Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Welcome to my 'Hood, Y'all...

I have arrived in Shenzhen! After 3 days in a hotel I have moved to my new home! I will be living and teaching at Zhuo Ya Xiao Xue, a primary school in the north portion of the Nanshan District of Shenzhen. I will teach grades 4-6 (roughly 10-13 year olds) in 16 40-minute classes per week. This is the CTLC placement map, showing where we all are throughout Shenzhen, so you can find my name on the side bar and click on it and it will show you my school:


The location is wonderful. I live in the center of the largest organized neighborhood in Shenzhen, Tao Yuan Cun. It really feels like an actual neighborhood, with all the great neighborhood qualities you would find in the States, except it is 50,000 people and all high rises. The reisdential section is all elevated into high rise apartments, which frees the street to become a bustling movement of people. There are parks with children playing, people excercising, and old men arguing. There are grocery stores, and food stands, and tea shops everywhere. There is even a neighborhood book store with plenty of English books available. People are constantly out and about no matter what time of day it is. I got home at 2:30 AM the other night, and there were still old men sitting in the park!

Tao Yuan Cun, my home sweet home!  50,000+ people.

Zhuo Ya Xiao Xue, where I am a laoshi!

The school seems like it will be a great place to work. It is the primary school for the entire neighborhood, and about 900 kids attend. This is relatively small by Chinese school standards. I live on the campus, which consists of a large class and living building, athletic buildings, and outdoor sports areas. Right outside my door is a large courtyad with a garden and palm trees at the bottom. My contact teacher, Mary, has been wonderful in helping me get accustomed to the new surroundings. I have also begun playing badminton with the other teachers. Badminton is the favorite sport in China, and the teachers play every day after class.

My room is fairly standard to U.S. dorm rooms in size and quality, but its all I really need. I have a good sized bed, 20-something inch TV (with 2 English channels!), fridge, "kitchen", porch area, and bathroom. The porch area is where I hang my clothes to dry, and also where my kitchen is. I have a hot plate, Chinese microwave, and rice cooker, all 3 of which I need some practice with. My bathroom has a western toilet with no toilet seat. The shower is just in the corner of the room and sprays all over everything, so you have to stategically arrange everything that can't get wet. Overall, a pretty awesome place!

Mi casa.
My toilet has no seat.  That circular thing on the wall is my shower, it just sprays all over the room.

I have been living here a little over a week, and I think I will really like it.

3 Chinas, 1 Long Day

So, the last day in Beijing was quite the experience. I was tired on a level that is on par with any given architecture finals week. In it I got to experience three different stages of China -

Dynastic - The Forbidden City

20th Century - The Tian'anmen Square Flag Raising

Modern - Clubbing in Beijing

- while also taking the aforementioned 24 hour long train ride. Whoo boy...

So the day portion was spent in class like any other day while I was in Beijing. In the afternoon, the kids all did a talent show in which each class performed a small English skit. Our juniors did "I'm a Little Teacup" flawlessly. That evening, we all gathered together for a farewell banquet in which we recieved out TEFL Certificates, stating officially that we were teachers! It then came around that in a few hours everyone was going out to a club in Beijing, and I knew I couldn't miss it. I had to see what it would be like.

For the last few days we had been discussing going to Tian'anmen Square to see the flag raising, and as we all sat around drinking pijiu it came up again. This was the last chance I would probably ever have in my life to see something like this, and I wasn't about to let something like sleep get in my way. We decided before leaving that we would do it. 4:15 AM wake up call, here I come.

We went out to a set of twin clubs in Beijing called Mix and Vic's. I never even made it over to Vic's, but I had more than enough insanity at Mix to keep me satisfied. There were hundreds of dressed up Chinese people all pulsing under flashing, jumping lights. The girls all had on very skimpy outfits, while the guys ranged all the way up to some in suits. Foam and bubbles periodically fell from the ceiling, and the DJ shouted to the crowd in Chinese. By 1 AM, my head was pounding and we took off.

