This is it. My trip to the People's Republic of China is over. In a few minutes I catch a bus to the airport. And in about 24 hours I'll land in charlotte and be back home.
This trip has truly been awesome. I've learned so much about this place, its culture, its language, and its people. I know I've written about this already, but what I've seen and experienced here was nothing like what you might expect if you only watch the American media's portrayal of China. They people here are friendly, smart, eager to help in any way they can, and just overall good people. The cities where I went, at least, are also very clean and modern and relatively "Westernized." China is really a great place.
The Chinese have a word that they use a lot: peng you (it's pronounced "pung yo.") It means "friends." It's very important in their culture. When they meet a new person, they want to treat them as if they are already a good friend. They tend to think of others before they think of themselves. They want to make sure you have as much as you need, and then some!
When students walk down the hall, you will often see them walking and holding hands. Usually a girl and a girl, although occasionally a boy and a boy. Never a boy and a girl. It's just a sign of how good of friends they are. You'll even see adults doing the same thing walking down the street.
When I had the students trying to teach me some Chinese during the down times, one of the very first things they showed me how to say was "we are friends." And they really wanted me to say it and pronounce it right. And to mean it - they wanted to know that I thought of them as friends.
And I can honestly say that I've made a lot of new friends here. The students were pretty awesome. Their desire to learn from me AND to teach me was inspiring. But I was their new friend, so of course that's what you would do for a friend. Some of these kids I'll never forget. And their crazy English names make it a little harder to forget, ha ha. The students all pick English names that are easier for English speakers to pronounce. Most of them are regular names, but sometimes they just pick random English words. Some of the funnier ones that I heard were: hamburger, pirate, ice frog, and silence (do you like any of those names for our baby, Christine?!) I also had about 3 Toms and 3 Jerrys in each class, since -for some reason - that is one of the most popular cartoons over here. But whatever their names are, I'll never forget Coco, a little boy who is very smart and who wants to ask a million questions and learn as much as he can. Or Dora, a very smart girl who has been studying English for 10 years (she's 13 now) and who wants to be an English teacher when she grows up. And a bunch of others like Julie, Lemon, Daniel, Georgina, Israel, and Jimmy. They are my Chinese friends.
The Chinese adults I met here were even more friendly. Mr. Li invited me into his home for dinner and was incredibly accommodating to us. Mary (the director) and principal Jiang were excellent hosts and showered us with gifts and gave us anything else we needed. And Benjy, who was our main helper here was the best friend of the bunch. His constant smile and his ridiculous desire to make us as happy as possible at all times was great. It's impossible to even look at him without getting happy. I'll really miss him when I leave.
I've also made some new American friends. I didn't know everyone on the trip before I came here, but got to know them over this hectic, exhausing two and a half weeks. This really was an excellent group of people that I feel honored to have been a part of. I do hope that some of these friendships that I've made here will continue on once we get back home.
Bit the "peng you" goes even deeper than all of that. When the students wanted me to say it, they also wanted me to say that the USA and China were friends. They said that they loved our country, but they were afraid that our country doesn't consider them a friend. And I don't think I can disagree with that point. And I know I'm only one person, and our group of teachers are only 31 people but id love to see real change in that area. Yeah, they have a communist government. But they also have McDonalds and cell phones and Justin bieber. They're a lot more like us they they are different from us. And if these two governments and countries and people can realize that, things would be a lot better.
So this is my final Chinese blog post, as I'm about to leave here. I will add a few more pictures over the coming few days though, so check for that. Thank you for reading. And the next time you get a chance to come to China, I highly recommend it! And the next time you hear anything about China, try to keep it in perspective. They are our friend. Wo ai zhong guo, & wo ai ni men! Wo men shi peng you!
Today was the last "normal" day here in nanjing. Although we didn't have a culture class or an evening activity, so our night was free. And the students knew that tomorrow's schedule is going to be weird, so they sort of acted like it was the "last day of school." And they were coming around and asking for our autographs and email addresses and stuff like that. Maybe this day wasn't all that normal, I guess.
