Saturday, January 7, 2012

In which I return to my home country and get fat.

This week I've been in America.  The land of baseball, apple pie, hot dogs and childhood obesity, woohoo!  I'm actually really happy to be here.  I saw my sister and brother on Tuesday and Wednesday, met the boy that my sister's probably going to marry (OHGOD WHY IS EVERYBODY GROWING UP??!?), helped my dad out with a pizza event at the Auburn Farmer's Market and got a superamazing Christmas present.

Honestly, I've been asking for a guitar for Christmas since I was 12.  I think I usually put it on my mom's list since I lived with her and didn't think my dad would send it through the mail.  (I always made two lists for each side of the family.  Even as a kid I was awkward enough to not want to deal with having two of the same thing and making the horrible decision of which to return)  My two youngest siblings both got guitars over the years... my brother abandoned his and my sister became amazing and now makes her own CDs.  But not me.  (not that I'm not grateful or anything, I've had some amazing Christmases and it's probably my own fault for not being more vocal about it.)  BUT LONG STORY SHORT, I finally got one.  This thing is my Red Ryder BB Gun.  I was a little giddy and trying to not look overexcited about it, and really wanted to dick around with some tabs before I left.  Unfortunately we had to loosen the strings for travel and playing anything now would sound pretty bad (or.... artsy.)

But you guys don't care about my X-mas, you wanna hear about China!

I went to that dinosaur museum, and it was pretty awesome.  The whole thing is shaped like a...a....I dunno, like a thing.

The thingiest of them all.

The dinosaurs were rockin'.  You start at the top and you slowly spiral downwards.  In the center of the spiral there is a dinosaur.

This dinosaur

I went with one of the German teachers and we were both a little dinosaur-giddy.  Then we reached the bottom where an incredibly lacking gift shop awaited us.  We headed for the doors, lamenting that there was only one real dinosaur skeleton.  On our way out we passed a couple of doors... out of the way, unassuming doors.  I poked my head in and what did I find?


There were maybe 10 skeletons in the place.  It was AWESOME. 

This summer I was also able to take a trip to Beijing.  I went by train, which was incredibly cheap and fun!  There were these two little girls who sat in front of me and always hung over the back of the seat, trying to talk to me.  There were a lot of "Duibuqi, ting bu dong!" or "Wo bu hui shuo putonghuanr"  or "Shut up, kid, I'm trying to sleep."  They could speak a little English, though, so I guess they were pretty adorable.

I stayed in a hostel right next to Tiananmen.  It was right in the middle of the city, on one of the oldest roads (called a hutong) and it was incredibly cheap.  The place was called Leo Hostel.  I highly recommend it for anybody who is going to Beijing.

The only downside were all the tourists who would ride up on their rickshaws and take pictures while the guests were trying to peacefully hang out in front of the doors.  Turns out the building used to be a house for nobles and members of the royal family who weren't awesome enough to live inside the Forbidden City itself.  Rockin!

Tiananmen was...... well, to be frank it was boring as heck.  There's nothing to do or see, it's just a big square.


We needed to go through security to get to the square, which was odd, but oh well.  I must have missed the point.  I think there's a museum there where you can go look at Mao's body, but that was a little too...... freakishly wrong for me.  Instead I headed north to the Forbidden City.

We are in the 90th year of the Mao Dynasty.

It took FOREVER to get in.  Long lines, wtf?  Once inside I tried to not follow the crowd.  Everybody headed straight north but I veered to the left and walked through the living quarters.  There was more stuff and less people: the perfect combination!

 The less traveled path with beautiful architecture, some really interesting gift shops.

Pictured: suckers who missed out

By the end of the City, my feet were KILLING me.  Like... I literally could not stand for another minute if you paid me.  So I went to a foot massage parlor next to the hostel and went to heaven for about an hour.  That's right, an hour long foot massage.  And why don't more people want to live here?

In the fall the foreign teachers were invited to see 'The Dragon's Head'.  This is the part of the great wall that goes into the ocean.  Apparently it looks like a dragon's head.