The cab ride back got us to the hotel by about 2, and I realized sleep was not going to happen. I still had to pack my bags to get on the train that afternoon because we would have no time once we left in the morning, and I had to be in the hotel lobby by 4:15 AM. I slept about 30 minutes, which proved to be more of a mistake than just staying up.

The Great Hall of the People, Tian'anmen Square
3:45 AM. "Beep Beep...." I staggered down to the hotel lobby and met Carrie, Matt, and Colin to grab a taxi. The cab was super expensive due to the far drive from Bei Da and night prices charged by the driver, but it was worth it. The Tian'anmen Square Flag Raising happens every morning at exactly dawn, and is attended by thousands of Chinese from all across the country. On this clear Tuesday morning, it happened to be at exactly 5:28 AM. We got to Tian'anmen around 5:00, and I was instantly amazed at the crowd of people. Tour busses were parked on every slot of free space, and flag waving tour guides gathered up thier flocks of people. These people had traveled far distances just to see this event. As we approached Tian'anmen Square, I was blown away by its true size. I had seen it earlier in the week, but it was night time and in the Beijing smog I couldn't even see to the other side. The police had completely cleared the area closest to the Forbidden City, where the flagpole stood. The crowd pressed up against the barrier, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of what would soon take place.

The Chinese police force waiting before the flag raising.

As it got lighter, the procession began as military members marched forth from the entrance to the Forbidden City. They marched out to the flagpole and performed some military formations, and then began raising the flag. Flashes from cameras went off everywhere. As the flag slowly raised, the Chinese national anthem played across the square. I remember seeing a little girl on her father's shoulders right behind me waving a small Chinese flag and singing along. After it ended, most of the Chinese instantly bolted for The Mausoleum of Chairman Mao, to wait in line to see his preserved body. We made a bee-line for the metro, to get back to the hotel in time to catch the bus with everyone back to the Forbidden City.

Me, really damn tired.

The Forbidden City was truly overwhelming. I walked through portal after portal, only to find another massive courtyard in front of me. The buildings were incredibly lavish, with carved dragons and bright colors adorning them all. While wandering, we came across the actual room where dynastic China ended. It was where the last dynastic ruler of China resigned power to what became the unified Republic of China. Sadly, Chinese history is where I probably have the least knowledge, and so as impressive as it all was, I'm sure I would have had an even greater impression if I knew more about what I was looking at. That, and by this point I was a walking zombie.

After a short lunch, we traveled back to the hotel just to get on another bus and then the impossibly long train ride. By that night, when I finally laid down on the train to go to sleep at 11:00 PM, my brain had been thoroughly fried. When i woke up, we were crossing the Yangtze River and crossing into a totally new part of China.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Train Kept-a-Rollin...

So here I am, on a Chinese railway train rolling across the country. We have now left Beijing, and are headed towards Shenzhen, 27 hours and thousands of miles away. We jut passed Nanchang and the Yangtze River, about halfway, so I figured this would be a good time to catch up on all this writing.

My buddies Cliff and Colin in their spacious and luxurious Chinese train beds.  This was us at the beginning of our 27 hour trip.  Those smiles faded quickly.

This train is the most cramped and compact thing I have ever experienced. I am on top bunk, and I literally cannot sit up. The roof of the train is about 18 inches from my bed, and we are stacked that way 3 high. All the loud, obnoxious Meiguorens (Americans) are on top, and all the Zhongguorens are on the bottom two. Many of them have screaming children, which further complicates the situation.

Leah attempting to get something out of her bag.  The bed to roof space was about 18 inches or so.

We have made friends with a young Chinese girl, Liu Ma, who was thrilled with my camera, and she took some of these pictures. Then we taught her "go fish," but of course had to play in Chinese. "Bu you san?" "Bu you..."
Cliff and Carrie with Liu Ma.  She and the fellow on the bunk behind kept us entertained by teaching us Chinese.