So with my evening off, there were still a few gifts that I wanted to pick up for people, so I wanted to go to the market place by the Confucian Temple. We ran into a little bit of trouble finding a cab that would take us the 30 minute drive from the hotel to there, and we ended up losing a lot of the group that was going to go with us. But Ron and I persevered! We got one of the ladies who works at the hotel to convince a cab driver to take us. Who knew if we'd find a cab driver to take us back or not, but we'd cross that bridge when we got to it.
The market, not unlike the aushan market that we went to the other day, is sort of divided into two sections: a cheaper section, and a section that feels just like an American mall. But the cheaper section isn't like a Wal-Mart, it's a bunch of vendors in little shops that are willing to bargain to get rid of their miscellaneous, tourist-y, China-y stuff. It's a pretty cool place to experience, even if you don't buy anything. We each picked up a couple of small things, but left maybe a little disappointed.
So before we tried to hail a cab home, we were hungry and it was past our usual dinner time. There is a mix of tourist-friendly restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints that seem pretty sketchy. There is also a row of vendors selling street food from behind carts, almost like at a county fair or something. Except, unlike at a fair in America, I couldn't read the words on the signs, or tell how much anything costed, and most of the time I couldn't tell exactly what the food was by looking at it. And there was no one around who spoke any English to help us.
One day, about 2 weeks ago, we had just arrived in China, and we were fascinated by everything that we saw. And we were amused by all of the funny signs and t-shirts that we saw that had poorly translated English on them. We later found out that the Chinese actually call this "Chinglish" and, yes, they are aware that it is funny to us. One shirt, in particular, stood out to us early on. It had only 4 words on it: Don't Only These Days. At first, we had no idea what it was even trying to say. Was it missing a verb? Did it have something to do with "seizing the day" or "these are the days of our lives"? Was it just a literal, word-for-word translation of some Chinese saying? Or a reference to something that we'd never heard of? Maybe it was just nonsense meant to confuse American tourists. There was no way to know, and the guy got away before we could ask him or even take his picture.
But slowly, it started to all come together for us. It meant: Don't only these days. It was that simple. "Only" was the verb in the sentence, and it was telling us not to do that with these days that we have. You shouldn't "only" today, or you'll probably "only" tomorrow, too. And before you know it, you're "onlying" every day of your life.
Ok, so maybe that explanation makes no more sense than the ridiculous shirt itself. And for a while, we used this as a joke fairly often - any time we saw any Chinglish. "Don't only these days!" Or any time that we saw someone doing anything that they possibly shouldn't do. "Don't only these days!" Or pretty much any time there was a silence long enough to say it. "Don't only these days!" We maybe overused it a bit... And maybe this is a stretch, but I think it actually became more than that. When we went to the great wall, we had the option to take the easier or the harder path. I took the harder one. Because, when will I ever come to China again? Or because you only live once (YOLO!!) Or because: Don't only these days. When we had the option one night to go out to dinner on our own, and a massive group went to pizza hut, a few of is decided to go walk around the streets and find something a little...Chinese-ier. And sketchier, ha ha. Because I can get pizza any time, and I'll be in China just this once. I didn't want to "only" these few days that I had in this country. (It should be noted that I did end up going to pizza hut on another "free" night and that I ate McDonald's at the train station, and I'm glad I at least experienced those things in their Chinese versions while I was here.)
But I tried to incorporate this philosophy into all that I did here. Whether it was sampling every different, weird type of food that was placed in front of me, or trying to learn a lot of the Chinese language, or wearing lots of communist swag while I was here, I wanted to Don't Only These Days. And Don't Only them I did!
Which brings me back to today at the Confucian Market street vendors. I could have had KFC, which actually I haven't had yet in China and it's more popular than McDonald's is in the united states, so I kind of do want to try it! I could have also eaten in one of the Chinese restaurants that were little hole-in-the-wall joints similar to the one that Ron, Troy, and I ate at last week. But I'd already done that. Doing it again might be dangerously close to onlying these days? I think you know what I did. I ate at one of the street vendor carts. I pointed to a pile of noodles and the lady did the rest, scooping various other things into the bowl and handing it to me along with a pair of chopsticks. She hand signaled to me how much I owed her, and I paid and then dug right in!
