A Travellerspoint blog

October 27th, 2009

Chinese food and my stomach

overcast 20 °C

Those of you who know me well know that I love to eat. I can't go a day without French bread. I'll take second helpings of my sister's salads, my brother's spaghetti and my Mom's baked salmon. During the day, I'll often fantasize about what my next meal will be. I've always been like this. Even as an infant in her high chair, I used to hum while I ate!

Since I've been here though, my appetite has waned. Every meal feels like a scavenger hunt. I'll often walk 20 to 30 minutes before I find a decent place to eat. Not that there isn't any place to eat before that. There are many street vendors and mom and pop restaurants. But the floors might be grimy, the room filled with smoke or the kitchen greasy. My stomach would rather eat the fat around it than ingest this foreign food! Worse yet, it would rather scarf down a burger at KFC or a greasy pizza from Pappa John's than taste some dim sum.

Ideally, my stomach would like to eat home-cooked meals, such as gratin dauphinois, salade nicoise or quiche. But that's not an option. Because, first of all, I'm poor. Until I get paid on Friday, I have to make do with 130 yuans to feed me (a simple pot can cost 200 yuans and upwards). And second of all, I don't have a stove to bake these lovely meals! Chinese people rarely use a stove to cook! You'd be hard pressed to find cake in Beijing!

So until I get paid on Friday and I can offer it a more advantageous culinary benefits package, my stomach will remain on strike!

Posted by Evil1 03:21 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

October 26th, 2009

About weddings and colleagues

20 °C

I want to apologize to all my fans for not posting something in here yesterday! (Actually the few of you who are still reading my entries, as Mike* seems to think I've gotten a bit boring lately!). Well anyways, I woke up relatively late yesterday and had to rush to get to school. And in spite of the fact that I have free time in between classes, I don't want to blog at work. First of all, because I should be prepping for my classes during that time and second of all because I find my work colleagues fascinating and will inevitably be writing about them in here! (So it's best they ignore the existence of this blog!).

Well anyway, last night I attended my very first Chinese Wedding ceremony! Well actually, it was only a wedding party. We couldn't attend actual wedding since we were at work! :-( So after work, Danielle*, Colin*, Beverly*, Dylan*, Lucy*, Andy*, several other colleagues of mine and I piled into cabs and headed towards the dinner party. I shared a cab with Danielle (a bubbly South African native in her late 20s), Lucy (a local English teacher), Emily (an American with Chinese origins) and Emily's Chinese husband, Frank.

Barbara* (the bride) met us a half hour later in front of the reception hall. She was wearing a cute pink dress with matching pink pumps. She led us upstairs to a private room where two large circular tables had been laid out. I sat at the first table with Emily, Frank, Dylan (an American colleague in his 40s), Beverly (an American colleague in her mid twenties) and Colin (an English bloke in his late twenties). Lucy and Danielle sat at the other table with Charlene, the center director, Ron (an American colleague) and most of the Chinese staff from my school.

The food started to arrive shortly after we did. In restaurants in China, people do not order individual portions. Whatever guests order is placed at the center of a round table on a revolving tray for all to share. Guests sample everyone's food and eat out of small hors-d'oeuvre sized plates! The lazy Susan could barely accommodate all the plates! I devoured plates of salad, fish, crab legs, and pork ribs. I was so tired from a long day of observing other teachers and enduring children's loud play, that I could hardly muster socializing with my table mates. But it seemed most guests at my table were in a similar state! Their conversations were sparse and quiet.

At the next table, it was a whole other story. The atmosphere was raucous and festive! Charlene was challenging the bride and groom to various games, such as writing the word "LOVE" with their two bodies and Danielle was giggling loudly. The more I observed the other table, the more it appeared to me that Danielle was trying to get the attention of our table and more precisely of Colin, who was sitting his back to her, next to cute Beverly. I watched in utter fascination these three characters. (Mind you, I didn't stare at them the whole evening! I got information from Dylan about the cost and location of his Chinese classes, I tested my very limited Chinese on Frank and Emily and got up to take pictures of all the guests.) Still, as an anthropologist studying a foreign culture or as a psychologist conducting a case study, I observed them!

Eventually, Danielle realized that she was failing to catch Colin's attention and decided to migrate to our table. She approached my Chinese neighbor and his wife. "Thomas, you have such a beautiful wife", she said, beaming at the woman. (I don't know why people say these types of things. How can that start a conversation?) But Danielle kept right on, asking to take pictures with Thomas and his wife, the whole time laughing and smiling. Colin tried not to watch them. I could tell he was embarrassed by Danielle. Beverly had moved seats earlier to speak to Emily and seemed unperturbed by Danielle's behavior.

In the end, Danielle did turn to speak to Colin. I forget exactly what they said to each other (since I was mostly paying attention to their nonverbal behavior). But Colin shot her down (rather meanly and gratuitously) and Danielle was left there standing, trying to save face by laughing off the rebuke.

  • All names have been changed to preserve the protagonists' anonymity!

Posted by Evil1 20:59 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

October 24th, 2009

Chiefly concerning my first class!!

overcast 24 °C

It's 9:20 AM and I have 40 minutes (tops!) to finish this entry! Saturdays and Sundays are the busy days at school! Most teachers start at 8:30 AM and finish around 7 PM. They can have up to 6 hours of teaching on those days. The rest of the week, teachers start later and only teach one or two classes in the evening. Non-teaching time is spent preparing classes and socializing with other teachers!