This train ride is a really great detox... we have now left Beijing and I can clear my mind and get ready for Shenzhen, which may be a starkly different place from Beijing. Well... only 10 hours left to go....

oh, and also, new weird things I have eaten recently:

Jellyfish - Like cold, see-through spaghetti. Not quite my thing, but still edible enough that I could choke them down if I had to.

Thousand Year Old Eggs - I have no idea how they make these, but they are horrible.  It is an egg that has soliidified into this greenish, weird gelatinous texture.  Really pretty awful all around.

Pork Liver - Very spongy and kind of dry. Not especially exciting...a little bland.

A thousand-year-old egg.  More like brown, crappy jello.

Teaching English in Beijing

Well, I now have 2 weeks of teaching under my belt! The problem is, it was with some of the brightest minds in China. Our introductory training was at Peking University, where we taught an English summer camp. The students were some of the top notch of China for thier ages, and many were the childern of professors and diplomats. My class was Junior 2's, which is equivalent to American 7th and 8th grade.

About half of my class!  The girls all sit on one side and the boys on the other.

My first day of teaching was August 4th, and I was really, really nervous. Overall it went really well, and I got a lot of confidence because of that. My lesson plan for the first week built off of itself, with each day being about a new topic. Day one was about friends, two about family, three about careers, four about celebrities, and five about going to the hospital.
Jack, one of my 20 students.  Another Jack sat right next to him, so instead of making a name tag he just drew an arrow pointing to the other Jack.

The kids are fairly well behaved, but you have to lay out rules and consequences straight off the bat, or they will walk all over you. Each kid has an English name that they are allowed to choose, and some of them are quite strange. We had a kid named "Lucky," and a girl who's name was "Diana Fish". They can choose whatever name they want, so even if they choose "Milkcow" you have to call them that. Here are some funny stories I have had so far.

- When asking about different celebrities/famous people, Lucky told me "Confucius is the Chinese Jesus."

- This one was my fault. During the "family" lesson, I excitedly asked the class "Ok kids, who has siblings!?" I kind of forgot about China's One Child Policy. All twenty of thier little faces stared at me with the most blank confused expression I have ever seen.

- I was teaching them past tense verbs, and had chair and whatever they wrote on the board I would do with the chair and have them tell me what happened in the past tense. One of our particularly smart girls, Fiona, wrote "eat the chair." When I bit it, the class rioted. Chinese teachers re very strict and rigorous, and foreign teacher English is seen a the fun class.

- While talking about the hospital, I had the kids act out a doctor patient visit in pairs. One was doctor, and one patient, and they were to discus an emergency room visit. The dialogue between Gary and Jm went like th is

:Gary (doctor): Well hello sir, how are you today?

:Jim(patient): Ughhhh I dont feel so good....

:Gary: There is nothing I can do to help you. (pulls penn out of pocket) This is a knife. Just kill yourself.

:Jim: (Jabs penn into chest and dies horrible death on the floor)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Me crunching into a big ol' stick of scorpions.  Truly tasty, I would definately eat them again.
I have seen millions of these guys (smaller ones) stuck to the trees in Missouri, but I never thought I would put one in my mouth.  Once again, actually pretty tasty.
Me at The Great Wall!  This is the "mu tian yu" section north of Beijing.  The Chinese characters far back on the hill behind me say something along the lines of "Loyalty to Chairman Mao Forever." 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Weird Things I Have Eaten (Part 1)

The food is probably going to be one of the most wonderful things about this trip. The cuisine here is absolutely spectacular. Most of the time you don't really know exactly what you are eating, and I know the names of almost nothing, but it doesn't matter because everything is so good.
One of the biggest comments I got from people about this trip was "are you going to eat wierd stuff like dog?" The answer is a resounding yes, partly because a lot of times you don't know what you are eating and party because that is the point of these kinds of adventures! To try new things outside your comfort zone! I have my limits certainly, but generally my rule is I need to try everything at least once before i turn my nose up at it.