How was it? It was okay. It tasted good, and had good seasoning with a little kick of spice. Although it was cold, which I didn't expect, and it had a couple of little chunks in there that I wasn't sure what they were, but overall not a bad dinner. And more importantly, it was another day that I didn't Only.
And the cab ride back was actually way easier than I thought it would be. The first cab we saw agreed to take us and he drove us right there. Walking home would have been REALLY not onlying these days, but I'm not willing to go that far! Thankfully the cab ride worked out!
So tomorrow is my last full day in China. I'll teach one more time, say good bye to the kids, and have a closing dinner where I say good bye to all of the adults. And I want to make sure that this trip ends on as good of a note as it started on, and as good of a note that it continued on for the whole two and a half weeks. And when I return home, I hope that the things I've learned here and the experiences I've had here will stay with me in whatever I do. And I hope that I make the most of every opportunity that presents itself to me. And while I will most certainly not have another opportunity this unique in my life again, I want to try as many new things and step out of my comfort zone as much as I can. I want to, as a famous t-shirt philosopher once said: Don't Only These Days!
Today was a lot of fun. I met my final groups of students, which means I will see them each two more days and then I'm finished. Both classes were pretty good at English - not my lowest, nor my highest. I'm getting better at teaching these students and I think classes are generally going pretty well now.
One of the highlights of all of my classes is actually just a "fun" thing that I've started doing during down time. Each class is 90 minutes but with a 10 minute break in the middle. At first I thought it was weird and I never knew what to do during it. Some kids stand up and leave the room, or go to the bathroom or take out a game to play. Other students just take out a book, or talk, or just sit quietly. So I started telling them that they were welcome to do whatever they needed to do, but I asked if there were any of them who would like to help teach me some Chinese. It's become one of the best things that has happened for me here. And hopefully this isn't a reflection on me doing a poor job of teaching during the actual class, but I think it's also a highlight for a lot of my students, ha ha. But they love teaching me to say things, and hearing my pronunciation (and working with me until I get it right!) Sometimes it gets to the point where every single kid is crowded around my desk and the board, teaching me Chinese words and phrases, and not choosing to do any of the other "fun" things that they could be doing on break. And while I know them teaching me isn't exactly the intent of our program, they actually are getting good English practice, since they are teaching an English speaker to speak their language. Plus it's fun for me!
So I've learned a good deal of Chinese over the past week or two. Still no where near enough to "get by" in any sense of the word, but I'm leaps and bounds ahead of where I was when I got here. In fact, today was the first time that my knowledge of Chinese actually came in useful! There was a student who didn't speak very much English and she raised her hand to ask me a question. They were working on writing stories in English. She asked me what the English translation for something was. And I recognized the word! So I repeated the Chinese word that she said, and told here how to say it and spell it in English. She politely said "thank you" in English and went on working - as if I hadn't just done the awesomest thing ever!!! I mean, I guess she could have easily asked another friend to translate, or looked it up in her dictionary. But I was pretty happy with myself anyway, ha ha!
While it probably shouldn't surprise me or anyone who knows me that I especially love the language aspect of this trip, I was a little skeptical that I would like it before I got here. It seems like such a difficult language to learn. And in a lot of respects it is: they have some sounds that we don't have in English, they use different tones to convey completely different meanings, and not to mention the huge, complicated set of characters that they have! But in a lot of ways it is an easy language. They don't use very many extra words. Articles don't exist. Verb tenses don't exist. "I," "me," and "my" are all the same word. They even use the same word for "he" and "she." And they call things by the simplest names that they can. The most popular green vegetable here is translated "green vegetable" and high heeled shoes are translated "tall shoes" for example.
