Friday, December 7, 2012

Students Addendum

See I told you that another post was coming soon!
I just remembered a story that I wanted to add to the "Students" post, so I suppose I'll just make a new post of it.

A few weeks ago, I caught a pretty bad cold [see the hatred illness text reference in previous post] and struggled with intense bouts of coughing and nose-blowing for over a week. Still I managed to get through classes with lots of tea and cough drops. However, during my last class of the day, after about 5 1/2 hours of teaching, I ran out of tea. I thought I could make do with some cough drops (which is always fun to try to teach with one in my mouth) and letting my students give some practice speeches.

While listening to one of these speeches, a monster of a coughing attack came rising up my lungs. After futilely trying to suppress it, I ran out of the class into the nearby bathroom and proceeded to cough nonstop for about 2 minutes. A concerned student brought me some water which helped, but I could barely speak. My nose was running and my eyes were watering uncontrollably.

I managed to get back to class and croaked to my students that class was over five minutes early. The look on my students' faces was one of absolute  worry and pity. Many of them brought me tissues on their way out and told me to feel better. Some stayed as I was packing up, and I apologized for this bad cold. They seemed a bit surprised and very concerned.

After arriving at home, Ben came in a few minutes later and immediately wanted to know if I was alright. I said yes, but I just had a coughing attack in class.

My face was a compilation of the picture above and below...only less cute.

He replied, "Oh! A couple of your students ran into my class exclaiming that Rachel is crying and to come quick!"

Hearing this news almost brought on another coughing/crying episode. I could not believe that my students thought the tears on my face were from crying not the explosive coughing! Apparently many thought that I was homesick or something and got emotional and had to leave. Of course, the erroneous version spread like wildfire and the next day after running into some of Ben's students on the bus from an entirely different class, they asked how I was doing because they heard I started crying yesterday.

This story does have a happy ending (no, reading about how Rachel humiliated herself does not
Magical (and cheap) Chinese medicine
count as a happy ending). Some of my wonderful students who stayed after class and discovered the truth took me to the school clinic to get some medicine for the cough. A quick
consultation and 30 rmb ($5) later, I left with more drugs than I have ever owned in my life. Most were herbal remedies and not too scary looking. And though I did not take the recommended 38+ pills a day (I think I got down 4 max), after about two days I felt dramatically better. By the time Monday classes began, I could confidently teach without worrying my students that I am nearing an emotional breakdown...this time.

Perhaps I need to wear more clothes like this adorable Chinese dog! Sweet tips :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Students Say and Do the Darndest Things!

Wow, it has been a long time since we've last posted. Lots has happened to us, and we will try our best to catch you up on the highlights and spare you from the not-so-pleasant parts.

This post is mostly dedicated our students-- all 400+ of them between the two of us. They bring us so much joy, laughter, and yes, sometimes frustration. Truly, they teach us just as much as we do, them; learning firsthand about culture, food, language, relationships through these 19 and 20-year-olds has been wonderfully enlightening.

One of our favorite quirks about our students is their English names that most of them chose for themselves last year. Most of them have normal names like Mark, Tiffany, and Lori. But there is always one or two kids in our classes that may be trying too hard to emulate some Hollywood celebrities' kids' names.

We don't have a Blue Ivy, one of our friends' student's name is Blue Goat! 

For example, we have a Cookie, Brain, Bunny, Barraatt, Wytte, Jezebel, Nokia, Bieber, Pluto, Nemo, and Deal. We don't know why most of them choose their names, but it is always a bit amusing to compare unusual names with the other teachers. One has best friends with the name of Coca and Cola, and we all have a [not] surprising number of Bryants and Jeremys.

Our students love to send us the most touching and inadvertently funny texts and im messages to us.
Here is just a sampling of the texts they have sent:

  •  Hey, the weather is low temperature today! It turns cold. Need to wear more clothes! Sweet tips :)

  • Good bye, Rachel! Hope you and your lover Ben will have a good night. 

  • Dear Teacher, I am Mary. Please wear warming! Care yourself. I love you. Thank you. 

- T: Yes, I am so sad to hear that [you will not be going home for Christmas]. But I think it is so happiness together with Ben for you
- Me: Oh don't be sad, we will be fine! Yes, Ben and I are excited to spend our first Christmas together
- T: Yes. I think so. The power of love is great.

  • I am so thankful for good friends like you, too! I hope my sweet words can help you feel comfortable and joyful, and then you can forget the hatred illness! 

Another interesting (and much appreciated) quirk of teaching is the number of food related gifts we receive. Giving apples to a teacher is not an antiqued tradition-- I received almost two dozen of the juiciest and most delicious apples from one of my students recently.

