adults. I was expecting the concert to be a bit more touching than it was, but I think I should expect things to be much more corny in the future. It didn’t seem like the crowd was particularly moved either, but we were glad we went.

One of our favorite restaurants in Tangshan is a Uighur restaurant. The Uighurs are a muslim minority group from western China and their food is an interesting blend from many different regions. We have frequented this restaurant dozens of times, and have become friendly with the staff who treats us like royalty (we translated their menu into English). We went to the restaurant for our boss’ birthday, and had a feast as always. The owner of the restaurant is a hilarious and friendly guy that looks like a Uighur version of the rotund laughing buddha, and he of course wanted to make the birthday special. After multiple attempts to give us the meal for free, he instead brought out an ancient looking disco ball and strobe light. After pumping up the Uighur jams, the dance party was on. The 2 Uighur boys that man the outdoor grill came out in Uighur clothes and did some traditional dancing, then pulled all of the foreigners out onto the floor to give them a dose of Western dance. It was very fun, my favorite part being when the owner’s 2 year old son who can barely walk went out on the dance floor and seemed to know how to dance. The Uighurs know how to party, and we all had a very good time.

The last story I will share took place in our apartment complex. We were walking to get a cab for something one day, and said hello to the guard and another Chinese fellow who was standing there. Instead of replying with an awkwardly pronounced “Hellooooo”, the man simply said “Hi.” This was an instant sign of fluency for me, so I asked if he spoke English. In perfect he started talking to us, explaining that his wife’s family lives in Tangshan, but that he lives in Baltimore with his wife and daughter. Such a small world, that we can be wandering in our little apartment complex in a somewhat obscure Chinese city and meet a guy that is from our neck of the woods. His name was Luke, and he asked us to get lunch with him, his daughter and his niece. We had a great lunch with them, and his niece will actually be headed to the University of Texas in 4 days for graduate school. It was a little sad to learn that in Tangshan, Luke was a surgeon at the hospital and in the USA he is a researcher, but he said he likes the USA and obviously likes it enough to keep his family there. Even a Chinese guy who has lived in the USA for 6 years maintains the tradition of being a great host, and we were certainly happy to have stumbled into him that day.

Alrighty, some pictures of the concert and random shots of Tanshan are below. Hope all is well with you, and expect some new and exciting blog updates in the next few days. My friend Busa is currently by himself in Beijing, so we are a little worried about him but he made it through Hong Kong on his own, and now knows the words for thank you, hello, goodbye, and can count to 3, so he should be fine. Good night/morning!

The Master said, “The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse of this.” -The Analects, 12.16

Wuddup wuddup, its been a while since I posted, mainly because nothing too exciting has happened. We haven’t gone anywhere except for Beijing which is growing commonplace now. Don’t worry though, we should have a flurry of exciting updates coming in the next week or so. We will be going to Xi’an, a “new, old city” most famous for being the location of the Terra Cotta warriors. More importantly, my friend Matt Busa will meet us there on his trip to China! So we are excited and hope that he can make a guest post about his experience.

Yesterday , I watched the highest grossing movie in Chinese cinematic history, and it was about the Tangshan earthquake (English subtitles). I think it is hard to imagine the kind of devastation that the city endured, but basically everything in the city was destroyed and the majority of people living here died. The movie did a very poor job of depicting this, as it focused mostly on one families struggle AFTER the actual earthquake. We really haven’t encountered situations where the earthquake was brought up, but I think the spirit of resiliency and perseverance is very strong with people from Tangshan. The movie was not very interesting, but what I did think was interesting is how much the audience talked during the movie. Cell phones were ringing CONSTANTLY throughout the movie, people were talking like they would anywhere else…it was a little strange. As you walked into the theater, which was the old-style with a balcony, they handed you a bag of tissues in case you were crying.

I have been practicing my Chinese more recently and am noticing improvements particularly with my listening and pronunciation. About 1% of the people that I talk to tell me that they can’t understand me, where before it was probably about 40%. It is also very easy to seem like you understand what someone is saying if you just grunt, probably the most common response to any comment or question. It has taken a while, but we are starting to think more in Chinese rather than in English, which is a big step. An easy example that happens all the time is if someone asks you a question such as “Can you speak Chinese?”, the English speaker would respond “yes” or “no”. In Chinese you say “Can.” It is very hard to not respond with the words yes or no, but we are both getting much better at it. I had 2 census workers come to my apartment yesterday, and when I opened the door both of their jaws actually dropped. It is was pretty funny, and I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t wearing a shirt, I was a foreigner not wearing a shirt, or just in awe of my incredibly chiseled physique, but they were so dumbfounded that they couldn’t even utter a sound. I told them 2 people lived here, both Americans, and that we are teachers, and they both had huge smiles and said that was all they needed. It is going to be hard going back to America and not treated with the same level of awe, but it will also be nice to just fit in, so what can you do?

Alrighty, as I said before, check back in a few days, we will have some updates with our travels and friend visiting (picture of him and his girlfriend below). We are almost at the 20,000 views mark too, so we will have to have a huge tonedeaftravelers post/pictures extravaganza when that happens. So get excited!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! Bye bye everyone.

The Master said, “From a gentleman consistency is expected, but not blind fidelity.” (Analects, 15.36)

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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