But as you can see, I am fascinated by this (and every?) language, and I've been working pretty hard at learning some of the vocabulary, the structure, and the correct pronunciation. And so today, at the evening performance, I decided to rope a few of the other teachers into performing some Chinese on stage with me. We basically perform something for the kids every evening after they perform their things. Today they did short plays in English. So I thought it would be cool to do a short play for them in Chinese. So we did the Tortoise and the Hare. We had only a few speaking parts, and probably less than 30 words or so in the entire skit - but we got up on the stage in front of a small auditorium full of Chinese students and did a skit completely in Chinese! I was proud of us. And the kids got a big kick out of it as well. They laughed and/or applauded after most of our lines, which I think means they understood most of it, ha ha. And at the very end, Troy grabbed the mic and said "wo ai zhong guo" to the crowd. That means "I love China." Obviously that earned us a standing ovation, loud cheers and adoration, and was the perfect way to close out our night.
So with only a couple of days left, I'm going to try to get as much more Chinese as I can. I doubt that I'll ever get the chance to come back here again, or that it will ever come up back home that I'll "need" to know any Chinese, but it's just something that is really interesting to me and I think I would like to learn even more of it in the future. And who knows, maybe I will get the chance to come here again. Maybe we'll hit the lottery and Christine and I and our kid will get the opportunity to travel to China? It would definitely be awesome if that ever did happen, because, well, wo ai zhong guo!
This is what a typical meal in China usually looks like. A bunch of plates of food are brought to the table, usually not all at once, but slowly as the meal goes on. Everyone just helps themselves with their chopsticks from the main dishes in the center. Most often, the Chinese people just go directly from the serving dish to their mouth, bypassing the plate that is in front of them altogether. Most of us Americans aren't as used to this and pile everything on our plates and then eat it from there. Often times, you're quite sure exactly what is in the plate until you taste it. Although certain items appeared in quite a few meals, so we were able to figure those ones out right away. But at each meal we seemed to have at least one or two new things that we had never tried before.
Most of the time the food was fairly "normal" stuff, just maybe prepared a little differently than we were used to. For example, pretty much every meal had rice, some green vegetables, and some chicken and/or pork. We would have duck a fair amount of the time as well. Sometimes it would be something a little more bizarre, like the turtle, or sauteed eel, and even a few things that I wasn't quite sure what it was even after tasting it.
Breakfast is probably the most different of the meals here. It's kind of like every other meal - lots of rice, vegetables, and meat. They do have eggs, although a lot of times it's either hard boiled (and soaked in soy sauce) or this whipped, egg stuff that is about the consistency of jello. Although our hotel does have a fried egg station that is very popular with the Americans every morning! They don't really have any other traditional American breakfast foods in China. They also don't really drink coffee here - they usually drink tea. So the hotel and the school prepared for our arrival by buying some coffee, but they have to ration it out so that it lasts the whole trip. I don't drink coffee anyway, or really even enjoy breakfast foods that much, so it hasn't been a huge deal for me, but for most people, this is one of the hardest things to get used to as far as Chinese food is concerned.
But most of the food actually tastes pretty good. It's definitely different than what we would normally eat in America, but almost none of what we've eaten has been "bad." Sometimes the temperature, or the consistency, or the seasonings are a little strange, or at least not very similar to anything we have eaten before - and that can make it difficult to get the "courage" to pick it up with your chopsticks and taste it. But when you do, it's usually a pleasant enough experience that you will decide to finish the rest of it that is on your plate. Sometimes you might even reach for a second helping of it. Or sometimes you might decide that it's not for you, and you won't finish it - but honestly, that is the exception.
I guess I've always been a little more "adventurous" with my food than some people, but I've really enjoyed the excitement of trying all of these new things. There are some other adventurous teachers on the trip too who have fully embraced all of the Chinese cuisine. And even the people who are much less adventurous at home with their meals, have usually at least sampled as much of the new food as possible - sometimes coming away from it by saying that they really enjoyed it.
And for those of us who really can't do the Chinese food very well (*cough, Chris, *cough) they've also been trying to Americanize our food as much as possible. They even served fried chicken legs the other day. And they were pretty good.
So I'm in China for another 3 days, and I have very few Chinese meals left. One of those meals is going to be a big, closing banquet, and should have lots of good, "exciting" food! I'm looking forward to it! I'm sure it will be really good, like most of what was at the opening banquet. Or maybe it will be much stranger than that, who knows. All I can do is just eat it!