We have also received kilos of pomellos (giant grapefruit), bananas, and even purple yams. We have some of the most kindhearted and generous students, and we are so thankful for the opportunity to teach them. [Shameless plug: hiring for Sias University is beginning soon! If you are interested in a life changing and rewarding experience, send me an email or fb!].
Just some of the yams given to us

The inside! Such purple-y goodness!

Speaking of thankfulness and food, Thanksgiving was such a special and fun time for us. We began with an intense tournament of flag football with the other foreign faculty, followed by a barrage of students from our classes giving us cards thanking us for being their teacher, and then a massively delicious feast that left us catatonic for hours.

Not messing around!

Ugh, the ONLY time Ben's guy caught the ball!
Some of our many Thanksgiving cards <3
The beautiful Thanksgiving banquet

Ok, that's all (as my students say). Care yourself, my dear friends and family. I love you!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Tale of Two "Homes"

Since I now have lived here almost two full months, I feel fully qualified to do an in-depth comparison of China and the last place foreign country I really felt at home, Kazakhstan.

Sentimental Similarities

1. I get scolded for not wearing warm enough clothing by concerned older woman.

Now that the weather is getting colder, I have found that, similar to Kazakhstan, the Warm Clothing Patrol (WCP) is out in full force. Thousands if not millions of slightly older woman whose official jobs range from the tea shop owner to the street sweeper have taken it upon themselves to berate any person they deem to not be dressed warm enough. Even if the sun is shining or I have just come back from a run, I invariably get asked in a concerned yet scolding tone where is my jacket! 
This is how Ben and I feel when people tell us how to dress

2. The shops and restaurants play 80s and 90s pop music that nobody in the West listens to anymore. 

I love listening to songs that I have not heard anywhere but Russia and Kazakhstan on the streets here! I honestly believe that developing countries are solely responsible for keeping aging US, UK, and Aussie pop stars fed and clothed these days (provided that people actually buy the copies legally....ha).
The kids are also obsessed with all things Michael (yes, they are on a first name basis with Michael Jackson. If I ask my students to think of a celebrity, I can usually guess it in three tries without any hints: Kobe [Bryant], Michael, or Yao Ming. 

Only God knows...

 3. The smells are markedly similar in both of my "homes." 

Only in certain special places on earth does your nose pick up the unique combination of car exhaust, cigarette smoke, b.o., and greasy foods on the streets with the occasional whiff of sewage. Autumn here similarly brings the familiar burning crops like many rual parts in Kaz, and I hear we can look forward to oh-so-comforting smell of coal burning to heat homes in the winter.
Despite the snarkiness, I do (mostly) enjoy the variety of smells here. America seems largely devoid of odors of any kind. Or we rely so heavily on the artificial sprays and scents like deodorant, febreze®, glade®, and candles (seriously, I feel like every 3rd commercial on TV deals with some sort of fake odor "freshener") that one would think we perpetually live in field of lilacs or something.

Drastic Differences

1. Trying to learn languages in each place.

Obviously, the languages (Russian and Mandarin) are very different from each other, but I was not fully prepared for how difficult it would be for me to communicate or even get around. I think I learned how to read in Russian in under a week (oh, my young brain), so even though I had no clue what words meant, I could sound them out and remember them for next time. Since I am a visual learner, this worked out great, and I gradually improved my speaking and listening skills. 

Some beautiful (fake) foliage (from Jan Beal)
However, with about 80,000 Chinese characters in existence, I will probably never be able to read Chinese character with much (any) fluency. Thus, I have been struggling to remember any words at all especially with the correct tones for each sound. Thankfully most students know how to write pinyin, which is a weird romanization of Chinese characters, so that has been helping some. For example, instead of writing my name like 瑞秋, I can cheat and write it like this Rui Qiu. This, believe it or not, when pronounced correctly, sounds similar to Rachel and means Good fortune Autumn :) 

2. The joys and challenges of ex-paticity.

As many expats already know, being white often brings stares, shouts, photographs, and even marriage proposals from strangers. However, I was very lucky in Kaz because I was mostly able to pass myself off as a short, slightly dull-witted Russian and rarely draw any attention to myself. Sadly, this blissful anonymity is gone, and whenever we venture off campus, we are greeted with stares, stage whispers of Lǎowài (foreigner), and more photographs than I care to think about (seriously, what do the  Chinese do with the millions of photographs of weird, lost-looking white people? 
In addition to our conspicuousness, we are also treated like celebrities or fauxlebrities as I like to call us. This means not only are we stopped for pictures whenever we go out, we also get some pretty cool swag. For example, a month ago, we all got invited to attend the Governor's National Day Banquet, and this weekend, we got free tickets to see the The 9th Zheng Zhou International Martial Arts Festival Opening Ceremony, which was spectacular. The tickets are normally very pricy, and the kung fu performances were some of the best I have ever seen. With thousands of performers (including pigeons) and athletes from almost 100 countries, we were super impressed. Although not quite Beijing Opening Ceremony calibre, it was at least as good as Salt Lake's! 
You all better watch this because it took me 2 hours to upload!

