My First Week in China at a Glance
It’s kind of hard to believe that I have been in China for nine days already. With all of the running around I’ve done, I feel like I’ve been here for a month already! There is no coherent way to organize all of my thoughts and experiences, so I am going to do my best to recount as much as I can in as orderly a fashion as possible.
I arrived in China at 7:50 pm on my birthday. I flew to the Chongqing airport with one other CIEE teacher working at my school. When we got to the airport, two students from the school were waiting to pick us up. Their names are Jason and Matt. They are both very eager to practice English, so they volunteered to meet us at the airport so they could speak English with us on the ride to school. When I told them it was my birthday, they decided to stop at a restaurant to buy me and the other teacher dinner. Since that day, Matt has become one of my good friends here in China, and Jason has amazed me with his leadership in the English Club.
On my first night in China, I was a little surprised by my living situation. To describe the setup here, there are five CIEE teachers (including myself) at the school, and we all live on the same floor. We each have a single apartment with a bed, a wardrobe, a fridge, a desk or table, and a chair or two. There is a door in the apartment that leads to an outside balcony, on which our sink and bathroom is located. However, the door does not touch the ground all the way; there is about five inches of open space. I was informed that I live on the side of the building that gets all of the bugs, so on my first night, I found myself killing five little bugs in my room and one cockroach. Since then, the bug situation has gotten a lot better. One of the teachers created a barricade for my door with tape, which has so far done a nice job of keeping bugs out. Nonetheless, my apartment is considered a very nice living space in this part of China. It has all of the things I need to go about my daily life, so I have come to peace with it.
I do not have a kitchen, but the school did provide me with a water boiler and a rice cooker. I have used the water boiler to boil the water from the sink, since tap water is not safe to drink in China. Water bottles are also very inexpensive here, so I make sure to keep a few in my fridge at all times. If you are not familiar with the typical Chinese bathroom, it usually only has a toilet and a shower head. The shower head is right next to the toilet, so when you take a shower, the toilet also gets wet. It may sound a little worse than it actually is; all you really have to do is move your toilet paper out of the way while you shower and keep your clothes off to the side where they’ll be dry.
Since your apartment may not come with basic necessities, you will probably have to go run errands for the first few days to get everything you need. For example, my room does not have a mirror. I found a small mirror that I use to look at my face, but I have yet to find a full body mirror. You can get just about everything you need in a Chinese supermarket, or chaoshi (超市). They even sell blankets, pillows, shoes, clothes, towels, and hangers for your clothes.
The beds in China are hard, but you can also find mattress pads in the supermarkets for a little extra cushioning. When washing clothes, people do not really use driers, so loading up on clothes hangers is definitely a good idea. Clothes hanging out to dry is a very common sight in China. Also, it is common for people to wear the same clothes over and over again.
Of course, there are some things that will be very difficult to buy in China. People do not really wear deodorant here, so most stores do not stock it. You can find some types of deodorant in some places, but they are typically on the expensive side and most likely not what you use back home. If you have big feet or wear a large clothes size, then shoes and clothes might also be a bit of a hassle. Mini hand sanitizer is always handy in China but is not commonly sold here. I would highly recommend bringing some from home before traveling to China, especially since most bathrooms do not have hand soap.
Rather than a large city, I am living in more of a town. My school is located in Shuangfu New District, which is located about 45 minutes outside of the big city of Chongqing. Many of the people here have never seen a foreigner before, so my colleagues and I are often met with stares when we go out. When we all walk together, we really get everyone’s attention. It can sometimes feel weird knowing that people are looking at you and talking about you, but you have to remind yourself that it is all coming from a place of genuine interest and not a place of malice. In China, there really is no concept of personal space, so you may even have some people come up to you, stand there, and just watch you. How people react to your foreign-ness will all depend on where you are in China – some places have more foreign influence and a greater population of expats than others.