As weird as this might sound, I'm actually going to miss the food here when I come back home. But the first thing that I'm gonna do when I get back to the Detroit airport is eat at the National Coney Island there, and the first meal that I have when I get back to Charlotte is going to be Mexican. Mmm mmm, can't wait! Ha ha.
So yesterday, after teaching, we did a lot of things that were mainly just for fun, rather than some of the other cultural events and student performances. We had a basketball game against the Chinese teachers. There is a shot of me, taking a shot. As you can imagine, I was pretty much the star of the game, and all of the players (on both teams, really) were in awe of my abilities on offense as well as defense. The game actually ended in a tie, but that's only because I subbed out a few times to give some of my teammates a chance to score some points. It's really not fair for me to play the whole game - I'm sure you understand. (*Note: if you happen to talk to anyone else who went on this trip with me, it's probably best that you don't talk to them about my performance in the basketball game. It will probably just make them feel bad about their own basketball skills, and I don't want to hurt their feelings. Yeah.)
After that, we went to the Aushan Market. This place is crazy. The bottom level is a bunch of nice, "Western" style stores, that are pretty expensive. It's like going to a mall. We ate at a pizza hut there. Pizza hut is pretty big here - I mean, it's no KFC... but it's big. This pizza hut was actually awesome. It was the biggest and nicest pizza hut that I've ever been in. They have essentially the same menu as an American pizza hut, but a few strange things. My pizza, for example, had sausage, chicken, mushroom, green pepper, and corn. Yep, corn. Stuffed crust style, which I love. We also got these small, fried, chicken things. They looked like popcorn chicken, but they definitely had a distinct "Chinese" taste to them. They were served with a sauce that was called "Buffalo sauce" but it was sort of like a mix between midwestern BBQ sauce and sweet and sour sauce. The waitress didn't speak a word of English, so we did a lot of pointing and other hand motions. And surprisingly, all 6 of our orders came out exactly as we had intended to order! Other than an extra side of calimari that we ended up with.
Then, after that, we went to the second level of the market. This is where the real magic happens. It's hard to describe this experience to someone who hasn't been there. Imagine WalMart. Now imagine a packed amusement park. Multiply those things by 5. Then add some bizarre Chinese things, and give everyone walking around the same mentality that the crazy drivers over here have. This is the second level of the Aushan Market. We bought a bunch of little cheap things - again, it's essentially the equivalent of going to a WalMart. But there were also a bunch of little live demonstrations of "as seen on tv" products, just happening in the middle of the aisles. They have a butcher shop with chickens hanging in the window, beef hearts, and other meats that I didn't even recognize.
Overall, it was quite an experience. After that, we had to catch a cab home. Again, just like with the waitress at pizza hut, he spoke no English. We had a card from the hotel to show him where we wanted to go, and we ended up quite close to that hotel when he dropped us off, ha ha. Troy sat in the front of the cab, and he was "talking" to the guy pretty much the whole way home. The cab driver would say something in Chinese, and Troy would repeat one of the words that he picked out - usually pretty poorly - and then the cab driver would say "dui" which means something like "correct." And then we'd drive on for a little while longer. Then Troy would get bored and say something to the guy. Troy only knows a couple of phrases, so he would say - again, probably pretty poorly - "I am hungry" "I am tired" and "I love China" alternately. I'm not sure if the driver understood any of it or not, but he would start rattling off more Chinese, to which Troy would respond by either saying his phrase again or just randomly trying to repeat other stuff. Ron, Steve, and I, in the back of the cab, were just laughing at the whole situation. At one point, Troy reached over the glass that separated the driver from the passenger and grabbed onto the decorative thing that was hanging from the mirror. The driver immediately said something (which I can only imagine was Chinese for "don't touch that!") and Troy just kept touching it and gave him a thumbs up and said something in Chinese - probably "I am hungry." It was quite an adventure, but we made it back.