3. The local and un-local food

I was not prepared for the drastically different food we would be experiencing on a daily basis here. It was only when we moved to China that I realized how much my diet consisted of cheese, bread, and salads. My, did we pick the wrong place to move! Not only is cheese very expensive and difficult to buy (don't worry, the withdraw symptoms are mostly gone) but so is cereal and many other "staples" like tortillas, hummus, and did I mention cheese. Fortunately our foreign faculty cafeteria provides us with peanut butter and homemade bread, so our weight loss hasn't been too dramatic. I do miss a lot more home-y food than I thought I would, and my stomach isn't always sure how to handle the rather greasy, meat-y foods they provide us. 
In Kazakhstan, cheeses, milk (from the lowfat 3.5% to the delicious 10%), ice creams, cereals and so much more was just a quick taxi ride away! In addition, the flavors of the local foods were much more "Western." On the other hand, whether it's banana toothpaste or green tea Oreos, mostly everything we buy here is just a little strange. I guess we will just have to get used to it!

The food here is generally super delicious though!
Ok, people from Kazakhstan, am I remembering things correctly or romanticizing things a bit? Granted, I haven't been back in about 4 years, so feel free to comment on any discrepancies or just add your $0.02!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Wacky Cakes, Extravagant Teas, and Everything Else

Is your birthday coming up? Maybe a special occasion?

Why not special order one of these extraordinary, exquisite, and possibly slightly awkward fish cakes? Despite its ornate fishy look, it is supposed to be quite the pleasing, luscious dessert. Please don't fight over who gets the slice with the delicate fish-rider. :)

My lovely wife. (Click to read fine print.)

Husbands: Forgot it was your anniversary? Forgot to get her something? Need to make it up to her?

Why not start with gifting her with a delightfully flaky Super Wife Cake? You know she'll love being called a "super wife"! Gents, they really do deserve the title! I know mine does!

And then there is the decorative Chinese Mooncake! Last Saturday was Mid-Autumn Festival here in China. One of the ways this holiday is celebrated is by getting together with friends and family and eating delicious mooncakes. They come in many different flavors from meat to sweet egg to nuts and fruits and even beans-- have I convinced you yet? As much as Rachel and I loved them they were dense enough to be too much for one person to consume. Don't tell anybody, but majority of our students dislike mooncakes; so, I might not be telling the whole truth about how much "we" loved them...just sayin'. I'm sure when we are older we will love them for reals!

A friend of ours bought us four boxes of these.
We had no clue what to do with 16 mooncakes-- paperweights maybe?

Enjoying my very first Chinese Mooncake!

During the week long Mid-Autumn and National Day holiday, Rachel and I, along with other foreigners, went to the famous Muslim quarter (also called Islamic Street) in Xi'an, Shaanxi province (post coming soon). One of the fascinating things about this place was all the stunning tea one could buy.

(Bz Herms...this one's for you, my friend. Miss ya, pal.)
One kind we bought was the stunning Blooming Jasmine Flower Tea. One may relieve headaches and indigestion by drinking this and also avoid wrinkles and blemishes by applying its leaves. Best of both worlds, no?

Starts out as a ball...

...slowly begins to blossom...

...into a beautiful, fragrant flower!
You can buy these flower balls for a whopping 5 yuan...or $0.79 USD. It'll be enough tea for you and five of your best friends to sip on (and once they leave, you can give yourself a rather cheap facial)! 

Lastly, you may be wondering what we eat here in China. 

To my surprise, we haven't really seen any of the Chinese food here (in Henan province) that we would typically eat back home. 

Here are a few pictures of what we eat here. Some are fancy and others are not so fancy.  Most restaurants we have been to are family style. All platters are meant to be shared between 4-6 people.

Also, so far in China, we have not been able to get a cold glass of water with our meals. Culturally speaking, hot water is highly preferred over cold water. Cold water will get you sick, didn't you know?

This is something I hadn't ever seen before:

Hairy Crab.

