Thursday, April 15, 2010 0 comments

April 5th: Pizza Hut with Friends

April 5th is a holiday here--Tomb Sweeping Day, which I talked about in my last post.  Since we didn't have to teach any classes, several of us foreign teachers decided to get together for lunch at Pizza Hut.  Now, Pizza Hut is somewhere to go on special occasions here.  It's one of the nicest and most expensive restaurants in town.  While they do have pizza (actually, I think I like pizza hut pizza better here than in the states!), they also have all sorts of other things on the menu.  They have pasta, rice dishes, various appetizers, a whole menu of fruity drinks, and even steaks, I think. I was really excited to learn that they have great onion rings--I never expected to find that in Jingzhou!   Evelyn and I shared a Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple on it. 

The first picture is of Colonel and Kelly and their daughter Aolani.  They live on the fifth floor of the same building where I live.  They also have a son, but he wasn't in the mood to get in a picture.  The second picture is of Casey and Tabby, who live on the central campus.  I've spent a lot of time visiting at their house and going to women's group meetings with Tabby.  At the other end of the table were Dale and Lisa and their two little boys, Seth and Caleb, and Evelyn was in the middle with me.  Her husband was out fishing, so he didn't come along.  After we ate, several of us went poking around dvd shops in the area.  I found seasons one through six of CSI Miami really cheap, so I've been enjoying that.  I'm not usually the type to buy tv shows on dvd, but here there really is no other way to see any tv or movies in English other than on dvd.  Anyhow, it was great to spend some time with friends. 
Monday, April 5, 2010 1 comments

April 4th: Settlers and Baozi

First of all, happy Easter to everyone!  As I mentioned in another post, I celebrated during the week by dying eggs in front of my students in class.  Of course, Easter is not a holiday here, but it just happened to conincide this year with a three-day weekend anyhow!  Tomorrow, Monday, is the Qingming Festival, which is usually translated "Tomb-Sweeping Day."  It was the custom since ancient times to go out on this day and clean the cemeteries to honor to memory of the dead.  It seems to me to be something like our Memorial Day nowadays.  Anyhow, I don't have to teach tomorrow. 

This afternoon, I went over to Tabby and Casey's to hang out for a while. There were quite a few people there when I arrived, and we had a good time singing some songs together, and Casey told us a story about a man named Job.  Finally, most people left to go find supper elsewhere, but a few of us stayed.  Evelyn had brought some soup, and after we'd eaten we settled in for a round of Settlers of Catan.  We drew cards--red and black--to decide how to split up eight people into two tables.  I played the first game against Tabby, Evelyn, and Lee.  Although it was only my second time to play, I managed to just barely beat Tabby to the longest road points and won.  The game is a little complicated at first, but now that I have the hang of it I really like it.  We played again, and this time I was against Tabby, Casey, and Jordan, with Casey winning that round.  Mr. Wong won both rounds at the other table.  Mr. Wong openly admits he's gotten addicted to the game; he certainly plays enthusiastically.  He'd gladly play all evening, or at least until his wife calls and fusses because he's still not home. 

After we finished playing and talking, I walked out to the road with Ron and Evelyn.  Before catching a taxi, I decided to stop and get some take-out food from one of the restaurants near the city gate.  I really need to go grocery shopping, and I knew I didn't have much around the house to eat tomorrow otherwise.  Ron had stopped to buy some boiled peanuts, so while Evelyn and I were waiting near the street I saw a booth where a man and woman were making baozi.  The restaurant was on the corner, and in front all the tables and stools had been set out on the sidewalk to enjoy the spring weather.  Around the side, the baozi-making station was against the wall, and a grilling area was closer to the street.  Baozi are a type of dumpling made with a thin piece of dough which is stuffed (in my case, with a mixture of ground pork and spiced cabbage, although there are many other types, too) and then folded and crimped.  The dumplings are loaded into shallow wooden trays, which are stacked and then put over a steamer to cook.  The resulting smell is wonderful.