It was a very fun and exciting day in Nanjing. Today, after we teach, the students have a "market night" activity, where they open up little shops and try to sell us little things that they make or possibly that they purchase at the store. It's supposed to be pretty fun, and the kids are really excited about it.
So today, our evening event was being invited to the home of one of the teachers for dinner. So they split us up into groups of 3, and teachers came to pick us up to take us to their apartment. I went to the house of a math teacher, who is also married to a teacher. They also invited their friends - a married couple who are also both teachers - to dinner with us. That other couple has a young daughter, who is maybe 6 years old. And the couple who lives there has four-year-old twin boys (one of the only ways to bypass the "one child" policy in China.
The dinner was impressive. The wife basically stayed in the kitchen the whole time, preparing food. As is the custom in China, one dish of food came out at a time, and was placed in the middle of the table for everyone to share. And then, every few minutes, another plate of food came out. Unlike most other meals that I've had here, there were no rice or noodles - those are both considered common, "poor" food that is filling and cheap. We were given the best of the best. Some of the highlights were a super delicious, tender, falling-off-the-bone pork loin, some really good chicken wings that were taken off of the bones and then served almost like "meat lollipops" with the wing bones, a spicy chili tofu dish, and a nice sauteed fish with scallions, garlic, and a delicious sauce. There were also a few other meats (including liver, sausage, kidneys) some interesting vegetables (like a sauteed cucumber/lima bean dish, and slices of lotus root) and a few other interesting things (like these really good veggie dumplings, duck soup, and hard boiled duck eggs which you were supposed to eat with the shell still on them.) It was a feast! And even though a lot of the stuff sounds a little different that what you might expect to have in American - or than what I've had so far here in China - everything was actually very good and I tried, and even went back for seconds, of everything on that table! It was the best overall meal that I've had here in China.
And as impressive as the meal was, the house was even more so! His apartment was about 2000 square feet, and was two stories tall (starting on the 9th story of the 10 story building.) He had beautiful hard wood floors throughout, a 52" flat screen TV in the living room, a piano (that his 4 year old boys know how to play!) and much more. His sons' bathroom - which is bathroom #3 in the house - is bigger than my bathroom. Their master bedroom has a nice, hardwood floored, screened in patio off of it. And two teachers live there! And it's walking distance from the school. Now, the school - which is one of the richest ones in all of Nanjing, and probably China - subsidizes some of his housing expenses, but still. So while this house was bigger, cleaner, nicer, and more modern than anything that could possibly be considered "normal" in this country, I still felt like this was my first glimpse into family life here in China.
The teacher who took us to his house spoke a very basic level of English - enough to communicate with us and serve as a translator for the other 3 Chinese people there who spoke almost no English, and the 3 of us Americans who spoke almost no Chinese. And despite the obvious language barrier, all 7 of the adults there had a great time. We had conversations about many different topics, we ate food, drank wine, and laughed together. Of course, like all the Chinese people that I've met, they were all incredibly accommodating and awesome to their visitors. We are treated like family everywhere that we go, and this was no different.
This is right up there with the best experiences that I've had so far in China, and it's something that I'll never forget. I'll post some pictures of the food and the house in the Nanjing Pictures page tomorrow, but I have to get a little bit of sleep now, because it's getting late. I will try to post a picture of Mr. Li and his family on this but the internet is giving me some problems, so if it doesn't work I will just post this and add pictures on the other pages tomorrow. Good night!
I felt honored to be invited to this family's house for dinner tonight!
Yesterday I was a little philosophical about how I've realized just how much I have in common with the Chinese and how much our students have in common etc. But one of the things that has made this trip so awesome so far is all of the differences that I've run into. Here are some of the ones that stand out the most:
*The food. My food blog post is coming soon, I promise, but it really is different. Meat comes with bones in it, and sometimes with skin, eyes, tails, shells, etc. You know, the way meat naturally comes, and has been eaten for thousands of years? The food has flavor, but not a ton of salt or pepper like we're used to. Things taste a little more..."natural" I guess you'd say? Most meals are served family style, with big dishes in the middle of the table for everyone to share. Usually no serving utensils either - everyone serves themselves with the same thing they use to eat it with (chopsticks.)