Dumplings galore... 

Dumplings! All this for $3.80 (USD).
We love our jiaozi 

Seafood (octopus?) Dumplings 
We hope this wasn't a Lion Dumpling we just ate!
Veggie Dumplings
Free meals at our foreign teacher's cafeteria...

Biannual treat for Sias foreign teachers. Loaded with all sorts of western treats!
Local restaurants...
You make a wrap with these ingredients-- like a Chinese taco

Grilled peppers...quite hot
Grilled green beans and asparagus
Chicken with a flower!

Western restaurants...
Pizza Hut in China does not equal Pizza Hut in America (expensive + weird cheese)!

Not a common practice in the USA but very popular in China 
"Life tastes better with KFC" -according to some Ming dynasty warriors!!
Fine dining...

Tofu, mushrooms, and bok choy

Lotus Salad...has quickly become one of our favorites
Presentation like this is very rare
Left side of a chicken. See the head?
I hope you enjoyed reading this food post. As you can probably tell, we are really enjoying our stay in China.

Look forward to a post on "Street Food" in the near future. You don't want to miss it!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Department of Transportation

  • 50 flights of stairs we climb every day to get to our 5th floor apartment and 5th and 4th floor classrooms
  • 7 minute walking commute we endure each day to work
  • 1 hour bus ride to ZZ (the capital of Henan)
  • 1 kai ($0.15) to rent a bike for an hour
  • 3 kai ($0.45) for an hourly moped rental
  • 0 dollars we have spend on gas so far
As you can see from the numbers above, we have it pretty nice here, transportation-wise. We have a free, mandatory stairmaster that we use multiple times a day to get to our apartment, classrooms, and dining hall. Already our calves are growing so massive that I'm getting worried that I might have to get more flared jeans because my skinny jeans will be too small!
Working up a sweat on our way to teaching
Our brutal seven minute commute each morning and afternoon is spoiling us so much that any sort of commute back home (like our 20 and 50 minute ones before) makes us wonder how we ever survived it...and how we'll ever be able to go back.

One of our many "stairmasters" (aka classrooms)
Since we don't have cars, we never spend a kai (pronounced like if a person from Boston said, "Don't be a kwai baby.") on gasoline. I can honestly say I don't miss my car one bit or the traffic, insurance, oil changes, etc. Alternate modes of transportation include the city buses (1 kai), taxis and rickshaws (3-8), and my personal favorites: bikes and mopeds!

Biking buddies...

A river runs through it...sadly no Brad Pitt though

Ben is either very excited or very surprised
For less than a dollar, you can spend a throughly enjoyable (and only occasionally life-threatening) hour or so riding around the city or countryside here. It is a perfect way to see the sights, do some shopping, or just get some "fresh" air.

Sweet upgrade! 35 kph, baby!

I got the faster one, naturally

Off-roading fun

The ZZ weekly shopping bus was the last transportation vehicle we have experienced here. On Saturday, Sias provides a bus for the foreign faculty to take into the populous capital city an hour away. There we were able to deplete our bank accounts at the Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Walmart, Ikea (!), and other Western shops.

Ben and I skipped the Sbux but hit the Walmart and Ikea pretty hard. We bought a number of things for our apartment: a blanket, pillows, picture frames, candles, and much more. Slowly our place is looking more and more like somebody actually lives there (but who that somebody is, we aren't quite sure yet....).
Chinese Walmart-- the people aren't as fat, but strangeness still abounds
The Walmart is very Chinesified with fresh sting rays and dried ducks in the deli section because of course in America they would be deep fried. Even their "Great Value" brand had items we've never heard of before like beef granules. [For an entertaining list of other Chinese Walmart items, click here. Ben really wanted to buy #16...seriously].

The ZZ Ikea was also a very different place but for another reason-- instead of being a giant, orderly, labyrinth-like warehouse, it was a tiny, crowed upstairs apartment...literally. The place was crammed with all things Swedish, which was a welcome departure from the flashy Chinese-style designs and fabrics. But sadly, the prices and the fact that it felt like we were in a Scandinavian hoarder's home made it difficult to shop.
The world's tiniest Ikea. How I miss Sweden!

Overall, we had a fun, productive day, but when the bus picked us up at 4 pm, we were beat. Usually my shopping-stamina doesn't last more than an hour or two, so this was quite strenuous to say the least. However, I do anticipate us taking advantage of the bus trip in the future; ZZ has a Home Depot, Metro (like a Costco), a bowling alley, and massive DVD store. But until our energy levels and bank account have recovered, we just might have more low-key weekends here.

That's all for now!