I started teaching my classes two days ago. So far, my work week has been very manageable. My school wants us to focus on oral English, so we do not really give reading or writing assignments. I am teaching at a college, so all of my students are 18-22 years old. Because we are similar in age, we have a lot of fun together in class. The students are all beginners in English, so I have to rephrase things for them, repeat, and speak slowly. Some of my students do not need to learn English for their future professions, so they do not really care about taking a class in English. But I have plenty of students who enjoy learning English and want to practice with me outside of class. For the most part, my students have been very energetic and engaged in class. I honestly look forward to going to teach every day so I can meet all of my students and get to talk with them in English.
So far this week, I have been teaching an introduction class suitable for their level. I come up first and introduce myself to the class. I tell them my name, age, where I am from, my favorite food, and my hobbies. Then, I ask them to remember the questions I answered (such as “what is your favorite food?”) and write those questions on the board. Next, I ask one student to come to the front of the room and to introduce him or herself, answering all five questions. Then, that person chooses who will go next. This continues until everyone has introduced him or herself.
After that, I play a game with them. If the class is smaller and the introductions take up less time, I start by playing telephone. I only play a round or two and give them a word that they have already heard in class, such as “shopping” or “hamburger.” If the class is larger, then I just launch into the second game, which is word chain. I have them play two rounds of word chain. In the first round, they are allowed to write any word they want. In the second round, I make it more challenging by saying that they can only write the names of foods. Since they are still beginners, I let them use their phones during the game. After each round is finished, we all look at the words on the board together. After the first round, I correct the words for spelling and have them point out the words that are the same on each side of the board (since all of my classes have typically been writing the same words, such as “good,” “dog,” and “teacher”). After the second round, I tell them if the food is eaten in America or not. Sometimes, Chinese foods cannot directly translate into English, although their dictionaries give them some sort of English equivalent. I always point out which foods we do not typically eat in America, such as “shark fin.”
I have found that my students know a lot of popular American movies, but they only know the names of those movies in Chinese. So, I have also been teaching them the English names of popular American movies by using pictures. That part of the lesson is always fun because they love to see their favorite movies come onscreen. I also do an activity where I have students raise their hands if they like the movie. Then, we see which movie was the most popular among the class.
At the end of class, I give them the assignment of choosing an English name. Since most students have never interacted with foreigners before, they have not ever thought about getting an English name. I think that they will have fun choosing an English name for themselves, and it will also make life a little easier on me too. I am only an intermediate-level learner of Chinese, so remembering hundreds of Chinese names is certainly a difficult task for me. Some of my students already have English names, and some have really crazy and random English names like “Starfire” and “Sword.” For those two, just seeing their personalities and how happy they are to say their English name, I don’t have the heart to tell them that their names are very out-there to Americans. I think that if they like it, that’s all that matters.
This weekend, I also got to take a fun trip out to Ciqikou (磁器口), which is one of Chongqing's well-known tourist destinations. It is known for its old architecture and for it's huge open-air market. All sorts of little trinkets and gifts are sold there, and you can find just about anything you could ever want to eat or drink. There is also a Buddhist temple there, which is a serene escape from all of the chaos on the streets. We spent a good six hours there and then took the metro to Honyadong (洪崖洞), which is inside the big city of Chongqing. It is also known as "food street" because it has all sorts of restaurants there. It is a popular place for foreigners to meet and hang out. We all loved the feel of the big city of Chongqing with all its lights at night, so we have planned to go back again this weekend for some more fun.
All in all, my first nine days in China have been jam packed. I may have gotten a little sick from the jetlag, but it is totally worth it when you walk out of class knowing that the students loved being with you. When my students say hi to me on campus, I just light up. This job is nothing short of exciting, and while Shuangfu may not be as big and beautiful as Chongqing city, it’s a place that is full of little charms and hidden gems. The people here are really starting to grow on me, and more and more, I am starting to feel like part of a big family.