The waitress who was helping me didn't speak any English, but I managed to get her to understand by pointing to the baozi cooking station that I wanted some, and that I wanted enough for only one person.  I tried to use charades to get her to understand that I would prefer them to go--they had styrofoam boxes waiting.  She directed me to a nearby table to wait.  She had a teenage busboy come by and tell me 'wait five minutes!' Apparently a foreigner buying baozi was a novelty; all the waitresses and busboys came by to see me; at one point, I had a crowd of at least ten people gathered around me.  The waitress and a busboy working together remembered the English word for 'ten' to tell me the price.  A bit later one of the busboys ran back inside the restaurant and came back out and said, "pack?...'p'..'a'..'c'..'k'?"  He spelled it out in case he'd mispronounced it.  Yes, I want them packed! Great!   After a bit of a wait (longer than the five minutes originally predicted), I was presented with a bag with two cartons of baozi. 

I hopped into a taxi at the curb, and thankfully my pronunciation of my home campus's name seems to have improved.  The driver understood me immediately; often before I've had to repeat it a few times before the driver could understand for sure where exactly I wanted to go.  I tried out a couple of the baozi once I got home; I took a picture so you could see what I'm talking about.  The other picture isn't mine, but I found it online to show you what the steaming looks like.  The baozi are pretty good, although the spice is a bit unusual to me.  I hope that the rest will be good warmed up! 
Saturday, April 3, 2010 0 comments

April 3rd: The Joys of Chinglish

English is commonly accepted in the world as the lingua franca--the common language that reaches across cultural divides.  I am sometimes surprised that as many things are labeled in English as there are--most of the packages of things that I buy have Chinese on one side and English on the other.  Wal-mart even somewhat helpfully provides English labels above the produce...I say somewhat, becomes sometimes the labels are wrong or vague, and no one knows it.
However, sometimes the use of English fails to bridge the communication gap.  The first picture is of a donut I passed in the bakery section at Wal-mart last Sunday afternoon.  It looked okay until I read the label...I have no idea what is actually in it.  The second picture I took on one of the first days on campus; it's a label next to the closed door of a classroom in the medical department.  Speaking of weird English, the spell check on this blog tells me that 'donut' is not a word, but 'donuts' is.  I guess you can't stop with just one...
Friday, April 2, 2010 0 comments

April 2: A Good Day to Live in China

Fridays are my busy day...I have three classes; I teach two back to back at eight and ten, then have a bit of a breather at lunch, and then another at two.  After coming in and getting comfortable at home over lunch, I don't want to get myself together and head out again for that third class, but I'm always glad that I did once I'm there.  The afternoon class is one of my friendliest and most open; the Friday afternoon atmosphere helps, I think.  My feet sure hurt after standing in front of a classroom all day, though.  I have a heel spur I'm dealing with right now that is not helping matters.

In the evening, I decided to go out to find some supper.  I've been in a cooking mood all week, so I had exhausted my supplies, and besides, wasn't in the mood to make a mess again.  Just across from the East Gate of the campus are a row of little restaurants, each with six or seven tables inside.  The ones that face the university have their kitchens outside--an open flaming grill with woks ready, and racks of vegetables and chopped ingredients just waiting to be cooked up fresh whenever you order.  There are free-standing booths cooking up street food or take-out options--skewered sticks of meat and vegetables, cartons of noodles with various spices and vegetables added.  The restaurants around the corner have their kitchens in the back, down hallways into the interior of the building.  At first, to an American used to our shiny sterile kitchens, it seems a little dirty and wild, but the food is wonderful and I've never heard of anyone getting sick from the food there.  Everything that I've had reminds me of why I will miss Chinese food whenever the time comes to move on from here.