So I have only been here slightly over a week, but I have already expanded my palette quite a bit. Here are some of the stranger things I have already eaten.
Tripe - For anyone who doesn't know what this is, it is the interior lining of a cow's stomach. Once you get past the bumpy, rubbery texture the flavor is quite good. Had it mixed with cucumbers and hot spices in a delicious meal.
Cicada - Yep, like the big noisy ones back home in Missouri, only bigger in their "1st stage". Fried with a little salt on them, these babies pop loudly when you eat them whole. The consistency and flavor are both almost identical to mashed potatoes. A stick of 4 runs you about 10 kuai ($1.50).
Scorpion - Wee ones, only about 2 inches long. The only rule to follow while eating them is that you first break off the stinger tip so it doesn't stab you in the throat. They are like a spicy little potato chip, and crackle loudly. Very, very tasty.
Duck intestine - Like a little ribbon of flavor! They come all curled up in a ribbon, but are very juicy. Chewier than beef jerky, they take a while to get through.
Whole baby quail - This one was hard to do just because of it staring back at you. The bird has not developed enough to have hard bones, so you just crunch right through it and eat the whole thing. It crackles like a pork rind when you bite it. The meat is wonderful though!
Silk worm larvae - This is one of the most horrendous things I have ever eaten. They are about 2 inches long and half and inch in girth, and under their hard outer shell they are full of some of the most vile liquid imaginable. It pops open and spills out uncontrollably in your mouth, and the weird taste stays with you for quite a while.

bei jing da xue, First Thoughts

So, I gave in and got a VPN. Seems a single week "off the grid" was just too much for me to take. I don't really care so much about Facebook, I was really more excited to continue my writings here and share photos. The connection here may be pretty sketchy by the time I get to Shenzhen, but as for now it is working wonderfully. The VPN I chose was GoTrusted, which was suggested to me by a former CTLC'er who found it to be the best one.
Ah, Beijing. What an interesting, interesting city. Only here have I ever seen smog so bad I can't see the tops of buildings, seen a child pooping on the street from slit pants, and eaten scorpion and silkworm cocoons....
...all on the same walk home.
This city is one of those that really shines in the aspects that many would find its worst. The traffic, smog, congestion, and overall messiness of the street life is what truly makes this place unique. You can literally get lost in the crowd, which I don't think is always a bad thing. The city I can most closely compare it to in my travels is Athens - you never really decide wether you love or hate it, it always shifts in your mind as new aspects of it come out. Both are the capital ofa country drastically changing, both are crowded and dirty, and both bear an incredible vitality in thier messy reality.

I live in a section of the city called Haidan with all the other Center for Teaching and Learning in China teachers. We teach and take classes at Peking university, the "Harvard of China". It feels pretty powerful to flash my badge to the guards and enter as Chinese tourists snap pictures of thier children standing in front of the West Gate. The children always look bored and the parents ecstatic, as they now have an image of the golden pedestal they wish to place thier child on. Peking University is quintessentially Beijing, in that half of the campus is pristine and historical while the other half is a stark collection of utilitarian barracks.
I am so glad to be able to get on this, as keeping notes of what I did everyday was getting quite challenging. I will update soon with more of my first experiences in the Middle Kingdom.

Soon to come: Teaching English to Chinese Kids, My Great Wall Trip, Tian'anmen Square, Weird Things I have Eaten (So Far)
wang ke (My Chinese name, pronounced waang kewuh)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Incheon, South Korea

Well, I've crossed the Pacific.

I'm currently sitting in Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea, and am very tired.  The flight to this point was 13 hours, and its another 4 or so before I reach Beijing.  If it is anything like when I flew into Athens, the first few days I will have a horrible time trying to sleep.

They had one of my favorite movies on the plane's selection - "The Sting" with Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  So I watched The Sting with Korean subtitles while eating seaweed soup, while the young Korean girl next to me watched Everybody Loves Raymond.

...and so begins my Asian adventure.

I don't know when the next time I can update this will be if I don't get a VPN, as once I cross over to China it becomes a blocked site.  I won't be able to go to Hong Kong until October, so if that is the first time so be it.  Don't forget about me though!  I will write all my good stories down until then.

One more flight to go!