Honestly, I don't see it.  But the trip was great!  We toured a small town that still has the city walls intact.  We were able to run around them and climb on stuff, play with cannons older that our home countries and interact with priceless artifacts.


So basically, I've had a great time.  I can see myself living in China for good (or at least for the next few years.)  Honestly, the only reason that I'm planning on coming back is that I miss acting SO MUCH.  I haven't acted in anything in over a year, it seriously sucks.  And don't tell me that I can just find acting jobs in China because I'VE TRIED and it's difficult to apply for something when you can't speak the language.

I'm returning for good in late July (Europe trips pending) and fingers crossed that I can find some stage or screen to work on before going back.  Because really..... I'll probably come back to China after a while.

Oh and before I forget, the German teacher, a Chinese office worker and I all got together to dance to Beyonce's 'Single Ladies'.  It's on facebook (and maybe here if the computer gods are kind.)

Hugs and kisses!

Sunday, July 17, 2011


So blogspot works... youtube works... facebook is still down but I'm able to reconnect with part of the world again!  I wonder if it has anything to do with the UN declaring that blocking internet is a violation of Human Rights... in any case, I hope that it's the start of something permanent!

 Actually, a LOT of things happened since I last wrote.  Soooo this might be a little TL;DR but whatever!

I got an X-box!  They are a little cheaper than consoles in America, so I was a little happy with that.  Then I had to get a chip in it so that it could play hacked games.  Normally I don't like to play copied games.  I know that gaming companies are working hard to put out the coolest stuff and when we copy games all willy nilly, it stiff them a paycheck.  HOWEVER there is no store in China that sells legitimate games.  It's really sad.

One of the stores is selling the newest X-boxes which can't be hacked.  I asked them what games they had available for it and they said, "Ah, we don't have any non copied games right now but we could special order them for you!"  That would cost me the American equivalent of fifty bucks.  However I walked to the store right next door and bought an older, white box and found out that hacked games are the equivalent of 75 cents.  75 cents!  So I picked up Fable 3, Alan Wake, Dead Rising, Assassin's Creed, Fallout 3 and Dragon Age Awakenings.  At the store to test the X-box and make sure it works, they popped in Crackdown.  And forgot to take it out.  So free game, woo!

Pleased with my vidya purchase, I went home promptly to play Fable 3.  I had contracted some horrible vomiting disease from an egg sandwich, so I had two days of free time and plenty of bed rest available to get me through the game.  However.... I beat it in about 6 hours.

This made me mad.  How could everyone tell me how awesome a game it was if the play time was six hours? I want to spend both days playing this game and there's no way that something so critically acclaimed could be so short!  I went online to find out how people could like it and I saw what I did wrong... apparently you can buy houses, buy businesses, start families, build relationships with people in the community... that takes time.  Nobody in game mentioned that you could do any of that stuff, so I blew through the meat of the meal by picking around the important looking green stuff at the edges.  I haven't gone back to play it again, but I plan on doing that soon.

Finals week was last week here in China.  Part of the reason it's been so long since I've updated is because I was really busy with that (that and the VPN has decided it doesn't like me anymore.  It's 3am right now and it's the only time it's worked).  Finals has been going surprisingly well.  Lots of my students decided that they want to do short plays and skits instead of just presenting information, and I was more than willing to let them do that.  Like I mentioned on Facebook, one group wanted to act out the last scene of Se7en.

You can tell she's a police officer on account of her back sign.

I forgot to bring my video camera, but I did get pictures.  They had four people, Morgan Freeman (the police girl up there), delivery guy/helicopter guy (girl in the hat), Brad Pitt (a guy) and Kevin Spacey (a girl with a picture of Kevin Spacey in front of her face.  She ripped it when she got shot.  Art!)

Then there was a group that re-did Merchant of Venice and performed it (supremely funny, I have video and I need to edit it together, but it's going up), some acted out an episode of The Big Bang Theory, some did an episode of Growing Pains... I seriously had no idea that these students were so creative.  Some of the presentations that they wrote and gave were really interesting and I was really impressed.  Nobody got less than a B.