I stopped into one of the little places facing the gate; I picked it because as I was threading my way through the booths and kitchens, one of the cooks smiled at me and motioned that I was welcome to come in.  I was ushered inside, and sat down on the stool at one of the tables.  I ordered stewed eggplant; I've had eggplant cooked every way imaginable since I've been here and it's always good.  When the plate of eggplant was ready, the waitress brought me a bowl of rice from the huge wooden rice cooker near the door, and motioned that if I wanted more I was welcome to help myself.  So often, even if you don't understand a language you can get along--people are usually saying what you would imagine they would say, and gestures and body language communicate many things.  I ate my eggplant and rice slowly as I read a book.  One of the older ladies sitting in the shop watching TV (it was late and their weren't many customers, or else she would have been helping to serve) watched me off and on as I ate; seeing I was a foreigner, she offered me a spoon if I wanted it since foreigners sometimes have a bit of trouble with chopsticks.  I waved it off, though.  The chopsticks don't bother me.  I did wish I could explain to her that I wasn't eating slowly because I had difficulty with chopsticks, but because I was in no hurry and wanted to enjoy my food slowly as I read.  A lot of the people here do have a curiosity about foreigners and chopsticks...I've asked for questions from students a few times, and one of the first that comes up is "Can you use chopsticks?"

After I left the restaurant, I stopped by a small grocery store across the road.  Late in the evening on a Friday, it was packed, mostly with students. Here in China, I stand out everywhere I got.  I look like no one anyone has ever known; my hair, my eyes, my height (I can't think of any women taller than me), the way I dress--all are different.  I'm growing used to rounding the corner in the grocery store and getting suprised looks.  Often people openly stare; people with children excitedly nudge their children to look at the unusual sight--a waiguoren (foreigner).  Anyhow, I bought some bell peppers, orange juice, and cookies.  On my way back to the campus gate, I passed by the fruit stands and bought some bananas.

So, a busy day of work, a supper of eggplant and rice, and buying fruit at nine at night as I threaded my way through the brightly lit stalls--a good day to live in China.  As I entered the East Gate, I admired the lights reflecting in the motionless water of the decorative pond.  As I neared the pond, someone on the pathway on the other side began to play a flute...the music was beautiful and piercing in the dark; it was just the sort of music you would think of hearing on a Chinese night, the sort of thing you've heard on documentaries about China on the National Geographic channel.  I listened to the flute as I walked to my apartment, and I could still hear it out the window as I put my groceries away.

April 2nd: Fourth Week of Classes and Easter

Week four teaching sophomore writing:  We started out with our weekly journal assignment--What event or invention do you think has changed the world the most?  I'm looking forward to reading the students' ideas.  I got the chance in the next part of class to tell my own answer, although I'm sure most of the students didn't understand that connection. 

Holidays are a great thing for us foreign language teachers.  They are fun and easy to talk about, entertaining to the students, and provide a good base for cultural lessons.  Since Easter is Sunday, I spent some time in class explaining the holiday to my students.  They had heard of Easter before as they have studied English and western culture, so I tried to keep it interesting.  I brought in eggs and a mug of pink dye.  As I talked, I dyed an egg in each class.  I got a lot of 'ooohs' as I pulled out the finished hot-pink egg; after my last class of Friday, a few of the girls took pictures with their cell phones.  I wanted to do other colors, too, but I couldn't find the rest of my dye tablets.  I know I had them on Monday, but by Friday they were no where to be found.  However, I suppose it would have been difficult to juggle various cups of dye between classes, so maybe it was for the best. I also showed pictures of dyed eggs, the Easter bunny, Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and such.  I drew daffodils and chicks on the board with chalk.  I also explained that Easter in our culture has two meanings: the secular (new word for them) meaning--a celebration of spring and new life symbolized by pastel (another new word) colors, bunnies, chicks, eggs, and daffodils, as well as a religious meaning for many in the Christian world.  I know we celebrate Christ's resurrection all year and not only on one day, but it seemed a good opportunity to introduce the students to a little more of the story that is such an important part of our background in the U.S. 

With the time I had left in each class, I gave out playing cards to everyone.  In my teaching book, I have a list of questions that correspond to each card, so when I called out 'ace of diamonds' or 'eight of hearts' and such, whoever had the card had to answer.  It was a fun way to give the students a chance to talk a little.  I know it's a writing class, but the real need for these students is to hear and speak with a native language speaker.  They write fairly well, but rarely have an opportunity to have a real conversation--I want to work in some speaking time when I can.