*The traffic. I know that I grew up in a suburb, and currently live in a suburb, so I'm not terribly used to city traffic. But I've been to big cities, including New York, Paris, and London, and I've never seen anything like what I've seen here. And it's not just how much traffic there is - although that's part of it, these Chinese cities have millions and millions of people! But it's HOW they drive that is crazy. It's like everyone is in a rush to get to their destination and they are oblivious to the fact that there are other people on the roads. Cars weave in and out of traffic, crossing over double-yellow lines into oncoming cars frequently. They honk when they come close to hitting someone, but they don't slow down, they just veer to one side or the other. And there are tons of people in general on the streets, which means not only cars and buses, but mopeds, bicycles, and pedestrians galore. All of those groups of people behave in exactly the same way: like, if you're riding a bike, and there's a space literally big enogh to squeeze a bike through, you will go for it. The whole thing reminds me of a grand theft auto video game where there are essentially no rules on the road. Although, to their credit, our bus drivers have navigated those vehicles into streets and places where American drivers wouldn't even consider as an option, and I've yet to see even one accident on the roads. Pretty unbelievable!
*The manners. It's a different culture and what we consider polite or rude has pretty much no correlation to what I've seen here. People pick their nose, burp out loud, loudly spit onto the sidewalk, and talk with their mouths full of food, barely stopping their sentence when they pick the bones out of their mouth with their fingers and spit them back onto their plate. And I'm talking about adults here. And no one says anything or makes a weird face or even seems to notice. Out on the street, I've already mentioned how parents and children alike will stare at us Americans as if we are animals in a zoo. But also, if their small child needs to go to the bathroom, rather than go to a public bathroom (which are all over the place) they just drop their pants and go. Even "number two."
*The hand-holding. Little girls walk down the halls holding hands with each other. Almost always. Little boys will occasionally do the same thing, or they'll sometimes hold or touch each other's wrists even sitting in class. But never a boy and a girl, always 2 boys or 2 girls. One day, we even saw two grown men walking down the street holding hands. Our Chinese guide told us that it was perfectly normal in their culture and it didn't "mean anything."
*The temperature. It's hot here. But I guess the weather we've been getting isn't too much hotter or more humid than I've experienced at times in Charlotte. But the big difference is the temperature of everything else. Back home, every building, room, school, restaurant, etc. is air conditioned. Every drink has ice in it or is at least served cold. Maybe I'm just a spoiled American who is used to a level of luxury that doesn't exist in very many places in the world... but I can't help it! When it's hot, I like a little ice in my drink and a little cold air in my face!
*The KFC's. They are EVERYWHERE! It's the #1 fast food chain here. By a long shot. We were driving in downtown nanjing today and there were about three of them in a mile stretch of road. I don't get KFC very often at home because they're just not all that big there. But they''re HUGE in china!
There are obviously tons of other differences, including their insatiable appetite for rice at every meal, and for Michael Jackson songs at every opportunity! But as strange as some of those things have been, they've also been awesome. I'm fascinated by their culture and by how things work over here.
I know this was another blog lost where I didn't really chronicle what happened today... don't I understand what a blog is supposed to be?! Today was actually our one "day off" which actually meant that we went on a 13 hour tour of nanjing. The biggest highlight from that is when we went to the Nanjing Massacre museum. My American education never taught me about that event from Chinese history (which happened in WWII.) But it was unbelieveable to walk through this place - a very similar feeling to walking through a Holocaust museum. Look into this topic in Google if you're interested in learning more about it. It's obviously kind of gruesome, but it's something that will definitely stick with you. Well, I've been slowly going through my pictures and adding more to the (now 4) pages of pictures on this blog. I'm planning on continuing to add to those pages in the coming week - it's just tough since each day I take another 50-75 pictures that I have to go through! So keep on checking but bear with me if everything looks the same for a few days. Thanks!
So today was my 6th day of teaching in China, and I have 6 more before I come back to the States. This has already been an unbelievable experience. A few of my fellow teachers and I were talking earlier about how hard it is to put this whole thing into words. It's been amazing.