So now the summer starts and I'm ready to travel and have lots of fun!  Well.. except I'll still be working.  4 days a week I tutor at that Korean school and I don't know if I can take time off.  But there's a new high speed train that goes from Beijing to Shanghai in four hours.  I'd love to take it and go to Shanghai for two days... it's totally possible I'm sure!  Fingers crossed that I can get the time off to go.

I'm starting to get all of the packages that everybody has been sending me.  It's like... I don't hear anything for a month and then bam, two days ago I get a message that I have something, then another message, then a FedEx message that I can't tell if they will deliver or if I have to pick it up at the distribution center... It's exciting!  Still haven't gotten my Arbitrary Day package, but I've lost hope.  I think I'm just not going to do any more Reddit exchanges until I get back to the states.

I did get a copy of old-school Starcraft.  Actually, I was given it by the Korean guy running the tutoring school.  Seriously, they take their Starcraft... well... seriously!  They're always playing it in their time off and if you don't play then you actually might not be able to make friends/join their social circles.  There's really no equivalent for it in the states, but everyone here plays the game.  I got a copy so that I could relate to the students more, and one of the students is trying to teach me a little how to play so that the younger kids will respect me.  It's like biting a dog's ear... until you whip their butt in Starcraft, the kids never really respect you.

It's straaaange.

Alright, maybe not so much TL;DR.  I'm off to bed, gonna try to get some sleep.  It's 3.30 am now and I'm definitely ready to curl on on my concrete bed and head off to dreamland.  Ciao!

Oh, by the way, I went to the biggest Dinosaur Museum in China today.  Pictures and details in the next post!  (putting this here to remind myself)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In which I find out that I'm the rudest person in China and fret about finals.

I yesterday when I went grocery shopping I was a little bit under budget so I decided to pick up a cook book and an art magazine.  The cookbook is useless to me until I learn a little more kitchen Chinese however I can look at the pictures and pick out foods in the instructions and just kind of invent what I think is going on.  Last night I made garlic ginger and chicken stir fry (with peppers because dangit, I love everything spicy).  Then I sliced some french bread and put a little vinegar on each slice, put a thin slice of brie cheese on top of that and scooped the stir fry (which I had chopped veeeery finely) onto the bread.  A little cilantro topped it off and hot DAMN was that a good meal!  Like... seriously, I wish I didn't use the last of the ginger because I really want to make that again tonight.

The art magazine looked pretty cool.  On the front cover there's some video-game looking chick with lightning and birds in the background and on the back there's a guy who is half normal-looking and half scary clown.  Anyways, the art looked awesome and I picked it up because I wanted to try drawing a few things.  Little did I know that it wasn't an art magazine at all but a horror magazine.  People send in their best horror fiction to get published and there's little to no art.  However there IS a list of the 10 best video games in the middle and I'm thinking that this is exactly the kind of magazine that I would LOVE to subscribe to.... except that I can't read a word of it.  Guess it means I really need to work on my written Chinese.

So why is mild-mannered Kirky the rudest person in China?  Turns out that you're supposed to refuse something two times before finally agreeing to it.  So I'll make some cookies or whatever and say, "hey, you wanna try this?"  "No."  "You sure?"  "No thanks."  And I drop the issue at try #2, never giving them a chance to say yes.  Conversely, whenever someone says, "Hey you want some?"  I'll say yes at #1.  So... I'm super rude.  :(

For the past two weeks I have taught music to my students.  I had them write a short paper about their favorite song and brought in my iPod with some cheap-o speakers to play what I've got.  We talked about different genres, different artists... it was really fun!  Except I'm not quite sure that the students get the idea of classic rock in the west.  So far I have been told that Eagles are country (which is a rookie mistake, but they were talking specifically about the song 'Hotel California' so I know it's really rock.  If it was 'Desperado' or something like that, I'd let it slide), Def Leppard is "The epitome of American pop music" and Ozzy Osbourne's 'Crazy Train' is country.  Actually, that last one got me into the most polite argument ever.  "I'm not sure if it's country.  I think it might be rock."  "I'm not sure you have heard Ozzy if you think he's rock.  He's very country!"  "I'M NOT SURE YOU'LL PASS MY CLASS."  (Okay, so that last one didn't happen.)