I'm teaching my first class today! I'll be teaching 6-8 year olds for 2 hours! There's a 20 minute break in between the first and the second hour to give me and the kids a break! My class is the last of the day, so I'll be stressing right up until I have to teach! Hehe! Actually, I'm looking forward to it. Observing other teachers has given me lots of ideas and I'm eager to try them out! And besides, I spent a good 5 hours drafting my lesson plan yesterday and the day before, so now I want to see whether my efforts have paid off! (I ran my ideas by Mike last night and he seemed to think I'd be alright!) And even if things go dreadfully wrong, this is their next to last class and I might not be teaching them next quarter!! Here's to wishful thinking!

PS: I've added my couch pictures to my last entry!

Posted by Evil1 18:22 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

October 23rd, 2009

Principally about finding an apartment

overcast 24 °C

I moved into my apartment last Tuesday. My employer had been very kind to pay for my hotel for two weeks and to provide me and the other incoming teacher, Tom, with a real estate agent. Jeremy picked us up at our hotel a week and a half ago. He was an energetic young man who shook our hands vigorously and introduced himself in broken English: "My name's Jeremy and I find you an apartment today as soon as quickly!" Tom and I followed him out of the hotel, confident that we would each find an apartment quickly.

Jeremy decided he would show me apartments close to my school and then show Tom ones close to his. The first apartment he showed me was spacious and luminous. The price was enticing (3,300 RMB) but the kitchen was right in front of the bed and I could tell I'd have to scrub for a while to get those grease stains off the counters! So we left and visited four more apartments right next to my new school. They were all located in dormitory-style block apartments and despite some nice interiors, I couldn't imagine having to tread through some dilapidated halls to get to my apartment. Besides, I wanted a bit more distance between the school and my home or I would never visit Beijing!

After the second apartment visit though, Jeremy started to ask me which apartment I wanted. I could tell he was getting antsy and I felt bad that my search was affecting Tom's. Still, I asked to see other apartments a bit further from the school. So we visited apartments in a building located just a subway station away from my school. It was a brand new building, built in June. The lobby was new and swanky. The first apartment Jeremy showed me in that building appealed to me straight away. It had a new kitchen, separate from the bedroom and large windows that brought in plenty of light. It was the most expensive apartment we'd seen yet but I could easily see myself making my home away from home there. Jeremy however was categorical: " I don't like this apartment. I don't like the furniture. I think if you get this apartment other teachers will be jealous and ask me for the same apartment."

Now I was definitely confused! Should I choose the first apartment? It was 2PM and Tom hadn't even visited any apartments. I told Jeremy that I liked the first apartment the best but that I would sleep on it and give him my definitive answer in the morning. Jeremy seemed satisfied with that answer and we proceeded with Tom's search. It was very brief- he chose the first apartment he saw. A duplex with a shower and open bathtub adjacent to the equipped kitchen, I found it very tacky. But it was brand new, close to his school and the rent was incredibly reasonable! I wanted a similar apartment!

That night, I spoke to Mike via Skype, as we'd been doing every night since I'd arrived. In the end , I chose the last apartment. It was the most expensive, yes, but in the grand scheme of things what's a 50 euro difference?! It's close to my school (about a 10 minute bus ride) and close to many amenities, such as my favorite, the French supermarket chain Carrefour (it sells French bread and butter!!!!).

So I moved in a couple of days ago on Tuesday. Jeremy came to pick me up at the hotel 30 minutes late and in a rush to sign the leasing agreement. He had an appointment at 2PM with Tom to get him registered at the police station (this is mandatory for foreigners who change hotels or apartments). But my landlady wouldn't let him rush her! She took her time reading carefully through each page. After all, this was her first time leasing her apartment! It reassured me too, given that it was my first time renting an apartment. Besides, I didn't (and still don't) trust Chinese transactions. The tea shop incident scarred me!

In the midst of signing the contract and forking over more than 10,000 RMB in cash, my new couch arrived! My landlady seemed truly proud of her purchase. I smiled and nodded as the movers unveiled the most hideous piece of furniture I've ever seen! As my friend Erin told me once: "You don't have to feel, you have to make feel!" (I'm attaching a picture here because no words can describe how ugly this thing is!)


Posted by Evil1 18:49 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

October 22nd, 2009

sunny 23 °C

After my first week-end's debacle, things started to look up. My school helped me set up a bank account and a cell phone on Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I toured apartments close to my school and found one a train station away. (Compared to my old employer who relied on the kindness of current teachers to guide the new foreign teachers, I was treated like a princess!)

Real work started last Thursday when I met my new colleagues and started to observe their classes. The school teaches children ages 3 to 15. At my old school, I used to teach children ages 1 through 10. My favorite group of students were the little ones. They're incredibly easy to entertain and relatively easy to discipline! They're amused by silly faces and strange voices and subdued by stern voices and looks. And if that doesn't work, they take threats of taken privileges away (such as no snack or no coloring) seriously! But beyond that, they're very lovable and get attached to you quicker than anyone else.

I've never taught teenagers though. I'm a bit nervous. But in a sense, maybe they're like the little ones? My strategy is to be stern and strict the first few classes so that my students understand who's the boss! Still, that won't suffice if I'm not incredibly well prepared. Students will only respect me if I appear confident, authoritative and knowledgeable.

In observing my colleagues, I noticed that some of them had understood this and others hadn't! One teacher in particular blew me away! She was giving her little ones high fives and they were starting to get rowdy, slapping her hand. When the next student wanted a high five, she asked for their hand instead! By contrast, another teacher was so shy, he could not command any authority in the majority of his classes. Personally, if I don't know if I would have persisted as a teacher if I had had so little authority!

Well anyways, I still have a few days left of observations, so hopefully I'll have plenty of models of classes to emulate! Saturday is my first 2 hour class! They're teenagers- wish me luck!

Posted by Evil1 18:25 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

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