Obviously, I'm in China, half a world away, teaching students who have widely varying degrees of fluency in the only language that we have in common. It is a very foreign place in that respect, and it's easy to dwell on the differences between home and here.
However, the similarities are what's really been standing out to me lately. The students that I'm teaching are 12-13 years old, so American middle school age. They live in China, a place where I've always heard is huge, poor, dirty, communist, scary, etc. (think of what stereotypes you've seen or heard about this country.) But these students are attending a summer camp right now, where they are learning songs, performing skits, and making new friends. They are attending school with the aspirations of becoming teachers, doctors, engineers, or professional basketball players to name a few. They like to dress in fashionable clothes, listen to pop music, and eat at KFC and other fast food places - all things that their parents' and grandparents' genertions would disapprove of. Does any of that sound like children in America?
Many of the students have a good sense of humor and want to talk to me and make me laugh. They are friendly and generous and want to give me things as gifts so I will remember them. At their performances that they do every night, they run up to their American teachers and ask us to join them on the stage. They absolutely love trying to teach me new Chinese words and phrases and they get so excited when I correctly pronounce and use my new vocabulary.
It really is hard to put into words what this experience has shown me so far, or what kind of impact the students and I have had on each other. But I've definitely realized that we all have a lot more in common with each other than we have differences. I've realized that China is a pretty good, clean, smart, free place. I've learned that, while the language barrier can be tough at times, you can communicate with, laugh with, and learn from each other with even a very minimal understanding of each other's languages.
Maybe none of these things are earth-shattering revelations that I could have only realized from a 2-week trip to China, but they have been jumping out at me more and more since I've been in nanjing. The bottom line is that I've learned a lot about China, the language, about the people, and about the world in the last week or so, and I still have another week or so left. I know that more exciting things are still to come.
Sorry that this post was more philosophical than journal-ish, I'll try to make most of my future posts have a clearer, more tangible focus, ha ha. We did do some exciting things today, such as take a culture class on kung fu and attend the bonfire night at school which was quite the adventure! I'll write more about those on another day. And tomorrow is our 1 day off where we are going to be touring nanjing - its supposed to be pretty interesting. I'll keep you posted. Good night!
It seems like every day I'm getting up early, feeling tired, and working relatively late into the evening and not getting enough sleep, just to start the process over again. But I'm only "working" for about 3 hours each day, getting long times for my meals, and participating in interesting china culture classes and watching fun student performances every evening. So I won't complain. But I do feel exhausted, ha ha.
Today, I saw my new groups of kids for the first time. They were actually awesome. They were much more proficient at English than the last two classes, they were more creative and willing to collaborate, and they were very personable and had good senses of humor. My only fear is that I am going to finish my 3 days worth of lessons in about 2 days and have to make a bunch of other stuff up at the end. Not a terrible problem to have, I guess.
Our culture class was cooking, and I made a few steamed dumplings, which I then got to eat. They weren't pretty looking, but they were pretty delicious! Then, the evening performance was the students dubbing the voices over popular American animated movies. It's hard to describe it without you seeing it, but I swear it was totally awesome. The teachers (who pretty much have to perform every night) went up on the stage and danced the Cupid Shuffle and the Chicken Dance. The kids loved it, so I guess it was worth the embarrassment and exhaustion, ha ha. Just kidding, it was pretty fun.
Tomorrow's culture class is supposed to be pottery, so I'm pretty excited about that. I'm terrible at crafts (we did paper cutting the other day and mine were tragically bad) but I at least have fun when I try them.
That's it for tonight. I really am going to try to catch up on sleep tonight. I did post some pictures onto this site today for the first time. And I went a little picture-crazy, so there's plenty for you to check out if you are interested. Oh, and the few posts that are formatted weird (like all 1 big paragraph) are the ones I typed on my phone, and the others I did on a computer. Although, this one I'm doing on my phone but I think I've discovered the problem. But I won't be able to tell until I post it, because they always look fine on the screen while I'm typing. Thanks for reading, and good night!