I did end up playing 'Crazy Train' for the class and telling them to decide.  The consensus was that Ozzy is pop music.  *headdesk*

Now I need to prepare the final presentations for the class and get everything graded but the school told me that my class ends two weeks earlier than I was originally told.  So now I get to do the end-of-year scramble.  Woohoo!

Beiling Park: looks traditional and formal on the outside but those walls are hiding all the hackey sackers and cotton candy vendors.

Dragon Boat Festival was last Monday and boy was that a blast!  My students took me to Beiling Park, which is where the tomb of the first emperor of China is.  We didn't get to see the tomb, though.  It's 6 yuan to get into the park and then once you're inside you need to pay another 30 yuan to see the tomb.  Darn money-making schemes!

However we did explore the park and see things like the Couple Tree- a tree that brings good luck to couples who come and confess their love in front of it.

You're getting a side view because I am too lazy to go back and flip the pic.

I accidentally made another terrible faux-pas when we were walking back from here.  My student told me that some people wanted to be buried here because it would bring luck to their descendants.  So their kids would wait until night and then some to the park and bury them near the path.  They would mark where they buried them with a bunch of plastic flowers.  I saw some flowers so I pointed them out and said, "Oh, like over there?"  Before I finished she SLAPPED my hand away.  Like... my hand stung for a good five minutes. "Don't point at them!"  She said before walking a little faster.

Why the heck don't they teach these things to us in Chinese class?  I would have LOVED to know how to be polite to other people and what sort of things to not do before I came here.  I would also have liked a little heads up at how white people are treated here.  This old woman came up to me on the street and stared at me for a while... then she reached up like she was going to touch my eyes.  So naturally I book it.  The girl I was with later said that she only didn't understand how I could see how of my eyes because they were blue.  My first thought was, "What, so touching someone else's EYEBALL is going to give you that answer?"

Also, some guys really wanted to take pictures with me.  We got stopped outside Beiling Park and they ask and I look at my two students and say, "Are they going to kidnap me or something?  Is this weird?"  One girl told me, "No, it's not weird, I ask foreigners to take pictures with me all the time."

Oh well, future training for fighting off the paparazzi, right?  Right now it's about 7am and I've got to crack open a read bull and take another crack at correcting papers.  I have another 400 to go through (why do I do this to myself?) and I feel like I will never be finished!

Monday, May 30, 2011

In which I get beat up by two chinese people, eat an entire chicken and party all night

Long story short, I had a pretty eventful birthday.

Let's start at the beginning.  The week before my birthday I was waiting at the elevator in my building when I saw this man holding a suitcase.  The guy looked like an American and he looked really... familiar.  I kept trying not to stare at him but still kinda staring to see where the heck I knew him from and then it hit me.  That was Professor Beech from Bemidji State University!

Turns out that the students from BSU on the China trip came in May, not June like I was told.  16 students, most of them my classmates or friends.  It was a blast having them here and (I'll be honest) really refreshing to have someone speaking midwestern English.

Thursday three of those students and I went to a massage parlor down the street.  It was my birthday present to myself.  I'd never gotten a massage before so I opted for the hour long full body one.  And it was the worst thing I think I've ever done.  This place was clearly meant to be a spa with massaging on the side... or maybe I just happened to get someone who didn't know what they were doing.  In any case, I walked out of there with a really sore back, more knots than when I went in and bruises on my stomach (why the heck anyone would think it was a good idea to rub someone's stomach like that, I have no idea.)  So... I paid good money for someone to beat the hell out of me.

This woman who works at the place where I tutor part time (actually, she and her husband own it) took me out for dinner and another massage on Friday.  We went to this Szechuan restaurant that seems to be a pretty popular chain.  I told her that I had no idea what most of the items on the menu were so she ordered a little bit of each so that we could try everything.  Things that were delicious: chicken hearts, squid, tofu, mushrooms, silkworms.  Things that weren't: chicken skin, chicken heads, cartilage, gizzards.  But I still tried everything once or twice because the fact that we in the west think of it as gross doesn't mean it tastes bad or is bad for you.  Then I realized... I've had chicken head, chicken neck, chicken cartilage and bone, chicken feet, chicken breasts and wings and legs... hearts, gizzards... I think I've eaten an entire chicken by now.

The other item that surprised me were the silkworms.  They come in a cocoon that you bite open with your teeth and then you just kinda squeeze/suck the worm out.  They taste like boiled eggs and have about that consistency as well.  Delicious as heck, really, but my hands were shaking so badly when I tried them.  I've got this lifelong fear of bugs and now I'm willingly putting one in my mouth?  Man...

After dinner we went to get REAL massages.  It was really fantastic.  This time we got foot massages since apparently the feet hold the key to everything else in your body.  Rubbing the right spot on your feet is supposed to be able to cure almost everything.  I don't know if that's true or not but the guy really went to town in a borderline painful way and when I walked out of there my back wasn't sore anymore.  Fabulous.

Saturday night I had my REAL birthday party with my students.  We went out to Karaoke, which is called 'KTV' here.  It's not like Karaoke in the states where you get up in front of the bar and sing to everyone.  Here you rent out a private room and get to control your own songs, song order, dance lighting, all that.  There was a super comfortably couch that we all lounged on, drank beers and ate some delicious cake.  I would add pictures but for some reason the picture uploader has decided it hates me.

Only one of the American guys came and he had to duck out early, but that's alright since we had a blast singing Chinese songs.  Surprisingly enough there was a good selection of English songs on there.  Everything from Sarah Brightman to Mumford and Sons to Lady Gaga.  Disco (one of my students) and I rocked the HECK out of a Linkin Park song and I learned how uncomfortably inappropriate Lady Gaga's 'Paparazzi' music video is... didn't really bother me but students in China are far more conservative and seeing Gaga make out with Alexander Skarsgard for two straight minutes induced a lot of awkward coughing and trying to look anywhere but the giant TV.

We started Karaoke at 9 at night and stayed there until 5.30 the next morning when we got kicked out.  Since the gates to the school didn't open for another half hour and we didn't feel like jumping, the 6 of us left decided to go out for breakfast to this porridge place.  The same porridge place with the Century Eggs that I declared war on.  Luckily I was able to get some normal Baozi... Just can't handle dealing with those eggs at 5.30 in the morning.

My throat was DEAD the next day and I was tired as hell but it was so. much. fun.  I would definitely do another night of Karaoke... just not any time in the near future.  It's been over a week and I'm still recovering.

Alright, now I've got to get back to real life.  I found a cockroach last night and today I'm making the trek to the store to pick up some chemical weapons to destroy their clans.  I like my cockroaches like I like my Spider Jerusalems.  Stuck in obscure comics where I can think about how cool they are and how I wouldn't mind having one but MAN the second I see you in real life, you're getting hit with a shoe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

In which I celebrate Labor Day and go shopping!

For some reason Blogspot has been a little wonky.  Everything loads except for the text box here... kind of the important part.  Ah well, we're up and running now!

First of all, I have to say that the kids I tutor (not the ones at the university, the younger ones) are weird.  I entered the building last week and saw that all of the white boards were filled with pictures of a super buff Pikachu.

I'd be impressed if I wasn't so confused

Clearly I missed out on something important.

Two Mondays ago it was Labor Day, so no school!  That same week was Children's Day (no afternoon school for the kids) and Youth Day (no afternoon school for 15-23 year olds).  Since we had three breaks, everybody was out partying, playing music in front of the dorms, I'm pretty sure all of the Russians in the building (of which there are a lot) went out to the clubs for the ENTIRE week.

I guess you could say that it was a week... *puts on sunglasses* without class.  YEEEEAAAAAAAHH *cues CSI music*

Man, I need to get off the internet.  Anyways, one of the girls I tutor invited me on a Labor Day picnic with her family.  We went to a park and the weather was absolutely beautiful.  The park is called "The Shenyang Exhibition Garden" which is super fancy talk for "Look, man, we got flowers and not much else to justify spending 35 yuan per ticket".  Although, to their credit, the flowers were beautiful.

There was also a theme park in the middle of the garden.  Rollercoasters, haunted house, games where you pay money to shoot at something and never win a prize... the whole shebang.  It was really cool, but of course they have some little things that prove that either Chinese people don't research American culture or they just REALLY don't give a crap.

There was a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' themed ride.  Innocent enough, right?  Well, they had posters from the movies hanging up all over the ride and then they had this little gem.

Also, I'm pretty sure there were no licensing fees paid to Disney for usage here

If you don't know, after the success of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie, some people decided to make a porno that was sexy-pirate themed.  The poster with all the girls wearing not much but corsets and a smile?  That's a pornographic film.  There are posters advertising American pornography at a children's theme park.  Classy.

They also have a space ride where you can climb inside a fake spaceship and it'll pretend to launch into space... pretty cool, if you think about it.  They had one in Disneyworld that was ABSOLUTELY the bomb and I would go on it again in a heartbeat. (More like an hour and a heartbeat...the lines at Disney were pretty damn long)  However something about this Spaceship just didn't seem right.

Sorry about the Shaky-Cam, I was practicing for a career as a Hollywood Filmographer 

I know it's a little difficult to read, but they name they gave that ride is "The Challenger".  I was laughing and trying to take this picture, so the family I was with asked if I was interested in trying the ride.  I told them, "No way, I'm a teacher.  I know how this story ends."  They didn't get it.

Later that day I went out with a student to get my shopping on at the Night Market.  It was really sweet, we spent much money and came back with much loot.  I can't remember if I talked about fashion here or not, but it's this great mix of military-chic and gothic-lolita.  Friggen perfect.  Clothes are cheap, food was cheap (1 yuan for whatever you want barbecued on a stick) and it was a beautiful night for shopping.

Something that's greatly disappointed me in the school here is the plagiarism.  Apparently plagiarism is common in the University here and it's totally accepted.  Teachers know the students do it and they just do nothing. I'm appalled!  I had to grade about 400 papers on my student's favorite movies (write 5 or more sentences about absolutely anything about any movie) and over half of them are stolen right off of the internet. I gave my classes the talk about how it's unacceptable to do this in my class and if I catch anybody copying another paper again, I'll fail them out.  Of course that's a bluff, I can't take any action against them because the university doesn't have a plagiarism policy.  But I think I got them scared!

Now it's back to work, back to correcting papers and in a few hours, back to class.  I've started falling into a pretty stable routine so the past couple of weeks have totally flown by.  Can't believe it's almost my birthday ALREADY!

Monday, April 25, 2011

In which I apologize for taking so long to update!

It's been a while since I've updated this and I'm really sorry about that!  Stuff has been UBER crazy here, I haven't had much free time to myself.  I got Monday morning off so I decided to sleep in, I also went to bed early on Sunday night.  I slept from 8pm to 9am.  Seriously, that's not a good night's sleep, that's a slightly worrisome coma!

The weather around here is breathtakingly beautiful when it's not rainy.  All the cherry blossom trees are blooming, turning our dorm into some sorta anime wonderland.

Some day I'll have a sword fight under those trees... and it will be awesome.

Food has still been pretty sweet.  I'm tutoring a 9 year old girl and her parents have been trying to push food on me every time I see them (no complaints here!)  The first day they gave me some steamed buns with pork or maybe beef inside... pretty awesome.  Then the second day they gave me a bag of crawfish.  No explanation, just crawfish.  I spent a good hour or two staring at them, on the fence between being a champ and peeling them or screaming in terror and running away.  Seriously, the segmented leg part looks just like a camel spider.  And nothing that looks like a camel spider has ANY business being in my apartment.


I turned to the internet for advice, posting in Reddit's food section.  Instead of moral support and a good recipe, I just got a bunch of people from the American south telling me to pinch the tail and suck the head.  LOOK AT THAT HEAD.  Lips do not go there.

I opted to use two pairs of scissors and chopsticks to get all the meat out of the tail.  It was a pretty sizable bag, so it took me an hour and a half to get them all.  Then I threw the meat into a gumbo and I feasted on some tasty American food.  Mission accomplished.

Two days ago it was Easter and I didn't even know it.  Except for an email from Grandma, I would have TOTALLY forgotten.  I was tutoring the girl again and her parents called halfway through the lesson and were like, "We just found out that it's a holiday in America... want us to take you out to lunch?"  So I spent Easter with their family at a Korean barbecue restaurant.  It's a lot like the hot pot I described before except instead of a boiling pot in the middle, there's a little barbecue grill.  You cook your own meat.  It's kind of awesome.

The only thing that I didn't quite like was that it's custom in China for students to respect their teachers (that part's okay) but by respecting them they fill up their plates.  Chinese food isn't served like Western food... people don't get their own plates.  You get an empty plate and the food is in the middle of the table for you to serve yourself.  Well, the girl (and I can't really fault her, she is only nine...) would suck on her chopsticks and then use the saliva-covered utensils to serve me food.  Once she was playing with a tooth she had lost and her mother told her to give me some bread... which she did with her mouth-bloody fingers.

Like I said, she's a little kid and there are probably worse things that I could be eating than traces of spit.... but it was SO DIFFICULT to not just reach over and grab the stuff myself.  Blech.

Speaking of kids... I'm not sure I'm really up for teaching them.  I'm okay with the one-on-one tutoring time because it's easy to play games, teach songs and generally teach some English.  But when I've got a class full of 10 year olds at one of the schools, it's utter chaos.  The boys don't pay attention, spending the whole time talking in Korean or Chinese instead of listening to me and the one girl in the class is afraid to speak up because the boys tease her every time she speaks in English... which she's really good at.  Then on Sunday evening I had to break up a fistfight between the boys because one of them stole the other's crossword puzzle.  It's like... you guys didn't care enough about the puzzle to actually sit down and do it (even for the lucrative prize of American pennies) but you care enough to punch your friend over its loss???

I think I'm just not patient enough to handle multiple hyperactive kids at one time.  Seriously... how did my parents do it?  I need to give them a damn hug.

Teaching the older kids and the University kids can be just as difficult.  I can't remember if I mentioned the Chinese education system (and I'm too lazy to go back and check) but the students aren't allowed to really talk or discuss things.  The teacher says something or reads something and the students memorize it.  It's a lot like No Child Left Behind where we don't teach critical thinking and creativity, instead we teach how to pass tests.  Except it's WAY more extreme here because the culture sort of requires kids to stay quiet.  (Someone should tell the 10 year olds this...)

So I'll ask a question.  "Does anybody know what a fairy tale is?"  complete silence.  "Yes?  No?"  silence but now they're looking at their feet.  "How about Cinderella, who has heard of Cinderella?"  a few mumbles while everyone's shoes become increasingly interesting.  "How about you there" specific girl "Who is Cinderella?  Is she a normal girl or is she a princess?"  Absolutely wide eyes and a look of terror.  The way she looks at me, I'm slowly morphing into a camel spider while consuming a basket of live kittens.  More silence, but this silence is tense.  Terrified.  

That's how every class at the university goes.  Even the students who like to talk just aren't used to speaking in class.  We played a game of Telephone and I told them, "It's okay if you get it wrong.  It's funny!  That's the point of the game"  but instead they do absolutely anything they can to cheat, pass notes with the message, text the message further down the line because they are absolutely TERRIFIED of making a mistake.  I had to stop the game after there were a lot of group discussions and someone brought out a laptop to look up the phrase I had given to make sure he heard it right.  I said, "What's the point of taking an 'oral english' class if you're too afraid to talk?"  and then I felt like a mean teacher so I shut up and let them go one.  Ugh.

The high schoolers are a little cooler.  I think it's because I'm closer to them in age, so I really relate.  (They're 17 and 18, my University students are anywhere from 24-30)  They'll have discussions and now they're starting to use incredibly difficult vocabulary in ordinary conversation.  I put a bunch of hard words on the board, go over them and tell them that each time they use one correctly, they get a penny.  American pennies might as well be gold here.

Last thing.... Shenyang is damn pretty at night.  The buildings look very drab and grey during the day but at night, everything is lit up by neon and LED.  I was driven home at about 11 on Sunday night and had Daft Punk playing in my headphones... I felt like I was going through the Tron grid.  Seriously, it's SOOOOO cool.  I don't have any pictures of any of the good lights, but here's a little something to leave you with.  Zaijian!

Monday, April 11, 2011

In which I am in China and getting by fantastically

So, I'm in China!  So far I haven't angered anybody or gotten mugged, therefore I would call this trip a success.  I've started classes and met a bunch of rockin' people, too.

Classes are once every two weeks.  Which I think is definitely not enough, I would like to see the students more often.  There are a couple of them that I can already tell will not pass unless they get a little more practice and I'm not quite sure how to approach them to tell them that.  During the two week period I have 8 classes, 3 one week and 5 the next.  So far we've pretty much been working on self introductions and in one class I had the students write fairy tales.  They really loved that.

The apartment I'm in is actually pretty swanky.  It's small, but big enough for me.  If I was willing and able to buy a couch, lug it up 6 flights of stairs and get it through the door, it would actually be a nicer place than the house I rented in Bemidji.  As it is, I've got three marginally comfortable chairs so all of my movie time is spent sitting on the floor with the pillows I've got.

The kitchen is absolutely tiny.  I guess it doesn't need to be large and it's really nice that it opens up into a porch but OH MAN it's small!  I don't have a stove or an oven (nobody in China does really, they don't build them in like in the US) instead I have a burner that I use as a stove.  It'll also grill, which is nice. Haven't used that yet.  I would give almost anything for an oven, though. I reaaaally want to cook some hot dish or pizza or heck, even baked chicken would be a nice variety from noodles and stir fry!

It may be ovenless but hey, there's a bar in the basement!

The food around campus is amazing.  There's a small cafeteria right next to the Home for Foreign Friends and I really love to eat there.  The best is the chicken.. yum!  They've also got another building dedicated to keeping us well fed and boy, I am not disappointed by the cuisine.  Outside of campus I have tried Pizza Hut (which is a fancy, five course meal served by people in vests and ties), Korean Barbecue, porridge and hot pot.

Let me take a minute to talk about the Hot Pot.  They put a pot of boiling water on your table along with many different plates filled with meats and vegetables. You and your friends all get to dip the stuff into the boiling water, wait a few minutes, then pull it out and eat it.  It's the best damn thing in the world.  Seriously, why don't they have these in America?  It's really nice to share the food with other people, it encourages conversation and it's sooooo tasty.

This is the food of the gods

I've taken a smaller job on weekends, helping tutor high schoolers.  They're all from Korea or another country, preparing for the TOEFL exam- the exam that Chinese students need to take in order to study in an English speaking country.  Their English is actually better than many of my university students.  It's kind of funny, but there's a HUGE gap in the skill of people around age 24 and that of people around 18 or younger. I wonder what recently changed in language teaching methods to do that!  Anyways, the tutoring job is kind of fun, it's far more relaxed.  A lot of the kids just need to work on their oral English so we spend the time just talking and discussing things, then i just correct what they've said wrong and go into explanations about why it's wrong... all that jazz.

I do have a cell phone now, just not an international card that lasts very long.  I'll try to make a good sized round of calls once I figure out what to do.  I believe I can accept texts, however.  My number is 0086 138 4031 9035.  We'll try it!  The cell phone was originally built for someone who speaks Chinese so texting in English is a dang chore!  I'm slowly trying to figure it out.

Well, I've got to plug grades in and prepare my lesson for later this afternoon.  After the lesson I'm meeting one on one with a student to help him prepare for the TOEFL (seriously, this exam scares so many people...) More later!